This Is Ridiculous

My wife and I were watching television several weeks ago when we saw the above ad for Schick’s Hydro Silk TrimStyle razor for women, which is made for those women who wear bikini swimwear.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. “Are you kidding?” we said almost simultaneously.

Television has come a long way in its permissiveness. I can remember watching shows back in the late ’50s and early ’60s where Ozzie and Harriet and all the other married TV couples slept in twin beds, because studios weren’t allowed to show them sharing the same bed.

That was part of an era in Hollywood governed by The Motion Picture Production Code, a period of time between 1930 and 1968. Often called the “Hays Code”, it deemed what was morally acceptable for public audiences to see in movie theaters. Will H. Hays was the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and under his leadership, the MPAA began its strict enforcement of that code starting in 1934.

Hollywood, in its early days of making silent pictures, had its share of scandal with the murder of a famous director (William Desmond Taylor) and the alleged rape of a starlet by the famous actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Religious and political organizations were appalled at the apparent “wild west” atmosphere of the fledging motion picture industry, and with the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball (having of course nothing to do with Hollywood), and the rise of bootlegging and gangsters in the 1920s, the Hays group felt it necessary to impose its moral rules and keep Hollywood “clean”.

After World War 2, television came into its golden period. (Television was actually invented in 1925 by Philo Farnsworth; Philco, Westinghouse and RCA developed their machines in the ’30s, but the formative television business didn’t get off the ground until after the war ended.) Hollywood wanted to get into television for two reasons: one, as a hedge from the upstart TV business—couples were staying home and raising families and not spending the time going out to movies; and two, since they already had the production facilities, why not make TV shows and cash in by having advertisers run commercials just like the radio industry?

Of course, with the Hays Code already in place, the same rules applied. Anything morally suspect was not allowed. A long list of items was spelled out, such as illegal trafficking and use of drugs, inference of sexual perversion (subject to interpretation by a committee), vulgar language, miscegenation (sex between black and white races), any depiction of venereal disease, and a man and a woman in the same bed. The list was way longer than that and included showing white slavery, rape, branding of people or animals, surgical operations, and gratuitous brutality of children or animals.

It took many years for Hollywood—whose star system faded in the 1960s—to loosen its grip on the code. Morals were changing, and the public (and younger directors) wanted realism on the screen. European movies had long reflected an open and less restrictive genre, so the American studios began to relent. By the 1970s, TV shows came of age.

There was, however, one last vestige of the Hollywood code: the Family Viewing Hour, the first hour of prime time TV each night, that enforced similar rules. Established by the FCC in 1975, it felt it had to enforce “family-friendly” programming from 8 to 9 PM EST. But it didn’t last long. The Writers Guild sued, citing violations of the First Amendment, and won.

But what about censorship in TV commercials? I mean, the commercial above is not crude pictorially, but it is suggestive and more than repugnant to some viewers. Look what we have today in TV ads: erectile dysfunction, condoms, birth control devices, bladder control, IUD issues, catheters, etc. The medical industry loves all this. I hate seeing it, but there they are.

I know the Schick ad is about beauty and/or hygiene, but the way it’s depicted is a little out-of-bounds.

Apparently there are no rules. Advertisers are censoring themselves, keeping what they individually feel are within—or just barely within—moral guidelines.

I wonder what the commercials along this line will be like in another twenty years.

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