TV Eye

The Evolution of Sex

<i>Sex: The Revolution</i>
Sex: The Revolution

I smiled through my tears last week. I was watching Brothers & Sisters when, at the very end of the episode, Kevin (Matthew Rhys) proposed to his lover, Scotty (Luke MacFarlane). It was a sweet proposal, one I imagine fans of the show have been rooting for. (Yes, it means a gay wedding for the season finale of Brothers & Sisters this Sunday.)

Watching this episode, I was reminded of how in the past, many of my gay friends had to hide their love for one another. It was more than a fear of being ostracized; it was fear of being killed. Now, here I am, watching a prime-time TV show, with two men in a loving relationship (not played for laughs or luridness) deciding to take the leap with as much seriousness and tenderness as any other couple. Even more striking was that there was no post-proposal fanfare. No outcry from any religious organization or moral watchdog group that I can find. Not a peep.

It's probably hard for post-boomers to imagine, but seeing a plainly gay relationship on prime-time TV is striking and even moving for those of us who came of age in the 1970s. But it's also the outcome of a time when the nation experienced the full force of several coalescing social movements, one of which was the sexual revolution. That topic is the subject of a four-part documentary to be jointly aired on VH1 and the Sundance Channel next week called Sex: The Revolution.

Starting in 1948 with the publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and leading up to the first appearance of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C., the documentary showcases footage from over a 40-year period, including a couple of really wonderful clips. One features a young Hugh Hefner getting slammed by feminist Susan Brownmiller on The Dick Cavett Show (1970). Hefner is positively flustered, and it seems quaint, by today's standards, that Cavett apologizes to Hefner for the unplanned roast. To bring the whole incident full circle, both Hefner and Brownmiller were interviewed in the present about the famous verbal altercation. The second must-see clip is of the famous Anita Bryant pie-in-the-face incident during a Save Our Children press conference (circa 1977). Bryant, a former beauty queen and spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, was an outspoken critic of homosexuality, contending that homosexuals wanted to recruit children into their ranks. Unfortunately, there's no follow-up interview with Bryant, whose career was effectively ended when gay rights activists boycotted orange juice (many gay clubs took screwdrivers off their bar menus), making Bryant lose her spokeswoman deal and, from all indications, the support of conservative religious groups who found her too controversial.

The four-part documentary starts with Episode 1: "Save It for Marriage." From the sexual repression of the 1950s to the appearance of Playboy and the Kinsey Reports and the legalization of the pill, concurrent with the beginning of several nascent social movements. Premieres May 12 at 9pm on VH1 and May 19 at 11pm on the Sundance Channel.

Episode 2: "The Big Bang." The sexual revolution moves from the margins to the center. William Masters and Virginia Johnson create a new dialogue about human sexuality; nudity and sexual innuendo become popular in advertising and nightlife; feature films become more sexually bold. Airs May 13 at 9pm on VH1 and on May 19 at 12mid on the Sundance Channel.

Episode 3: "Do Your Own Thing." The halcyon days of the 1970s: Androgyny is in, the closet door for gays has been trampled, while mainstream feminism finds a voice in popular culture. Roe v. Wade passes in 1973. All of this awakens moral watchdog groups to push back. Airs May 14 at 9pm on VH1 and May 20 at 11pm on the Sundance Channel.

Episode 4: "Tainted Love." Sex is now clearly part of popular culture. An even more aggressive porn industry has moved from back rooms into suburban bedrooms, thanks to the creation of the VCR. Backlash comes from feminist groups, the religious right, and a strange illness later identified as AIDS. While not making moral pronouncements, this episode shows that for better or worse, the sexual revolution forever changed U.S. culture. Airs May 15 at 9pm on VH1 and May 20 at 12mid on the Sundance Channel.

Check local listings to confirm airdates and times.

As always, stay tuned.

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Sex: The Revolution., Sex: The Revolution, Brothers & Sisters

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