The Lighter Side of Sexual Harassment

You know society has skidded off on to the wrong track when our most prominent authorities on the subject of sexual harassment are Seinfeld and Beetle Bailey. Not since Dan Quayle got his Underoos in a knot over Murphy Brown giving birth to a tiny out o' wedlock actor have fictional characters held so much sway over America's morals. First came the Beetle Bailey stink. A dazzling example of how dangerous political correctness can be when it falls into the wrong hands. Concerned newspaper editors at the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the Portland Oregonian threatened to yank the always edgy, always controversial comic strip because General Halftrack's ogling of his secretary, Miss Buxley, reflected too accurately the sexual harassment scandals that now plague the military. Gritty and realistic portrayal of Army life has long been a trademark of Beetle Bailey. From the 'Nam era Beetle, who narrowly avoided a court martial after fragging Lt. Fuzz during a fire fight on the Mekong Delta, to the hijinks of Sarge's dog, Otto, who roams the grounds of Camp Swampy in full dress uniform, evaluating the troops. After several months of haggling with the editors over the leering Halftrack, cartoonist Mort Walker gave in. "They said that even a frivolous action on our part, since it's an army strip, might seem to condone what's going on." Naturally, General Halftrack was dragged off to sensitivity training. After three days of high intensive 90's style consciousness-adjustment and re-programming, the general emerged as a new man. He apologized to both Miss Buxley and her military counterpart, the butchy Jane Hathaway-like Pvt. Blips, though even when sloppy drunk he had refrained form ogling her. In a related story, the same editors were stunned when President Clinton passed over General Halftrack for the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nominating instead someone who actually exists. Expect a major overhaul if comics must now respond to current headlines and sensitivities. Hagar the Horrible will be forced to abandon his lifestyle of looting and pillaging, an ethnic stereotype which could offend other Vikings, a notoriously touchy race of folk. He will be forced to find different employment altogether, maybe as a telemarketer. At least then, the title of the strip wouldn't have to change. Instead of just barking at the mailman, Marmaduke will bark at influence peddling businessmen with ties to foreign corporations attempting to make illegal campaign contributions. Funny on so many levels. Diet obsessed Cathy will start gobbling fen-phen and rejoice as the pounds melt away. When her heart valve begins leaking like the oil pan of a '74 Pinto, it will create a national furor similar to the time Ziggy was diagnosed with polyps on his colon. At the other end of this wild-swinging sexual harrassment pendulum, perhaps even as a backlash to the narrow-minded, sphincter-locked attitude so fashionable, a Milwaukee jury awarded $26.6 million to a Miller Brewing Company executive who was fired after describing a racy "Seinfeld" episode to a female colleague. In the episode, Jerry Seinfeld's character can't remember his new girlfriend's name, only that it rhymes with a female body part. Jerry and his friends try a few guesses, including "Mulva" and "Gipple." Only after the woman realized Jerry doesn't know her name and runs off does he remember and scream out, "Delores!" Even though Jerold Mackenzie was only seeking damages of $9.2 million for wrongful dismissal, the jury of ten women and two men were obviously swayed by his impassioned testimony. Mackenzie claimed that he never said the word referred to, instead, found it in the dictionary - nestled between clitellum and Clive, Robert - then photocopied the page and presented it to his colleague. It was a classic Beavis and Butthead defense. Like, there it is. Heh-heh, heh-heh. The judgment, while a landmark victory for seventh graders everywhere, raises a host of other questions. Did Mackenzie saunter into staff meetings swilling java from a mug shaped like a female breast? Did he wear witty Big Johnson t-shirts on casual day? Was highlighting dirty words in inter-office memos a priority? How much of his time was spent making crank calls to the Anheuser-Busch Company and asking to speak to I. P. Freely? What kind of macho snickering locker room pandemonium swept through the Miller office the day after the infamous Master of His Domain "Seinfeld" episode aired? And most importantly, did Mackenzie have a hand in creating the current Miller ad campaign, in which credit for all commercial concepts goes to someone whose name is a male body part? According to members of the jury, the sizable amount awarded was intended to send a signal to America to lighten up. Maybe so. But in no way does this lend credence to fans of the show "Family Matters." Use of the word 'Urkel' in mixed company is still grounds for dismissal, even a flogging.

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