From Lassie to Game of Thrones: What Has Become of America?

By Michael Brown Published on July 13, 2017

America was very far from perfect in the early 1960s. Segregation was the law in much of the land, and women certainly had far less opportunities than men, just to mention two of society’s inequities. And I’m quite aware the first issue of Playboy, featuring a nude Marilyn Monroe, was published in 1953. At the same time, there’s no denying that America back then was a far more innocent, family friendly country than it is today.

And so, 55 years ago, when we sat together and watched Leave It to Beaver, we didn’t say to ourselves, “How corny! There’s not a family in the nation like the Cleavers.” Instead, it was as normal to us as it was entertaining.

Americans in the late-1950s to early-1960s enjoyed watching Father Knows Best and The Andy Griffith Show. Today we enjoy watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Secret Diary of a Call Girl. (For the record, unlike Kardashian family patriarch Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner, Robert Young, who played the dad on Father Knows Best, was never crowned “woman of the year.”)

In the late-50s to early-60s, Annette Funicello was a popular, young female star singing songs like “Pineapple Princes.” Today it’s Miley Cyrus, singing “Wrecking Ball” — in the nude, riding a wrecking ball, on her music video.

Then vs. Now

Take an old show like Dennis the Menace, which aired from 1959-1963, and think of what he got in trouble for. (After all, he was called a “menace,” right?) In the first episode, “Dennis successfully eludes a babysitter (whom he has never met) and sneaks out of the house and goes to a cowboy movie that his parents also go to while [his friend] Joey is left with the babysitter, pretending to be Dennis.” In the next episode, “Dennis and [his closest friend] Tommy replace a fallen street signpost but fail to notice they’ve put it up with the street names facing in the wrong direction.” Oh, what a menace!

Take an old cartoon like The Flintstones and compare it to today’s animated shows like South Park or Adult Swim.

Today, we would be following Dennis’s journey on reality TV, waiting for him to get out of the juvenile detention center after robbing an elderly man in broad daylight. Will Dennis ever change, or will he end up dead before his 18th birthday? And forget Dennis having an old scruffy hairdo with that shock of blond locks always out of place. Instead he would be sporting a purple Mohawk, wearing earrings, an eyebrow ring, a lip ring, and adorned with tattoos galore. (If you think I’m exaggerating, watch some clips from Beyond Scared Straight.)

Or consider that on I Love Lucy, Lucy and her husband slept in separate beds. Could you imagine today’s version, where the show would feature partial nudity (after all, it’s a family show, so there has to be some modesty), mild profanity, constant sexual innuendos, and kids who do not show the slightest respect to their parents?

Or compare Andy Griffith to Stalker or Hannibal, or compare Lawrence Welk to the annual MTV Music Awards. Or watch an old Elvis movie where he shakes his hips — that was so controversial — and compare that to the latest crotch-grabbing, bootie shaking music video (those have been around for quite some time now). And be sure to compare the lyrics too!

Endangering Our Very Souls

If you’re a young person reading this and you’re not familiar with the older shows, take a few minutes to watch some of the episodes. They’re readily available on YouTube, and you’ll be amazed by what you see.

Watch an episode of Lassie, then switch over to American Horror Story, or compare The Fugitive to Walking Dead. Or Your Show of Shows to SNL. Then go back to The Flintstones cartoon show — remember, we would watch this together as a family — and compare it to today’s animated shows like South Park or Adult Swim. (By the way, if you say, “I’d rather pass on watching the newer shows,” you won’t get an argument from me.)

The contrast between this and Lassie is the contrast between America today and America when I was a boy.

Recently, Matthew Walther, a national correspondent for The Week, wrote, “I used to watch Game of Thrones. Then I realized it was endangering my immortal soul.”

