TBT: Discipline and Comedy
May 11th, 2017 – Networks today can have their fictional characters say a lot of damn words they couldn’t just a few years ago. The FCC defines profanity as language that’s so grossly offensive to members of the public that it becomes a nuisance. With an ambiguous definition, the ability for Jesse Pinkman or Walter White to drop the f-bomb depends on the times in which viewers were living.
Profane language, sex scenes and violence have become fairly acceptable on television shows in 2017. But while addressing controversial, societal topics that go against the grain of acceptable PC culture are explored, the backlash can be swift and harsh.
Good Times joined a slew of 70s sitcoms, often helmed by Norman Lear, that aired episodes with material that would probably be frowned upon today. In episode 24 of season two, the show released “The Lunch Money Rip-Off” and heads down the path of addressing the topic of spanking kids. As in, the father, James, spanks Eddie (with a belt, loudly, many times, while the family looks on adding jokes). And Eddie isn’t James’ kid; he’s a school bully who’s spending some time with the family.
Good Times centers around Florida and James Evans raising their three children in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Hard-working, straight-shooter James works many jobs to provide for his family, and this particular episode finds his son Michael bringing home a bully who steals his lunch money. Michael pleads with his parents to let Eddie stay for the weekend; he believes he can help him study and become a better student and that kind act will make him stop bullying.
Early on in the weekend, James foreshadows the incident by saying “I’d like to put my hands on him” after hearing about the problems the bully has created. Eddie continues to show disrespect and disobedience to house rules, and James finally has had enough. He tells Eddie “You heard of the extended family? Well this weekend you’re part of one, which gives me the right to extend this belt to your behind if I feel like it.”
And he does. James takes off his belt and drags Eddie into the bedroom. Florida and her three children look on with worry but begin to make jokes and predictions based on past experiences.
Michael: Mama, you think Daddy’s really gonna give Eddie a spanking?
Florida: Is a bean green?
J.J.: Can James Brown get down?
Thelma: Is your head dead?
After the sound of many swats, the family continues their commentary:
J.J.: That sounds like a 6.5 on the richter scale.
Thelma: Question is…which beating did he get?
J.J.: Well as we all know, dad has three in his repertoire: the regular, the super and the big mac!
They determine that Eddie did, in fact, get the big mac and end up making him understand that James disciplined him because he cares about him. Eddie’s rebellious exterior starts to crumble and he focuses on studying with Michael.
The episode receives a 7.8 on IMDB and clips often still get circulated on social media today. But with acceptability of what can be aired on TV essentially being a reflection of what is socially acceptable at the time, the question becomes would this episode be well-received if aired today?