The one criticism I have for the “defenders of free speech” in the culture wars is that the so-called “in touch,” sophisticated, smart people don’t know how to talk to people who disagree with them on specific cultural issues – meaning civil dialogue. I’m not saying it’s easy on either side. But I have a suggestion and a tool that might break the barrier or offer some narrative vocabulary (as George Lakoff has been trying to do). Watch Filth, PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre Contemporary tv drama about the crusade of the real Mary Whitehouse (played by Julie Walters) to “Clean Up TV” as the world around her began spiraling into the free love of the 1960s.
I had no idea the Beatles “I Am the Walrus” was a dirty song. Even Mary sings “goo goo g’joob.” I’ll have to google the lyrics.
In fact, if you missed Filth Sunday, you can watch it online: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/filth/index.html
What I admire most about this film is that Whitehouse is not portrayed as a kook, idiot, extremist, or total nutcase. She is a human being with her own values and perspectives. In fact, it appeared the “defenders of free speech” in this film fit most of those other labels. Though the Director-General of the BBC, Sir Hugh Carleton Greene as played by Hugh Bonneville, may have been ahead of his time in matters of artistic expression, he forgot the old TV content question: “What would your grandmother think?” I know both sides of these content issues from personal (playwright) and professional experience (TV programming and assigning FCC ratings). But I believe the producers of the film were trying to say in their extremism, both sides can be out-of-touch with the world around them.
Mrs. Whitehouse was an art teacher and homemaker and, as seen in this film, one helluva community organizer. She mobilized a campaign that resulted in the National Viewers’and Listeners’ Association set up to monitor the BBC in 1965. It’s now known as Media Watch-UK. Mary Whitehouse died in November 2001.
Julie Walters plays Mrs. Whitehouse with crusader spunk but also with a bit of wit and an undercurrent of smart sexiness. Who knows. The pill box hat may be the new fishnet stockings. For Mrs Whitehouse, sex is a private matter sanctioned by God or tucked quietly in the hidden backrooms of the subconscious.
I’ve got to run, but two more things about Filth: the film is a comedy-drama; and ironically a production of the BBC.