If you ever go back and watch some old television shows on Hulu or TV Land, it is immediately evident that television has changed a lot. The same applies to radio. There are some songs that made it on the air in the 70s and 80s that simply wouldn’t have been played on modern radio for various reasons.
A lot of it has to do with advertisers that pay the bills for radio stations and network tv. They don’t want to be associated with anything controversial now. And let’s face it, there are certain subjects now that are simply taboo, one being race.
So here are five of my favorite songs and television shows from the past that I feel would not be released as they were originally without a tweak or two. Some of them are funny, some aren’t so bad, but it does illustrate how times have changed in a very short amount of time.
China Girl - David Bowe
This was a big hit for David Bowe in the early 80s but it is clearly out of bounds to refer to people from southeast Asia as Oriental, or China man or as in this case, China girl.
I am not one to judge people in different eras. People used to speak differently. That is a fact. It was once perfectly acceptable to refer to Asian people as Orientals because that part of the world for centuries was labeled on maps as “The Orient”. Somewhere along the way, someone decided that was wrong. It took time for people to adjust.
Forget the title, this song is so condescending at times, it’s unbelievable.
Not only does David Bowe refer to his “China girl” throughout the song, but he has that elitist attitude that so many in the west have. He tempts her with saying he’ll give her television, and worse, “eyes of blue”.
Maybe she doesn’t want her baby to have eyes of blue David, or your bad teeth.
I used to hate this song when I was a kid, however, it has grown on me with time.
Kung Fu Fighting - Carl Douglas
Speaking of China men, Carl Douglas sings about those “funky China men” in his megahit at the time, Kung Fu Fighting.
This song is really a tribute to martial arts and how they were skilled and “fast as lightning”. However, there is that reference to China men that would throw it off course in today’s environment.
Sure, it probably still would have been recorded as would all of these songs I am mentioning. There are plenty of awful or questionable songs on plenty of albums, but most of them never made it to the radio. These did, but they wouldn’t now. Radio stations would not want the headache.
Fung Fu Fighting
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Illegal Alien - Genesis
Yes, according to Genesis in the mid-80s, “it’s no fun, being an illegal alien”. I am sure it isn't.
It’s actually a catchy little diddy, however, with today’s political environment, this song would never be played on the radio, nor would MTV ever play the video for it, not that MTV ever plays videos anymore anyway.
Speaking of that video, it is filled with stereotypical things about Mexicans including Phil Collins wearing a Mexican outfit complete with a cheesy black mustache and a black toupee on his head.
Despite all of that, the song actually has a sympathetic message presented from the point of view of Mexicans wanting to come to the “promised land” across the border and all of the red tape they have to go through to try to get into the United States legally, only to be thwarted more often than not and have to resort to other measures.
Now let’s move to television.
All in the Family
This show would never make it on ABC, CBS or NBC now. I am certain of that. It might be on one of the cable channels, but not a major network tv show.
If you were born in the 80s or 90s, you young bucks probably don’t know how wild and racy network tv used to be. This was just one example.
This show used to routinely refer to Jews, and coloreds and WOPS and a lot more in the most stereotypical and derogatory terms you can imagine.
There was something about this era of television where they lost their minds. There was this show which was bad enough, then it had a spinoff called The Jeffersons where they used to refer to white people as “honkees” all the time.
When I watch some of the old episodes I have to laugh. It was a funny show during its era but its twice as funny now. You are laughing on two fronts: at the jokes themselves and at the idea that this show was even on tv. Try it sometime, it’s great.
All in the Family Episode
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Sanford and Son
However, it simply would not have been shown on network television now because it would be considered too racially insensitive,or playing on racial stereotypes.
For instance, Fred Sanford had a Hispanic friend named Julio that he was always accusing of stealing something.
One time he was in the bed and he told Esther that he could stick her face in some dough and make some gorilla cookies.
They even used the n word during this show. If you were born in the last few decades, you probably don’t realize that it used to be said all the time on network tv.
I remember watching the mini-series North & South in the mid-80s with Patrick Swayze and that thing had it in it throughout the whole thing. And that was an ABC broadcast.
But the point is, Sanford and Son , All in the Family and several more during that era, would not be put on network tv these days because of fear of offending the sponsors who pay for advertising.
Fred and Esther
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I have to confess, I love all of these songs and television shows which is why I know about them in the first place to put them on a list like this.
These shows and songs are grandfathered in. They get a pass even though they are so wrong. I still hear these songs on oldie or contemporary stations today and you can still catch old episodes of these tv shows on TV Land.
However, if you came out with a new song now called “China Girl”, someone would be outraged. In fact, Avril Lavigne just experienced this with a video she released that critics said was presenting Japanese people in stereotypical terms. That is the modern world we live in where outrage drives everything. There is a Professional Outrage Department for everything now.
However, every time I listen to or watch any of these songs or shows, I have to laugh. They seem so dated and inappropriate now, as was much of the advertising from the 50s and 60s, but that is a topic for another article.