August 11, 2004

long before the fcc...

Here's another journal entry from my younger days. I think I was in my very early 20s when I wrote this. I was living at home and clearly frustrated with what I perceived as a stifling environment lacking in freedom of creative expression. Man, I wish that was my biggest "problem" now.

I have learned the painful lesson that unless a film is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America, comes with the seal of approval from some conservative watch-dog group and has had repeated airings on The Family Channel (all requirements must be met to be considered), do not -- I repeat -- DO NOT watch it in the company of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or even older siblings who have mistakenly assumed the role of "back-up parent." The latter will tell if you watch something not on the approved list. Trust me on this.

Some older folks pride themselves on being really hip and therefore will unabashedly watch the Spice Channel with the whole family in tow. Most families, however, possess that normal, healthy relationship where both sides squirm in embarrassment if even the most benign of sexual references is made.

This relationship existed in my family -- very much so in fact, perhaps too much so. Maybe it was being raised in a British household where things are not as openly discussed that made me and my sisters so uneasy about certain things.

Culture was certainly a factor since at some of my American friends' very old fashioned and religious households, things like menstruation were discussed quite openly during dinner conversation. Imagine the look of shock and horror on my face as my friend's sister clutched her stomach while announcing in mixed company, "Oh, I have such bad cramps!"

This was my inner dialogue when I heard that: "She said cramps in front of her father?!?!?! My father doesn't even know what a period is... I don't think... No! He doesn't! He doesn't get it so how he could possibly know? He thinks those things in the cabinet under the bathroom sink are just another tool in his four daughters' daily make-up regimen. For all he knows, they apply and remove make-up, kind of like a long, absorbent cotton ball. He still hasn't figured out what the shorter tube-like ones are for though. He just lumps them into that category of other things he cannot explain like diffusers, hot rollers and the loofah sponge."

Yeah, we were a pretty uptight bunch. Given that, you can imagine the climate in my house when an R-rated, or even PG-13 film was watched in the company of my parents. I must have had masochistic tendencies as a child -- no, scratch that -- I KNOW I actively sought to inflict pain, embarrassment and humiliation on myself on a frequent basis. In addition to a million other doozies that I willingly clothed myself in, why else would I wear Velcro sneakers with gray parachute pants, and a gray and white pinstriped Jordache blouse complete with a little pinstriped bow tie that attached to the top button, that no matter how hard I tried would not sit straight on my collar?!

But I digress, why else would I choose to watch a film that I knew contained language and adult situations with parents unless I wanted to experience severe discomfort? For reasons beyond my comprehension, I watched movies with the parents that I had already seen with my friends in the theater knowing fine well what decadence awaited. I figured that I could "suddenly have to go to the bathroom" when things started heating up or just cough really loudly during a profane verbal onslaught.

During Fatal Attraction, I took so many pee breaks that my mother was ready to rush me to a specialist for some sort of kidney ailment. Sometimes I couldn't make it out of the room fast enough and I would get caught up in the traffic jam as my other sisters would join me in making a mad dash for the exit. Other times, I guess when I was feeling brazen, I would blindly sit myself down in front of a risqué film (meaning it was not pre-screened by any of my sisters and it did not have the word "Disney" anywhere in the title.)

It was always interesting to see what inane topic of conversation my mother would launch into at the beginning of what looked like a possible sex scene. She would begin discussing the price of produce at Shop-Rite or how the rug needed a steam cleaning. I would sense the dirty scene coming too and would pray that the director would let it fade to black and just leave it to our imaginations. I even hoped that the VCR would suddenly chew up the tape.

During my mother's drivel, my father would begin picking at his nails and twiddling his thumbs while the rest of us just tried to ride out the scene. You see, getting up in the middle of it or during some dirty dialogue would tip my parents off that we actually knew about -- and understood -- what was going on. By this time we thought we had perfected our innocent acts and made it seem that for all we knew, we were ordered out of a catalog or something.

In addition to the pontificating about how the movies of yesteryear had such good stories "without all the rubbish," my parents would make that "tsk" noise whenever an offending scene or bad word popped up. You know the one -- the one made with the tongue and the roof of the mouth that when done once expresses displeasure; when done in quick succession, it can be used in lieu of "Oh what a shame."

Now I try to avoid watching any television shows, films or even potentially embarrassing commercials in the presence of my parents if I can help it. It's not easy though because my mother possesses the uncanny knack of being able to walk into a room during what could be the one and only bad part in the whole film. The whole movie could be relatively clean but my mother will appear right at the one moment of indiscretion where the protagonist gives into temptation because the female lead has just flashed her breasts for reasons that have nothing to do with the plot.

Half the time by my mother's reaction, you would think that I wrote, directed and starred in the damn thing. She held me personally responsible for the content. Hey, if I couldn't make it work in my favor in school, i.e. being able to copy an Emily Dickinson poem out of a book and pass it off as my own like Blaire Warner did in The Facts of Life, then how come suddenly I could take credit for someone else's screenplay, acting and direction?

This type of parent roams in packs and hangs out with like-minded caregivers. A lot of my friends had parents who were exactly the same way. We bonded over this shared misery. The parental pressure was so bad at times that some of us went to great lengths to squelch any form of potentially offensive artistic expression. Back in the day, one of my friends knew exactly when to lift the needle off the record player so his parents couldn't hear the naughty bits of "Greased Lightning." During the "I fuck me" scene in The Silence of the Lambs, another friend decided to try to press mute at the appropriate time so that her parents wouldn't hear the dreaded F-word. Too bad she managed to silence everything but the actual F-word. The only thing that emanated from the speaker was "Fuck... fuck... fuck." The switchboards at the networks would be lit up like a Christmas tree if it was her job to bleep out bad words.

I, on the other hand, was a bit more successful in my venture. Sitting in the back seat of the car, I was able to roll up a magazine, lean over in between the driver and passenger seats and push the preset button to change the station when the familiar opening bars of George Michael's "I Want Your Sex" came on. Chicky chicky doink doink...

It wasn't always like this you see. My parents were careful about what they let us watch but they gave us a bit of freedom (namely in the form of a TV and stereo in the bedroom). We were thrilled that we could finally watch the forbidden Three's Company! I could watch a full episode of Dallas without getting kicked out of the room! Then I had to go and screw it up. It wasn't on purpose though. I had NO idea that the subject matter of Cheap Trick's "She's Tight" was sexual in nature. I specifically remember it popping into my head while I was in the car with my mother. It was a catchy wee ditty so I sang it out loud and bopped along in the seat quite happily. The mother was not amused especially when she found out that I learned it on MTV.

On a different occasion, I had a few questions about sex after watching Saturday night television unattended. The plot just didn't make sense to me so I asked the parents the next day at our weekly Sunday "fry" after Mass. I still recall the sound of forks dropping on plates. My mother hissed, "Where did you hear that?!" "The Love Boat," I innocently replied. Needless to say I wasn't allowed to watch Captain Stubing and company anymore. But even with these restrictions, the censorship in my home was not nearly as bad as the Happy Days ban in my brother-in-law's family. The reasoning? Fonzie was a "womanizer."

Personally, I think that gives Henry Winkler far too much credit. Regarding my parents and their attempts to distance me from all things racy in film and television: Um yeah, it totally backfired. I am now Time Warner Cable's bitch. I've got HBO and Showtime. I pay the extra money for In Demand so that I can replay all the naughty bits and fast-forward through the boring character development and plot stuff. Next up, Cinemax!