A little over ten years ago, CNN did a story on what was then a new, off-Broadway play with a controversial title. The title contained the correct word for a certain part of the female anatomy. Hard to imagine, but CNN was able to do a ten minute news story about the play and never once use the word.
Yesterday, Valentines Day, 2008, Jane Fonda appeared on "The Today Show" to talk about her involvement with the play. The word a cable news network wouldn't use just a few years ago was the primary focus of this over-the-air broadcast. In the course of the interview, Ms. Fonda used a slang word for the body part in question — a slang word considered highly offensive because it has long been used to demean women in general, to reduce their lives, their purpose, their being . . . to one part of their anatomy.
Will Jane Fonda's slang word be common on morning television ten years from now?
There has been a steady coarsening of American society for decades. The shapers of popular culture take pride in these changes. Watch a documentary about almost any television show (even the most innocuous) and someone will brag that their show pushed the envelope of what was acceptable in mainstream society. Lucy's pregnancy was shown and made part of the storyline on "I Love Lucy" (though they weren't allowed to use the word "pregnant.") On "Leave it to Beaver," they showed part of a toilet. There were no toilets in "The Brady Bunch" bathrooms, but Mr. and Mrs. Brady shared a bed. Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," but they kissed a lot, seemed truly amorous, and one got the impression that the chasm between their beds was often crossed.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone offended by any of the above. What interests me is the inordinate pride I've heard expressed in these small movements of "the envelope." It's not just these shows, but almost all television series have actors, writers, and producers who proudly proclaim that their program took television further in its depiction of sexuality or the human body than it had ever gone before. They "pushed the envelope."
Do they look at the big picture? Do they ask where they want the envelope to eventually go? Do they ask, "Is something gained when a new word can be said on television, or is something lost?"
Holy and Good
For most kids today, it's not enough just to hear adults say, "Don't!" Should they not speak certain words? They want to know why not. They know which parts of their bodies represent sexuality. They want to know why these parts should be mostly hidden.
Sadly, adults can't always give satisfactory answers to these questions. That's because the answers are found in something largely lost to twenty-first century western society — a sense of the sacred.
Did Jesus have a sense of the sacred? Did He ever! When He ran the money- changers out of the temple, He was angry. He was furious! Why? A holy place, a sacred place, had been turned into a supermarket.
We once treasured places where the sacred could be protected and celebrated. We called them sanctuaries. Marriage is the sanctuary for sex. The Sabbath is a sanctuary for rest. Home is a sanctuary for family and Church a sanctuary of worship and theology.
Hallowed Be Thy Name
As I write this, the cable television network, TV Land, is promoting their "Omygod That's So 80s Weekend." Interestingly, on their web site's home page they say, "Oh my gosh," but the ad going out on television says, "Oh my God." And it says it over and over again.
Sadly, it's not just the secular world which feels free to use His name in vain. Christians use the same phrase as the TV Land ad. It's certainly possible to exclaim those words with reverence, but it's also possible to use the phrase as merely an exclamation of surprise or amazement or even disdain. It becomes a habit. The Lord of the universe becomes a byword.
Even preachers do it, especially TV preachers. If Jesus is a man's Lord, then when he says "Oh my Lord," it's the same as saying "Oh Jesus." Yes, it can be said with reverence. It can be a profound prayer. Or, it can be said out of habit, an exclamation — a byword.
Back to the Monologues
Some have expressed offense at seeing the words "The Vagina Monologues" on a marquis outside a theater. This raises the ire of "the enlightened." They accuse the offended of demeaning women, sex, and/or female sexuality.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The offense comes from seeing a public display of something meant for intimacy within a sacred covenant. Human sexuality is beautiful and wondrous. But does anyone really believe it can't be made dirty, used in ugly ways?
God is for sex, but against its desecration. That's because God is for us, but against our desecration. A bulwark against our desecration is a strong sense of the sacred.
A Sense of the Sacred
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