He came to this conclusion six-years (and six-seasons) late, but a recent episode jarred him into reality. “My goodness,” he thought to himself. “I’ve just spent an hour watching to see if a guy who raped a teenage girl at bow-and-arrow point is going to be eaten alive by the animals he has spent the last few seasons subjecting to forms of cruelty that make Michael Vick look like a PETA ambassador or beaten to death in the freezing cold by his victim’s half-brother. Thank goodness the guy who set his terminally ill daughter on fire in a pyromantic oblation to a heathen god at the behest of a witch who never seems to wear any clothes is not around to prevent justice from being carried out here — the woman whose size makes her the frequent butt of bestiality-related jokes killed him just in time!

And on and his description goes, more lurid by the line.

Can America be Saved?

The contrast between this and Lassie is the contrast between America today and America when I was a boy. The question is: Can America be saved? Is there any way to recover some of the innocence we have lost? I say the answer is Yes. And I believe that there is a prescription for radical change laid out in the pages of Scripture itself.

That’s the subject of my new book Saving a Sick America: A Prescription for Moral and Cultural Transformation (due out in September). You can download the first chapter of this book — from which much of this article has been adapted — for free, here. You can also watch the book trailer there as well.

Things are indeed dire, but not all hope is lost. The question is: Do we sense the urgency of the hour?

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  • Paul

    wow, a plug for a book. I guess we all gotta make some dough.

    • Craig Roberts

      Could be worse. Could be a diet book.

      Oh wait….he already did one of those…nevermind.

      • Paul

        LOL, I had to look it up to see it for myself

  • Wayne Cook

    This was the plan of Hollywood since the movie Seven Year Itch.

    Game of Thrones is merely the progression. I saw parts of one episode of the first season. Not returning.

    • Paul

      It goes back even further, Hollywood was an early target of the Soviets, they well understood the power of propaganda.

    • fights

      Me and you both. I have friends who watch it and I tried to and way too much graphic sex.

  • GPS Daddy

    The “work” ethic of the old generation is held up as the standard to show how the “snowflakes” are missing the boat. But the “work” ethic of the old generation had an Achilles heal when it came to corporate America: sacrificing family time on the alter of corporate America. Long hours on the farm is one thing, your family was there beside you. But corporate America takes the parent(s) away from the family for long hours at a time.

    That all exhalted work ethic is part of what has destroyed/destroying the family today. Yet, there is nothing in the radar to address this. With the LGTB movement the errors are clear even if denied. Not so with addressing fatherless America.

  • Gary

    No, America as a country cannot be saved. America has rejected God and morality. But it isn’t alone. Every other country in the world has done the same. The entire world, including America, is rapidly heading for judgment from God.

  • Nobody Specific

    I take Michael Brown’s point in general but comparing “The Flintstones” a show written and produced for children and families to “South Park” seems a bit disingenuous. South Park, while unfunny and indefensibly crude isn’t target at those demographics. I can’t say I have seen it in the last decade but didn’t it used to be on at 10pm or so? I don’t think our friends from Bedrock ever aired that late.

    Now the other comparisons might be more fair. They are prime time entertainment vs prime time entertainment programming at least. Its worth considering though that in the 50’s and 60’s there was no cable, there were only a handful of national TV broadcast networks, they had to by definition cast a wide demographic net. I have never seen an episode of GoT, that is on HBO right? I don’t think as a rule HBO is trying to get the eyeballs of little Timmy age 8. They are targeting a narrower demographic.

    None of this is to disagree with Michael’s larger argument about the potentially harmful nature of consuming these materials for anyone watching. We can also not ignore the fact that children do see this stuff without their parents awareness, and many parents make pretty poor decisions about allowing young people access to this stuff. I think its very much worth considering that even those of us supposedly mature enough to handle such content still hear the messages, we are still queued in as to who to root for by tricks of music and camera angles. We we see the hero do horrible things an win, this probably does impact our minds. It likely weakens or moral instincts, even if when we sit down to think through sometime we can still know right and wrong, it threatens our ability to make the quick decisions most of us rely on daily.

