Last night, I was watching "Sanford and Son" on TV Land. There wasn't anything else really on at that time, so I decided to watch an old favorite. I've always thought that Redd Foxx was a comedic genius.
Anyway, in this particular episode, Redd's character was going on and on about the Puerto Rican guy who operates a junkyard next door. In a series of rhetorical questions, Redd asks "why is he smuggling wetbacks over the border!?" This was part of a long line of jokes about Hispanics.
Now, had I been some sort of bleeding-heart, ACLU activist-type...I would've been on the phone complaining to TV Land/Nick-At-Nite within 2.7 seconds flat. I would be acting so indignant on this blog about this "outrageous lack of responsibility by TV Land not to pre-screen these shows for insensitive remarks!"
Instead, I laughed. I laughed pretty hard, actually (it was really funny). I then looked at my wife, and I said, "See, that would never fly today, too many people don't understand the concept of 'context' when someone makes a joke like that."
When a statement like that is made on TV, it's not intended to reflect what the actors, directors, and producers believe...it's to reflect a character. In this case, it's an older, working-class guy who has certain values and stereotypes. Nowadays, there are people who believe we should hide from the fact that there were/are people who had these stereotypes in their minds.
I am glad, though, that the majority of people give shows like that, along with "All in the Family" and others, a free pass on this kind of speech. If we were to start censoring the past...those shows would lose their cultural importance.
I'm not advocating the consistent use of terms like "wetback" TV, but when terms like that are used on TV shows, I hope that people can understand the context the phrase is used and where the phrase is coming from...rather than just focus on the words alone.