THE BLOG
12/12/2014 01:49 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

Classic Television Wasn't Always Classy

In recent weeks, I've almost exclusively been watching television shows from the early '60s. Often suffering culture shock while doing so.

I have to say the incessant smoking often seems highly inappropriate -- let alone stupid. Seeing a father smoking while talking to his young son, smoke blowing around the child's face, is a surprise. (In this case, it was the actor's actual son as well.) I would hope parents today are a bit more considerate. The real shocker, however, has been what those shows communicate about women.

Consider the Perry Mason series. It seems any female client has to be young and vivacious, and private investigator Paul Drake is constantly leering and making suggestive remarks to them, or any other attractive female.

There seem to be an inordinate number of models and actresses portrayed. In a recent episode, I saw a woman posing for photographs in a swim suit as Drake stands there staring at her, unable to focus on anything but her body. Even when spoken to he doesn't immediately break his lecherous glare. We get the same adolescent drool in another episode where he investigates a case with a model posing for a room of aspiring artists.

Drake constantly treated women the way a 13-year-old boy would treat a copy of Playboy.

In The Case of the Violent Vest, we again have a young female model, this time being sexual harassed by her boss, who is several decades older than her. She explains the harassment to Mason and his secretary, Della Street. Neither seem shocked and neither suggest she has a right to complain about it.

In fact, her complaint can get her fired from her role as "Miss Debutante" because she could be found guilty of moral turpitude. Well, she also can get fired for another sin that she has to hide -- she's married. You can't have a model who is married, I presume, because that supposedly implies she isn't sexually available.

The harassment of this young woman by a much older man is treated as normal, something to be expected. No one ever suggests she has a right to complain about how this man is treating her. The only person, the story implies, who can be punished for this is her -- she can lose her job and that is treated as natural, as well.

Several episodes included women who were abused by their husbands, including some who were physically assaulted and bruised. Not one episode I saw, so far, implied this is criminal, or that the woman has any right to seek police protection. In addition, as the woman is recounting her experiences to both Mason and Street, they sit there without any sort of change in facial expressions or comments even implying this was wrong.

It's as if wife-beating is common. I was a child in that era and witnessed this sort of abuse in my own home. I know of other cases in the neighborhood as well. At no point was assaulting a wife considered criminal by our peers. Not once were police involved.

Families or neighbors who knew of such things all followed a code of silence. The theory was what happens in the family stays in the family. Every single adult relative knew what went on, but not one thought of calling the police.

When a woman was bruised, etiquette of the day was to ignore and never mention it. After all, you don't want to hurt her feelings or embarrass her for being a victim.

The assumption of the culture I grew up in was that men could treat women as objects created to satiate their sexual desires. It was also accepted that a man could knock a woman around "now and then" to keep her in line. Her status was above the children, but subservient to the husband.

Television of the era reflected the wider culture. Blacks were portrayed in comedic roles or as servants, but rarely as central characters doing the sort of things white folk did. Women were second-class citizens. And gays were either invisible, or when hinted at, played as flamboyantly and comedically as possible.

I, for one, am thankful such portrayals are now considered "politically incorrect." Sure, there are still people who have this view of women, blacks, gays and other minority groups. Sure, they whine a lot about how political correctness is stifling their prejudices. How sad they didn't live and die in the era from which they derive their views.