    Again I don’t mean to be overly critical of the article, but I think its worth pointing out some of these lines of attack because Michael’s actual critiques will surely try and use them to dismiss the argument entirely.

  • Ryan Scott Grafton

    Good word. Sesame Street’s new residents have turned it to Nightmare on Elm Street.

  • The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour aired on CBS from 1967 to 1969, going up against Bonanza on NBC, and drawing a lot of younger viewers with its political satire and showcasing some of the more countercultural music acts of the time, like the Jefferson Airplane and The Who. In 1969 CBS executives, nervous about the show’s edgy content, replaced it with … wait for it … Hee Haw. How’s THAT for restoring some traditional values to television?

    Yes, families used to gather around the TV to watch wholesome shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, but did those shows necessarily reflect the American family, or did it present the American family as an ideal to aspire to? There was no alcoholism, no domestic violence, no divorce.

    Then along came All in the Family and subsequent sitcoms that depicted American families a little more like they really were, not like what they OUGHT to be.

    Things have certainly changed a lot since when I was a kid, and there were three networks and PBS, and that was it. People could gather around the water cooler and talk about what had been on the night before. Today, with a thousand different channels and an incredible variety of content, there is little about TV that unifies people.

    Maybe Michael Brown should lay out his theories about what television SHOULD be.

    • Patmos

      Wow, you sure told him.

      *rolls eyes*

      People, especially young people, tend to become what they pay attention to and assemble with. Obviously that degree of influence varies due to a number of factors, but to ignore that influence altogether is flat out ignorance.

  • Craig Roberts

    Oh please. Game of Thrones is kid stuff. If you really want to get an overdose of sex and violence you need check out the Bible. The Bible will show you what true evil is really like. But of course that’s much too intense for most of us innocents. So stick to GoT and whatever even sillier show comes next. Eventually you’ll get bored of all the pretend evil and get curious about the real deal.

    • Patmos

      “If you really want to get an overdose of sex and violence you need check out the Bible.”

      The difference being of course, is that these shows celebrate and even encourage it, without any sort of implication that it is wrong.

      Way to fail miserably.

      • Craig Roberts

        OK then, riddle me this Christian: (I don’t watch the show so you’ll have to help me out here):

        Is there any character in Game of Thrones that has 300 wives and 700 concubines? Would that be wrong if they did?

        Is there any hero in GoT that is not only lauded for killing his tens of thousands, and killing defenseless women and children, but after a long life of bloodshed that could only be reasonably described as an outstanding commitment to genocide, told his son when he was on his deathbed to kill the one man whom he swore to God he would never kill? Does that guy sound like a hero?

        Is there any character in GoT that made both of his daughters pregnant? Is that not gross, just because it is in the Bible?

        Is there any character in GoT that pitted two brothers against each other for his affection, only to stand by as the loser killed the winner? And then comforted the murderer and assured him of his lifelong protection? Would that somehow be OK?

        I could go on and on, but by now I think you should get the point. Christians lose all credibility when they can’t even be objective about the obvious. You’re blinded by your bias. Jesus said the truth will set you free….not, “you can’t handle the truth!”

        • Nearly Over

          Sadly, you are unaware of the difference between a description and a prescription. Do you honestly think that every relationship, action and event recorded in the Bible is approved by God? Only someone very simple minded or obstinate could come to that conclusion.

          • Jim Walker

            Though I disagree with all the content what Craig wrote here in Stream, he does have the 2nd paragraph that most people, Christians and non-Christians struggle with and that is God allows the Israelites starting from Joshua to annihilate whole cities of all women and children.
            Can you help explain ?
            The other 3 more paragraphs are basically self inflicted wounds by the character themselves, like Solomon, daughters of Lot and Cain (whom God help to protect for his future plans).

          • Anne E. Reid

            I recommend Dr. Micheal Heiser’s book: “Supernatural – What the Bible teaches about the unseen world and why it matters.” It opened my spiritual eyes as to the reason for all of the bloodshed in the OT. Wow

          • Craig Roberts

            I’ll have to check that out. Somebody else recommended it when I pointed out the painful reality of OT violence.

