National Catholic Reporter (Newspaper):
Article about Terry Rakolta's Fight

Last update November 8, 1999

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As posted by Carolyn Crapo at on October 4, 1999. Completed by Andreas Carl.

The National Catholic Reporter, May 19, 1989.

Threat to censor broad snipes and brights stars


Not long ago, an irate housewife bombarded televison advertisers with letters excoriating one particular program, and many advertisers took fright. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next irate housewife.

When Terry Rakolta raised her tiny voice and complained about the lecherous dialogue in the new sitcom "Married... with Children," it brought a lump to my throat. A new American folk heroine was born and, once again, one giant step was taken for the little guy. An obscure Midwestern housewife taking censorship out of the churches and bringing it right into the kitchen - what could be more true blue? And dangerous?

When Rakolta first appeared in the morning headlines denouncing the new program as lewd, indecent and demeaning to women, advertisers such as Procter & Gamble and McDonald's trampled over each other to distance their ads from the program and appease this one-woman juggernaut from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In his heydey Cardinal Francis Spellman couldn't have terrified so many, so quickly, so completely.

And yet, when the smoke, and ratings, settled, Rakolta had achieved just the opposite of what she had hoped to accomplish. Curious television viewers, those little devils, thinking they had missed something, turned on their sets, and the ratings for "Married... with Children" revived quite nicely. Many of the viewers - average, ordinary husbands and wives raising families and striving valiantly to pay the bills, discovered they were watching, well, themselves, of at least people they knew or knew about in the neighborhood.

It was not the Cosbys or the all too pretious adventurs of the Brady Bunch, resurrected, or one of those too cute, carefully concocted "family series" that are as charming and endearing as one of those commercials on constipation. It was, for the most part, two people, husband and wife, Al and Peggy Bundy, talking about some of the things that many ordinary, canonized, unpretentiously, noncelibate married couples are wont to discuss during the course of a routine day, or night, and that occasionally, er, uh, does indeed include some passing, peripheral illusion of sex.

Rakolta is probably the ideal wife-mother-crusader, but she has all the natural instincts of most censors. She condemns too eagerly. There is no compromise or middle ground in her all-or-nothing anathemas. She doesn't think the rest of humanity should watch, or enjoy, what she doesn't like.

If she were a social worker, most American families would be evicted from their couch near the television set. If she were a teacher, most well-adjusted and quite happy husbands and wives would be sent to the back of their living rooms.

To her credit, however, and unlike certain prestigous Catholic critics who bragged that they never saw "The Last Temptation of Christ" or read "The Satanic Verses" but whacked them anyway, Rakolta has at least watched "Married... with Children".

What Rakolta has obviously not watched, however, are a few average American families. And what she does not seem to want to admit is that the conversations in many homes, proper and congenial as they might be, do not generally sound like the Little Sisters of the Poor at meditation. Most husbands and wives, in the few moments they can get together, do not generally sound like the soundtrack from "Bambi" or the Trapp Family Singers.

Admittedly, a visit to the Bundy home isn't exactly a journey thru the Sistine Chapel. But it is a slice of American life that has a right to take its place alongside "60 Minutes" or "Murder She Wrote" or any other Sunday-night program.

This is not meant to suggest that Al and Peggy Bundy are the second coming of the Walton family. Al's idea of exercise is carrying a six-pack to his favorite spot, in front of television, and Peg's no slouch when it comes to double entendres and the kind of conversation that is not generally a staple of the Disney channel. No Christopher awards this year for Al and Peg.

And yet, dare we presume that Rakolta is perfectly capable of getting on her feet and turning to the program of her choice? Nobody is constrained to watch the Bundys or forced to listen to the kind of dumb dialogue that the nicer people of this world may find, let's say, gauche. But neither should anyone be deprived of the opportunity to watch the antithesis of Robert Young and Jane Wyatt simply because the Bundys are not the kind of folks Rakolta generally invites to her barbecues.

There is one other thing. Crusader Rakolta complained that "Married... with Children" is demeaning to women. Has this woman ever really watched television before? Does she watch it now? Has she ever counted the ways many of the sitcoms (not to mention commercials) go out of their way to portray men (and especially fathers) as blithering idiots?

The babbling father in "Family Ties" is a case in point. So is Roseanne's husband, who seems to enjoy looking, and talking, like a jerk. So are Bob Newhart, Danny DeVito in the old "Taxi" series and Dan Fielding in "Night Court," television's unchallenged dregs in male sleaze. And if they're not bad enough, let me hasten to include those twin towers of American manhood that are the fas-food version of Attila the Hun and the Ayatollah, Archie Bunker and J.R. Ewing.

Rakolta may have propelled more than one chancery chamber into gleeful excitement, inaugurating, as she did, an approach that might well replace the traditional edict promulgated from on high in pulpit, pastoral and diccesan press, condemning this or that film or book for salacious and scandalous blah, blah and blah. Instead, canny prelates might henceforth enlist a cadre of rich housewives in their diceses and unleash them, unmercifully against advertisers and sponsors, politicians, nasty reporters, deadbeart parishioners - the sky's the limit.

There are probably a few fearful souls out there this very moment convulsed by the fear that another Rakolta may ride into town an decree that programs depicting, smoking, baldness, overwight, freckles, bad breath or a passion for chocolate are dangerous to your health and demeaning to humanity.

Even so, crusader Rakolta might do well to sublimate her bile and target some of the other things on TV that perhaps more seriously require her vigilance and her typewriter. News stories, for example, about America's continuing antipathy to the homeless are more than lewd, while most stories about your run-of-the-mill politician and his first-day-with-the-grand-jury are grossly indecent. And just about any commercial, coaxing and lying and seductive, is arrogantly demeaning to all of us. Even to Al and Peg Bundy."

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© Andreas Carl 1999