Mama vs. "The Nekkid People"

A Southern woman’s campaign to keep her TV and her household G-rated.

Valerie Fraser Luesse
Woman in Shock
Science Museum/SSPL/NMPFT/Photographic Advertising/Getty Images

I grew up in a part of the rural South where cable TV has yet to show itself. For most of my life, my parents had only four or five broadcast channels, and one of those was fuzzy. Even so, my mother monitored our programming with the ferocity of a mama bear guarding her cubs. Her primary goal: Keep “nekkid people” off her TV set and out of her living room, lest they lead me, her offspring, astray. (As Lewis Grizzard has so kindly explained, “naked” means that you aren’t wearing any clothes; “nekkid” means you aren’t wearing any clothes and “you’re up to something.”)

My mother sorted our programming into three categories:

(1) Shows we all enjoyed together—Gunsmoke, The Lawrence Welk Show, The F.B.I., The Grand Ole Opry

(2) Shows the adults didn't care for but considered safe—The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Donny & Marie
 


(3) Shows that were strictly forbidden because, according to Mama, we had “absolutely no business watching that.”

As a general rule, Category #1 included any show with an orchestra; any show with Efrem Zembalist, Jr. (Mama was a fan); or any show in which somebody at some point would frantically yell, “Send for the sheriff ’cause there's gonna be trouble!”

Category #2 usually involved shows with cute boys whom the adults considered harmless (Donny Osmond, Keith Partridge, Peter Brady, etc.).

Category #3 was confusing because it was difficult for me to identify the tipping factor that pushed Mama from "I don't care for it, but I guess it’s alright" to "absolutely no business watching that." The Smothers Brothers we watched—their subversive political humor was likely considered over my head, and the boys sometimes had good folk music on their show. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In? Are you kidding me? Why that Goldie Hawn is running around half-nekkid! No business watching that.

A few years back, I nearly sent Mama over the edge. My husband and I gave my parents satellite television for Christmas so Daddy could stop mooching Alabama games off his family and friends. (Ours is a house divided. War Eagle!!) We did not purchase a movie package, and unfortunately, I forgot to warn my mother that HBO and Showtime occasionally run free trials, opening their programming to nonsubscribers. I also forgot that Mama has insomnia. Put those two together, and you can guess what happened—my Southern Baptist mother, trying to get sleepy, aimed that remote at her new satellite box around 2 a.m. and eventually landed on one of Showtime’s “adult” movies.

By 8:00 a.m., my phone was ringing. “Do you know what was on my television set early this morning?!” she cried.

“No, what?” (I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet.)

NEKKID PEOPLE!!!” (Her voice kept rising, as I gradually realized what had happened.) “And do you know what they were DOING?????”

(Here’s the part where it will become clear that I might be just the teensiest bit evil.)

“No, Mama, I can’t imagine what they were doing—can you describe it to me?”

DESCRIBE it?!!!!! You’ve got to get those nekkid people off of my television!”

I’m pretty sure, at this point, that Mama had visions of the nekkid people roaming all over her channels, perhaps even materializing on the fifty-yard line during the halftime show at the Alabama game and ruining a spectacular formation by the Million Dollar Band. (I knew that wasn’t possible, of course. Even the nekkid people have sense enough not to mess with Nick Saban.) I assured my mother that they would leave on their own within a few days.

Did I ask her what she did, once she stumbled onto an adult movie? No need. I already knew. She immediately recognized that she had “absolutely no business watching that,” turned off her TV, and threw the remote out the window. Then she chose a selection from her library of books by the Reverend Billy Graham and listened to some Gaither music—just to be on the safe side.