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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Don Feder

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Steve Allen mugged by prime time television -- IF A NEO-CONSERVATIVE is a liberal who was just mugged, Steve Allen is a liberal who was mugged by network television.

The legendary comedian and first "Tonight Show" host is honorary chairman of the Parents Television Council.

In full-page ads for the group, Allen asks: "Are you as disgusted as I am at the filth, vulgarity, sex and violence TV is sending into our homes? Are you fed up with steamy unmarried sex situations, filthy jokes, perversion, vulgarity, foul language, violence, killings, etc.? Are you as outraged as I am at how TV is undermining the morals of children ... encouraging them to have premarital sex?"

Yes, yes and yes. And that was before I saw last week's episode of "Ally McBeal."

It opens with the anorexic attorney having anonymous sex with a hunk inside a car wash. In the next scene, a client comes to her for help. The woman is scheduled to be married shortly, but her minister refuses to perform the ceremony.

It seems the reverend stopped by her home and surprised the blushing bride in bed with someone other than her fiance. The woman confesses she wanted a last fling. Ally persuades the reluctant cleric to perform the service. In gratitude, the woman asks Ally to be a bridesmaid.

Cut to the wedding. The groom turns out to be Ally's undercarriage quickie. Do the infidelities cancel each other out? Not quite. You see, the groom was great with Ally ("He really knows how to touch a woman") but is a dud with his intended. Thus, Ally surmises that he really doesn't love the bride and is marrying her for her fortune. She so informs the lady and the nuptials are off.

The moral: Casual sex is OK. (Everybody's doing it.) Infidelity is no big deal. (Your mate is probably cheating on you.) So, praise the culture and pass the condoms.

And, the Fox sitcom is far from the worse thing afloat in cesspool-land. "South Park's" foul-mouthed urchins converse with talking poop. On "Dawson's Creek," a high-school boy has an affair with his English teacher and cheerleaders mock a jock's impotence. HBO's "Sex and the City" is soft-core porn, without the class. At least a third of each episode consists of grunting and groaning.

A New York Times article observes: "It is all part of what some television executives and social scientists see as the rapid disappearance of most taste and language restrictions in mass media, a trend fueled by shifting standards of what is socially acceptable -- and what, for the television industry, is deemed to be financially necessary."

Socially acceptable? The Parents Television Council has received over 360,000 responses and raised $2 million from these ads. A recent poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates shows 59 percent believe that "American culture is off on the wrong track."

L. Monique Ward, a professor at the University of Michigan, conducted a study of 300 college students. Ward found that the more students identified with characters on the 12 top-rated TV shows, the more likely they were to "endorse recreational attitudes toward sex ... and be sexually experienced themselves."

Over 80 percent who were shown selected TV clips dealing with sex called the depictions "realistic" or "very realistic." Imagine the impact on 13-year-olds?

What passes for creativity in Hollywood lies exclusively in finding new ways to push the envelope. "Beavis and Butthead" paved the way for "South Park." "Married with Children" begot "Ally McBeal."

What does the future hold in store? An incest sitcom? A dramatic series about inter-species dating -- "Dawson's Zoo"?

Steve Allen is a liberal, and a grandfather. "I have always deplored filth, so I haven't changed my mind on that regard at all, but the sea around me has changed. Suddenly, I am, despite my deploring, awash in filth, as everyone else is. I can handle that personally, but I don't want my grandchildren brainwashed with it."

But network apologists say crude language and vulgar sexual expression is all around us, that even if today's TV were '50s wholesome, kids would still be corrupted by music, movies and street talk.

Dumb argument, says the author of the forthcoming book "Dumbth." Allen: "You'll always have murders too. That doesn't keep you from trying to diminish the number."

What goes on every evening in millions of living rooms across the land is the killing of standards by savage assaults on decency and honor. Steve Allen protests these crimes, as should we all.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate