Another chapter in the domestication of outrage opened as Martin Lawrence, the star of “Martin” on the Fox network and “Def Comedy Jam” on HBO, came on “Saturday Night Live” in February and delivered an obscene monologue. “Obscene,” that is, by the standards of twenty or thirty years ago. Nowadays, few people outside NBC made much of a fuss about it, and NBC made a fuss because, it claimed, Lawrence had violated an understanding not to be quite so gross as in the event he was about his supposedly disgusting experiences while engaging in oral sexual relations with a variety of women. The network canceled a subsequent appearance Lawrence was to make on “The Tonight Show”—though it did so, it was careful to note, only “over Jay Leno’s strenuous objections.”

That way everyone was happy:...


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