After 40 years as a TV critic, Ann Hodges of the Houston Chronicle recently retired with some warm words about television, but also some tough ones: "The creeping coarseness of TV programs has pushed much more than a litany of vulgar words into polite society. And with each September season, broadcast TV's no-no's tumble in the rush to catch cable's anything-goes. If harping on that along the way made me a blue-nose, I wear the banner proudly."
Everyone who watches more than a few minutes of television a day has noticed the way cable TV is driving our mass culture into a morass of shock value, cashing in on voyeurism, milking the profits from sensation, perversion, ultraviolence, ultrasexuality. We are growing numb from the mental poking and prodding and ripping at our every vulnerable sensibility, our every notion of prim propriety. As a way of dragging eyeballs to the next set of commercials for yuppie consumer goods, cable-show producers hit their labs to create a bigger buzz, a riper spectacle, an addiction that craves the next gaudy high or atrocious low. In the end, what we're getting is TV designed for degenerates.
The result is a show like FX's new "black comedy" about plastic surgeons, titled "Nip/Tuck." From the utter depravity of its sensationalism, it should be better known as "Up/Chuck."
It's got graphic sex, soft-core, screaming-orgasm acting. Our surgeons are introduced to us by showing the gaping variety in their sex lives. Christian, the womanizing cocaine user with zero medical ethics, is having very graphic sex, including a shot of his naked behind, with a model he's just met. Sean, the uptight family man, is just doing perfunctory back-and-forth bouncing on his wife, as each spouse thinks about mundane errands.
It's got foul language. Sean's wife can't discuss her young daughter's gerbil she hates without cursing about its trail of doo-doo. When her son uses the same word, the young daughter says he used the "brown word." Sean's wife later flushes the gerbil down the toilet.
But wait! There's more.
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