          • Jim Walker

            Hi Anne, Actually I knew the reasons why but its deep stuff that won’t be easily accepted let alone agree with. You are right, the annihilation is very much spiritual than just physical.
            I was hoping for someone to explain, maybe read from a different angle.

          • Craig Roberts

            Thank you for the response (obliquely). You obviously know your Bible. I think you might agree that the Bible deals with the most uncomfortable circumstances imaginable. TV is evil to the extent that it is a distraction from what is real. The Bible, on the other hand, when read with open eyes, can be quite painful and not at all entertaining. Mainly because it deals with the realty of evil and its effects. God bless.

          • Jim Walker

            We shouldn’t miss the good parts and only focus on the unpleasant ones. The Bible is full of good stuff too. I do hope you can “compensate” the unpleasant ones which we may never know truly what are the reasons God allowed the annihilation.

          • Craig Roberts

            Amen! Even if the evil is incomprehensible, Jesus stands out like a light in the darkness. The Bible is ultimately a book. Jesus, the way the truth and the life, is a person. One that we can rely on.

          • Craig Roberts

            Approved by God? They come straight from God. How could he not approve of his own command?

  • John

    I wish Christians would find better things to do than watch TV. Perhaps we could follow the command in Romans 12:2 and not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by letting the Holy Spirit supernaturally renew our minds. Kinda hard to do while watching TV, at least for me. Meanwhile the lost and dying people around us are going straight to hell because of our ungodly example. Perhaps these lost and dying people are our own precious children that see everything we do. I grew up watching “Leave it to Beaver” and still left home for college a lost soul. If it had nor been for Campus Crusade for Christ I would still be lost today. Sadly, I understand they are dropping “Christ” from their name. No America will not be saved. It will not end well for us as a nation just as it did not end well for Israel in the profit Ezekiel’s day. Despite the false profits saying everything is going to be OK and their temple would never be destroyed it was nevertheless. Being God’s people did not stop the judgement, just as being “saved” will not stop judgement today. They went into captivity for 70 years. God will judge all sin. One cannot sin and get away with it. Your precious sons and daughters souls my be the price you pay.

    • Paul

      Yea it’s been “Cru” for a few years now. Apparently Christ isn’t cool.

    • Craig Roberts

      So true. It’s not the shows, it’s the activity. Even if you are watching Barney (unless you haven’t learned how to share and hug yet) you’re still probably wasting your time.

  • BroFrank

    Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of
    the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

    Unfortunately, Dr Brown does make a very valid point: TV (and media in general) now define much of how we see ourselves in this country—and world! Yet, when Jesus prayed to the Father that He not take His followers out of the world, but protect us from its evil
    (Jn. 17:15)—did He mean for His people to follow Him in name only? Were those who were being thrown to the lions, on Sunday—cheering along with pagan crowds on that Wednesday, in the Coliseum?

    If we cannot take the initiative for keeping our own thought patterns focused on Heaven, do we really expect to go there (Col. 3:1-3)? Can we expect America to bear any real resemblance to that Place, because of our example (Matt. 5:13-16)?

    Maybe this is the underlying theme of Dr. Brown’s new book. I wish him well . . .

  • Kathy Verbiest Baldock

    Perhaps before writing on this topic, you might have invested time in reading an educated social historian such as Stephanie Koontz who is an expert in the social history of the US. In particular, her book on the time period you are addressing “The Way We Never Were” is filled with facts and research rather than misty eyed postulations.

    I have read your opening chapter and assume you will not be using expert input from Koontz and the like; you have not in any of your other books on social change. Yes, you can use sources and footnote “till the cows come home,” but the integrity of the work is often in the sources used.

    • Patmos

      He’s talking about what’s being presented, and how it leads to a further deviation.

