Forbidden Television Shows

This morning at the gym (I know, I go to the gym, you must be so impressed with me), my running companion suggested we choose the treadmills in front of the television showing Married…With Children, explaining that he had been forbidden from watching it as a child.

In my house, the forbidden television show was The Simpsons. My mother hated that cartoon family for reasons that were perpetually shifting. She often invoked how gross the color palette was, how ridiculous Marge’s hairstyle was, and, of course, how rude and abusive the characters behaved towards each other. I think some of her hatred came from George Bush’s famous burn:

The real controversy began January 27th, 1992, when Bush declared to a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters: “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The Simpsons quickly wrote and animated a new sequence for “Stark Raving Dad,” which would be rerun three days later. Bart and his family watch the clip of Bush’s speech and Bart replies, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end of the depression, too.”

My mother was not, at the time, particularly keen on American politics; it was just one of those widespread opinions that filter down through all levels of discourse until they reach the desired target. In this case, moms who were perpetually concerned about the effects of pop culture and new technologies on their children’s feeble, still-developing brains! She also banned Beverly Hills, 90210, even going so far as to have my paediatrician tell me not to watch it, perhaps as a kind of…prescription? I have no idea. Murphy Brown was also forbidden, as per Dan Quayle’s notable “what about the dads” complaint, although I didn’t really care about that.

I cared, mostly, about being left out. At my elementary school I was shy and awkward. I had a hard time pronouncing Hebrew properly — it’s such a guttural language and I felt like I could never get my throat muscles to work the way they were supposed to — and only loved to read the books my teachers weren’t assigning, so I was precocious and a bit of an asshole, a lethal combination. I liked Hebrew when I could read it to myself; I felt the same way about English; but traditional elementary schools rewards kids who speak out loud. I could hear the kids on the playground making jokes that I just knew came from The Simpsons and it was, I felt, another language I wasn’t properly mastering. Another way of speaking everyone else seemed to know except me.

Around thirteen I really came into my precocious asshole self and was basically like, fuck you Mom, I’m watching whatever I want!! and promptly caught up on all the years of cultural references I had been missing. Now, of course, I can extensively quote almost every episode from the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, a fact about me that I share with almost all members of my peer group. It does feel as communal as I imagined it would — like a shorthand or a shortcut for some kind of bonding — but it is perhaps not as critical as it was in those pre-teen playground years. It’s more like a nice, cheap thrill: the freedom to choose a television set to run in front of is offset by the obligation you feel to jog because you’re twenty-nine and your thighs don’t stay so shapely on their own anymore. Adulthood, am I right?! Just a constant push and pull between permissions and denials.

What television shows were banned in YOUR household?