An Outlook

Those of us who have been around for a certain number of years have fond memories of watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And those of us who were fans remember the spin-off programs that the show gave rise to – in particular, Rhoda and Phyllis.

Recently, I was remembering an episode of Phyllis. For those who don’t remember, or are too young to have ever seen the program, Phyllis (played by Cloris Leachman) was Mary Tyler Moore’s landlady in Moore’s program. Following the death of her husband, Lars (who was never seen on screen in The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Phyllis moves to San Francisco with her daughter Beth, and this move becomes the starting point for Phyllis.

The episode of Phyllis that came to my mind recently was when Phyllis’ daughter, Bess (played by Lisa Gerritsen) goes on her first date. When Bess returns home that night, a nervous Phyllis decides it is time to have a discussion about sex, and the ensuing scene has stuck in my mind ever since. Relying strictly on my memory, it went something like this:

Phyllis (sitting on a couch, talking to Bess who is sitting in an adjacent chair): So Bess honey, how do you feel about sex?

Bess (with a matter-of-fact, expressionless tone): I think it is hilarious.

[Pause for laughter]

Phyllis: Honey, I’m not sure that view is…um…healthy.

Bess: Mom, think about it. Suppose aliens came to this planet and you were trying to teach them about humans. And suppose they had no understanding of sexual reproduction…maybe they reproduced by dividing or something. And now you have to sit them down and explain how human reproduction works. Think about it, Mom. When you get right down to it there’s no other word to describe sex but hilarious.

The dialog above wasn’t the exact dialog used in the episode, but the gist of the scene remains accurate, as does (in my opinion) Bess’ take on human reproduction. So what caused me to remember this particular television show, and this particular scene? Well, folks, it was the recent mid-term election this country held. Allow me to explain.

Like every American in the months leading up to the election, I was beset by endless mailings and television commercials (I was spared the automated telephone calls because I rid myself of a land based phone line several years ago). The frequency of these solicitations became so overwhelming that, as the election neared, they seemed to be the only advertisements television stations offered. But it wasn’t just the number of advertisements; it was their content that was so repugnant.

Misrepresentation of facts, demonizing opponents, and – in some instances – outright lies, were the normal content of political ads during the months leading up to the election. I’m sure ardent supporters of one or the other side will say that their party wasn’t guilty, or as guilty as the other, but the truth is that both sides were equally guilty.

Whether the message was that this candidate took stimulus money for his company when he said he never did, or that candidate supported pedophiles, or this candidate voted to cut Medicare funding by $500,000, or that candidate raised taxes in Milwaukee every year he was in office – the truth was manipulated and/or lost.

Suddenly, the term “career politician” became some horrible character flaw when it had previously represented a lifetime of service to this country/state/region/ or municipality, and further represented a seniority among peers (i.e. governing bodies) that worked in favor of the constituents the “career politician” represented.

So what I want you to do here, folks, is to put aside any partisanship you had in this recent election and to think about the campaigns and the solicitations you were exposed to on behalf of all the candidates. And now imagine that you have come from outer space and you have no previous experience with the notion of governing through a system called democracy. Obviously, I can’t begin to speak for any of you, but I do think – if you do an honest assessment – you will reach the conclusion I reached when I remember that particular episode of Phyllis: this past election season was hilarious. And to those of us who do know what democracy is, this past election was simply embarrassing.