Why the Dr. Laura story isn’t about censorship
”Road Trip” is in theaters, new episodes of ”The PJs” will be airing all summer long, and NPR wiseguy David Sedaris has just published a hot new collection of funny essays. But if you’re still starved for a good belly laugh, you couldn’t do better than to flip on one of those political/ media talking heads shows and listen to some right-wing hand puppet speaking with grave concern about the ”censorship” of Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
Yes, ”censorship” — a word brought to you by the same good folks who have, year in, year out, tried their very best to rid the world of elephant-dung painting, ”NYPD Blue,” and the National Endowment for the Arts. A concept being dusted off by the same people who, just a couple of elections back, got so confused they apparently thought Murphy Brown was a real person. Their tongues now stumbling over their own hypocrisy, they would now have you believe that Dr. Laura, who, thanks to Paramount Television, will be getting her own syndicated talk show this fall, is a brave lone voice about to be drowned by a tide of (their favorite old warhorse) political correctness.
Let’s get a few things straight (a goal of which Dr. Laura herself would surely approve). First of all, nobody is censoring this pop-psych ”personality”; with a radio show that seems to be on for about 19 hours every day and books that recently made best-seller lists for both children and adults, she’s not exactly someone whose wit and wisdom you can only obtain on the black market.
Second, the free-market system in which Dr. Laura is plying her trade is working exactly as it is supposed to. Paramount, driven by potential profits, decided that the offensiveness of Dr. Laura’s views on women and homosexuals was outweighed by its potential to make money off her. (That’s how studios work.) The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, justifiably appalled by her rhetoric, decided to call for a boycott. (As the NAACP very effectively demonstrated last fall, that’s how interest groups work.) And then several major advertisers, smelling controversy, decided they didn’t want their products anywhere near Dr. Laura, and bailed out. (That’s how advertisers work.) And in the fall, viewers will decide for themselves whether Dr. Laura is worth watching, at which point advertisers will decide whether her viewers are people to whom they want to sell things. (That’s how TV works.)
In fact, there are only two anomalies here. One is that a couple of gay producer/writers on ”Frasier,” an enormous and prestigious moneymaker for Paramount, decided to go public with their disgust over the company’s decision to give Dr. Laura her own show. (That’s called having a social conscience and acting on it; that’s emphatically NOT how television works, but it’s awfully nice when it happens.)
The other is that Schlessinger (let’s stop this whole Dr. Laura/Judge Judy lopping-off of last names — these people aren’t cuddly!) is unusually blunt about her repulsive rhetoric. Anti-gay material comes at the pop-culture consumer in many guises these days; often, it’s veiled with the term ”irony” (see ”Clerks,” the series), or dismissed as a silly case of ”oversensitivity.” The rapper Eminem recently explained that when he uses the word ”faggot” on his new CD, it’s merely intended to mean ”coward”. (Em, if you’re really unclear on what this word means, there are plenty of gay people out there who would relish the opportunity to explain it to you.) Schlessinger doesn’t fall into that category; her enmity and rancor is right up front. That, whether you’re a producer, an advertiser, or a viewer, is something to consider.