TV & Showbiz

TV Show Disclaimers Leave Some Viewers Fuming

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There are plenty of things to get up in arms about these days. But if TV show disclaimers set you off, reconsider your priorities.

These days, TV show disclaimers precede some shows we never considered would even need one. But by today’s standards, maybe they do.

I saw a couple of posts complaining about TV Land. It turns out that the network — and others — display a short line of text just before old Westerns like Gunsmoke and Bonanza:

“This program contains outdated cultural depictions. Viewer discretion is advised.” 

I think most of us understand immediately what types of “outdated cultural depictions” they’re referring to. If you need a hint, you might consider how people of color are portrayed in those old programs. You might also consider how Native Americans — more likely to be labeled “injuns” — might be depicted.

Disney also received criticism when adding disclaimers about “outdated cultural depictions” to films such as 1967’s The Jungle Book and 1953’s Peter Pan.

Believe it or not, while some allow themselves to get worked up into a tizzy over it, others wish there were more disclaimers. Disney in particular has been criticized for not adding disclaimers to titles like  Aladdin or Pocahontas.

TV show disclaimers aren’t exactly new.

Fifty years ago — it’s hard to believe it has been that long — a sitcom some of us grew up with premiered with its own disclaimer. On the night of Jan. 12, 1971, nervous CBS executives insisted on a disclaimer to assuage the angry calls they were convinced would inundate their switchboard.

The disclaimer for All in the Family read:

“The program you are about to see is ‘All in the Family.’ It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.”

It was a different kind of disclaimer. It didn’t mention anything about cultural depictions. But the language, bigotry and cultural strife depicted in the series weren’t any less intense.

But back in 1971, few people saw the first few episodes of All in the Family. It wasn’t until the summer that it began to build a following while other shows more people watched went into summer reruns.

The program was frank compared with most of what was on television back then. It had an edge that caught people off guard.

The fact that the network wanted a disclaimer then might not seem so unreasonable.

Some insist it’s totally unreasonable now.

I can, to a small degree, see their frustration. Sort of.

By today’s standards, a comedy can’t exist with multiple jokes about sex, drugs and debauchery. That makes those old shows from decades past are so innocent.

From the standpoint of “adult content,” yes, they’re innocent.

But from the standpoint of a society with far less evolved awareness on issues like racism and gender, they seem perfectly primitive today.

What’s the alternative?

Maybe if we didn’t acknowledge outdated views and stereotypes, those shows would not air at all.

When you watch most classic TV shows these days, you notice how much they get chopped up. Networks and stations show those reruns but need more commercial time. So sometimes entire scenes get cut just to show a few extra ads.

Without a disclaimer, you might notice that even more content wound up stripped out of the show.

Frankly, if it’s a show I like, I can ignore an occasional outdated reference. Just because I like such a show doesn’t mean I would ever agree with an “outdated cultural depiction.”

At the same time, I’d rather see a show I like than see it disappear forever.

Those little TV show disclaimers take about five seconds of your time.

If that’s the worst thing that happens to you all day, you’ve had a good day.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.