O Tempora, O Mores

For most of the stuff that Doctor Demento can't play on the radio, the reasoning is kind of obvious, if sometimes stupid. Can't play profanity, can't play the farting contest, can't play sexual double entendres when the message is feminist. But who would have thought that an old Arthur Godfrey tune from 1948 would make the no-play list?

Well, times change. And while Slap 'Er Down Again, Paw may have been just some charming hillbilly humor back in '48, these days, domestic violence doesn't go over as well (Southern jokes are a little trickier, but not impossible to get away with).

Taken on its own terms, the song isn't especially hilarious. In this, the post-Deliverance world, hillbillies aren't intrinsically funny any more, and not even the nostalgic retrospective aura that attaches to old-fashioned humor is enough to turn it into a song as funny as the other stuff the good Doctor has in his archives. Instead, most of the song's humor these days, I think, derives from the image of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America and their middle-American kids huddled around the radio, listening to the chorus gleefully telling Paw to slap their sister around.

Okay, so Eminem has a potty mouth, and people today sing about things much much worse than a mere slapping, but still -- at least such stuff sells itself as edgy, as rebellious, as out there to shock. This much alone indicates the capacity for shock, implies that there are certain standards American society by and large upholds. It's the stuff that passes without question that really tells you where the deviancy threshold is set. And when it comes to violence within the family, at least, we've made some progress. You can't listen to "Slap 'Er Down Again, Paw" without wincing a little, and part of that wince is on behalf of an older America that didn't wince. Not everything cultural is downward and degraded.