5 TV Shows That Nailed Sexual Consent Issues (Decades Ago)
Sometimes we act like nobody knew what sexual misconduct was prior to the avalanche of revelations about Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. When talking about some Hollywood creep's years of misbehavior, people will say, "Of course, this was all before #MeToo happened." But it's hard for that to hold water, considering that sitcom writers were tackling the subject with nuance and realism long before hashtags were even invented. Like how ...
Mr. Belvedere Busted Myths About Predatory Behavior In 1988
For the uninitiated, which I assume is everyone born after 1990, Mr. Belvedere was a sitcom about a posh British butler working for the all-American Owens family. For six seasons, the show charmed audiences by combining witty humor with warm family values -- and in one 1988 episode, a pedophile.
In "The Counselor," the Owens' smart-alecky youngest son, Wesley, is inappropriately touched by a counselor during summer camp. Right away, the episode makes a smart choice by depicting the predator as a handsome, trustworthy charmer, as opposed to the stereotypical greasy weirdo. Instead of a fiend in an alley, he's a trusted professional. In the real world, the most successful predators are the ones who are hardest to spot.
Even though the guy in question only creepily rubs Wesley's bare shoulders, the episode also illustrates that even seemingly mild unwanted touching is enough to raise the alarm (and that right there is a lesson many people today still have yet to learn). Wesley invents an excuse to slip away and immediately tells his parents, who believe him instantly and report it. The show just drops the comedy for a while and says, "Hey, if this happens, here's what you do. Don't worry, we'll be back next week with an episode in which Mr. Belvedere and Bob Ueucker go to fat camp."
Bonus fact: This is the only episode of the show not to end with Mr. Belvedere writing in his diary about how his day went. That's how you knew shit got real.
Barney Miller Addressed Marital Rape In The '70s
To this day, marital rape is especially horrible because there's no legal or cultural consensus as to how to address it. It's hard to get people to care about your crime when the law doesn't even consider it one. Yet a 1978 episode of Barney Miller, a goofy police sitcom, took the subject head-on.
In the episode, a flustered woman visits the station to report that a man had sex with her against her will. When Captain Miller asks her to describe her attacker, she pulls a framed photograph of him out of her handbag. It's revealed that the attacker is her husband -- cue raucous laughter from the studio audience. (What the fuck, 1970s?) The episode puts an anguished human face to the issue and addresses it with stark and enlightened dialogue. Finally, the no-nonsense female prosecutor lays it out in the clearest possible terms: "This is a case of a woman who resisted and was then overcome by force."
When the cops and the defense attorney push back, pointing out that it'll be a tough case to prosecute due to a lack of precedent, she responds, "When I'm through, there won't be a woman in this country who won't be grateful that we didn't bend under the pressure of convenience."
The episode ends on a downer (read: realistic for the time) note, as the wife forgives her clearly assholish husband, drops the charges, and goes back to him with the promise that he'll never do it again. After they walk out, the captain hands off the police report and ominously says to file it under "unfinished business." Then the studio audience laughs again, hopefully because they had no idea what to think of all this.
Benson Tackled Sexual Blackmail In 1982
You'd be familiar with Benson if you've ever binged on afternoon TV while wallowing in joblessness and yearning for the friendly vibes that only come from old sitcoms. (OK, maybe that's just me.) The sitcom starred Robert Guillaume as Benson, a witty butler who works in a governor's mansion and slowly climbs the ladder until he's lieutenant governor. And in a 1982 episode called "Getting Even," a wealthy investor pressures Benson's secretary, Denise, into dating him.
The investor threatens to withhold money from the state if Denise refuses. Denise spills her predicament to a female colleague, but asks her to keep quiet. She doesn't, instead informing Benson and everyone else in the mansion. Not only do they all believe Denise, but they decide to forsake the guy's money and expose him as the harasser that he is. Note that all of this was written in an era when TV networks probably wouldn't do the same with one of their cash cows, even if it turned out he was the damned Zodiac killer.
So it's truly wonderful to see a group of government officials putting politics and money aside to do the right thing, even if that kind of outcome existed almost entirely in the realm of sitcom fantasy.
The Golden Girls Tackled Two Different Harassment Scenarios By 1990
The Golden Girls didn't just cement Betty White as the internet's Favorite Person Ever, but demonstrated that all it takes is four old ladies in Florida to push the boundaries of television. It used a strategy that would later get adopted by South Park: Make dark humor go down easier by centering the show around a demographic the audience normally sees as harmless (kids / older women). That's how a show like this was able to fearlessly tackle issues like HIV, mortality, and in not one but two episodes, sexual harassment.
In "Adult Education," Blanche is told by her college professor that she will only pass his course if she sleeps with him. Standard operating procedure for the olden days, you may think, but Dorothy firmly sets the record straight: "What he did is sexual harassment. He cannot get away with that!" Blanche ends up studying hard and passing on her own before hitting the sleazy professor with a big speech:
The key here is that Blanche's entire character was centered around being promiscuous. The message was clear: She could have sex with a million dudes, and Dude #1,000,001 still wouldn't have the right to assume a damned thing.
They came back to the subject with "Feelings," which had Rose coming to terms with being felt up by her dentist while she's under the effects of nitrous oxide. This was in 1990, several years before the sexual assault of drugged people would even receive proper press coverage. Rose is initially hesitant and doubtful over her recollection, but when the dentist tries it on her again, she instantly decides to report him, though not before dousing him with his own water pick. The network's censors presumably wouldn't let her go after him with the drill.
Even The Twilight Zone Had Something To Say About It (In 1960!)
The Twilight Zone terrified generations and gave The Simpsons a sizable chunk of their jokes. And it didn't just offer stellar alien / talking doll / pig monster thrills, but also very effectively addressed the human condition and some very real issues. And one of them was the grooming and manipulation of young women by powerful, unethical men (in other words, many of creator Rod Serling's industry colleagues).
The 1960 episode "Long Live Walter Jameson" depicts a college professor engaged to marry a student. But he's no ordinary professor; he's secretly immortal, and has been marrying, using, and ditching young women for hundreds of years. The girl's father finds out his secret and tries to stop his daughter from falling victim. Long story short, the professor rapidly ages and turns into a pile of dust. Sure, it's dressed up in metaphor, but whether it's the promise of a movie role or the a long happy marriage, it all comes down to manipulation of a young person by someone more powerful and mature (by hundreds of years, in this case). If nothing else, it proves that people working in Hollywood have known this shit was wrong for more than half a century.
Markos does lots of things, like tweeting facts multiple times a day.
For more, check out 'Stupid' Movies That Are Surprisingly Progressive - After Hours:
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