By Norris Burkes Jan 16, 2022
I occasionally get emails from readers who reminisce about the good ol’ days. It’s as if they’re hoping I’ll commiserate with them about how horrible the world has become.
“Back in the day, we tipped our hats to gentlemen and bowed to the ladies,” wrote someone from a land that time forgot.
But it was the reader who traced the fall of America through the entertainment industry that captured my attention. “Back in my day, the Andy Griffith show led the way in promoting wholesome values. Today’s shows promote violence and sexual promiscuity,” he claimed.
While I don’t have a time portal to check the writer’s premise, I do subscribe to video streaming. So I scrolled through the selection where an old favorite caught my attention — “Frasier” (1993-2004).
During our parenting years, Becky and I often rushed the little ones to bed, turned the TV volume down low and bust a gut watching the show. It was good clean entertainment, or so we thought.
If you’ve never seen an episode, you’ll need to know that Kelsey Grammer portrayed a popular Seattle radio advice psychiatrist, Frasier Crane. The show’s 42 Emmy Awards suggest that it’s likely one of the funniest shows in television history.
The good doctor is a fussy, uptight, cultured, but arrogant, broadcaster. Nevertheless, his sympathy toward the working-class listeners, coupled with a level-headed sense of ethics, makes him very likable.
Good clean show, right?
Well, I wouldn’t be too quick on that conclusion.
Frasier satirizes sexism and uses humor to almost normalize sexual harassment.
In the supporting cast, Peri Gilpin plays Roz Doyle, Frasier’s radio producer whose open approach to dating is constantly ridiculed by the other characters.
Worse yet, she endures unwelcome advances from the host of the Gonzo Sports Show. Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe, played by Dan Butler, is constantly touching, kissing and butt-slapping Roz.
Ouch. Where was Human Resources when it was desperately needed in those old days?
And worse yet, I’m appalled at how the main cast is entirely white, with no variation of shade. The US population is over 13% Black, yet like many shows portraying America’s good ol’ days, Frasier reflects the racism of the day by relegating African American actors to unwelcome interrupters.
But perhaps I should rewind our VCR time machine all the way back to the wholesome days of the Andy Griffith Show –that portrays a friendly, kind and close–knit community that we should strive to achieve.
However, the series still confronts us, and shamefully so, with a time when various shades of color or sexual orientation were little more than unwelcome cameo appearances in our lives.
So why bring up TV shows in a spiritual column?
Because I think that even the best classic shows will successfully dismiss the premise that everything was better back in the day.
No, I’m not trying to shame you for your entertainment choices. I’m only asking you to consider how morality can both improve while at the same time become derailed.
If you read the Bible, you’ll be familiar with this notion of the coexistence of good and evil.
In the parable of the wheat and thistles, (Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus rebukes good-ol’-days proponents who advocate spending our time rooting out the evil.
In verse 30 he says, ‘If you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.”
Yes, our world is getting worse and worse, but this parable also tells me that it’s getting better and better. The worst will always exist alongside the best. Evil is a parasite that feeds on good, not the opposite.
So instead of commiserating with folks about the passing of the good ol’ days, this spirituality columnist encourages the Zen Buddhist teaching that “life must exist in the present or nowhere at all.”
Just keep in mind the church-camp song from those good ol’ days — “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”