      Maybe, I don’t know, get over your obsession with trying to prove Dr. Brown wrong? It’s not only disingenuous, but you quite simply keep exposing yourself as a fraud.

      • Kathy Verbiest Baldock

        What an interesting assessment of me as a fraud. At least I have the integrity to attach my name and face to an opinion. Investing in hidden identities is futile and fruitless, even for a disingenuous fraud.
        Try reading some Koontz works. The library typically has her books. Certainly university libraries do. Some of us do care about the research of experts.

  • Thomas Eichhorst

    Anything short of a complete cultural overhaul and a seizing of power from those who have it now is merely a bandaid solution to a stitches problem. All you need to do is look into who is controlling the media, and it all will begin to make sense.

    • Paul

      Seizing power? Sounds like a Chairman Mao approach to things.

      Media is mostly private enterprise, the answer is to be a winner in the marketplace, offer better more compelling content, light in the darkness. But too many Christians are sold the lie of the merits of poverty in varrying degree. So instead of a multitude of Christian billionaires owning these companies and directing their course we have bakers being destroyed in court over not making homo cakes.

      • Jim Walker

        Apparently most venture into business with a heart of gold only to end up with wanting more gold but the heart no longer exist.
        That is the route most took and lost their Way.

      • Thomas Eichhorst

        There are many answers. We should not shirk from taking control of our nation any more than from taking control of the business sector. Right now we’re being governed by people who want to destroy our way of life. Don’t allow the fact that less-scrupulous people have done similar things for wrong reasons stop us from doing effective things for right reasons.

        • Paul

          Perhaps you can clarify then what you mean by seizing power.

          • Thomas Eichhorst

            It’s simple. The left and the world has our country. We take it back. We stop fearing their insults and their tirades, and we pursue the interests of Christendom (and, by extension, America and conservatism) without apology. We recognize that we will never be loved by those who see good as evil and evil as good, and so we stop trying to be. If we will allow ourselves to be strong and unyielding, we can secure a future. If not, then there will never be one.

        • getstryker

          I would be very interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this matter.

  • Patmos

    A few years ago I was talking with an older friend of mine, a secular man who is about as close to being a hippie without being one, and I casually asked him if he thought culture was in decline or was it just me. This was before I was even fully saved, though I think at that point I was fixated on the Red Letters of the Gospel. His answer to me was an emphatic yes.

    Thing is if kids are exposed only to this stuff (which a lot of them are), without any sort of reference point of the inner man strengthened by the power of God to hold on to, they will accept it all as normal. How could they do anything else? Without that wisdom and power that comes with Christ, they are basically sitting ducks, and the implications of that are staggering.

  • Jim Walker

    I have a friend who is a huge fan of Game of Thrones and he is elated and can’t wait for the Season 7.
    I realized that Evil dwells in all screens, big and small.
    If we are not looking at our computer screens at work, we are looking at our smartphone screens.
    When we come home from work, we are watching the LED TV screens and thereafter our smartphone screens.
    The only screen that is safe is the Shower Screen.
    Just observe the people around you out and about. Before the 80s, its the newspaper, before 2000 its both newspaper and the Walkman, after 2000 its the PDAs and Nokia simple snake games and now, 7/10 watch looking at the smartphones, sadly me included.
    However, it is the content that we chose that set us apart, it is the content that separate the Boys and the Men.
    Ask any younger generation about current affairs and they are mostly clueless. Why ? because they are so engrossed with social media and purely entertainment, they only want to be LOL all the time.
    Many kids these days cannot accept any criticism and will be angry of you do not approve or show appreciation to their mediocre works. The age of individuality has began. Its the Me, Myself and I. Even the songs sang at pre-schools are so confidence building that it teaches a lie that everything they do cannot be criticized, and if someone does, they are mean and ugly people.
    Watch for it folks, soon most churches will be so LGBT SSM friendly, any churches that aren’t will be for us old people.
    Let the end times begin ?

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