I lead a sheltered life. The only X-rated movies I remember seeing were "I Am Curious (Yellow)" and "Midnight Cowboy." When I was a student at Northwestern University I sinned, sneaking off to an art theater in Chicago to see Hedy Lamarr and her flat chest in "Ecstasy." (As I typed the word "chest" I remembered that a KU professor of olden times, according to legend, insisted on saying "chests," not "breasts".)
Years ago I read sort of "Ulysses." I read "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and little bits of "Tropic of Cancer." Try as I might I could never make out the dirty words in "Louie, Louie." The only naughty words from current popular "music" that I've seen are those quoted, with omitted letters, in a recent Time cover story, "Dirty Words."
SO I'M NOT really enough of an authority to be making this statement. But I do think there should be a new label on some of our art forms "T," for "trash." I see that record manufacturers are warning parents that their children are buying albums that have nasty words in them, and I also note that two people pulled out of "Saturday Night Live" because of the presence of one Andrew Dice Clay. I read that the "SNL" with Clay had a record viewing audience.
The stuff Time described sounds nauseating, creepy. I don't think a "T" rating would be censorship; it would be advisory. Ratings wouldn't stop the wee ones from buying records or seeing movies, but a "T" would tell the world that some things are scarcely art, that they're gross, degrading, slimy.
Back in the seventies two movies emerged, a porno thing called "Deep Throat," an artier porno thing called "Last Tango in Paris." Pauline Kael thought the latter was in a class with Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." It wasn't quite that, but it was light years better than "Deep Throat." Somebody wrote that anybody who couldn't see the difference between the two was in worse shape than the filth behind "Deep Throat."
I WEARY OF the notion that every bit of dung that comes floating down the street should be called "art." Norman Mailer once told us that subway graffiti was a new art form. Let people see it, read it, sing it, but don't tell them it's art.
I'm not about to join the Jesse Helms Fan Club. You know, we kicked this kind of thing around for years in one of my classes. We talked about the difference between Lady Chatterley and porno queens. My judgment was that "Chatterley" was well written, but boring. Even page 161 was boring. But probably art, and not likely to do much harm.
Some of the critics went into ecstasies over "I Am Curious," which I saw at the Memorial Union. It was supposedly about the war in Vietnam. How? It was a rather silly movie, especially silly when Boy and Girl did it between the file cabinets, on a balcony, and in a tree.
"CURIOUS" WAS high art compared with some of the stuff on view today, and available on recordings. How naive the rock-shockers of the sixties seem as one reads about Motley Crue, Sam Kimison, Ice Cub, Andrew Dice Clay, Public Enemy, and Live Crew. Loathsome. Trash. And a diet of mainly that for our children? They'd be crippled for life.
How do you fight this stuff? Well, our schools might give some thought to the old idea of taste, the idea that some things are better than other things, that some things are so low on the cultural scale that you should squash them the way you'd squash a disease-bearing bug.
Richard Corliss wrote the Time article. He suggested that one way to fight this junk would be to refuse to give it publicity (and how the Time article gave it publicity!) But who's to stop the entrepreneurs? Would many record shops just not stock these albums? Free enterprise! Free speech! And, censor the stuff and you play the old "Banned in Boston" game.
BUT, I REPEAT, label it trash. Keep the new heroes and heroines off magazine covers. Don't star them on Entertainment Tonight and in People. Don't give them time on HBO or Showtime.
Maybe we should do what my mother used to do when I let go with a dirty word: I got pepper or soap on my tongue. And I got my bottom paddled. The Live Crew people show us their bare bottoms on a record album. Maybe their bottoms should be exposed in public, and spanked a bit.
Commentary by Calder Pickett appears every Monday in the Journal-World.