Earlier this week, the entertainment news show Entertainment Tonight addressed the increasingly risqué sexual content on television. PTC President Tim Winter was invited on to share the concerns and frustrations felt by millions of parents across the country at prime-time television’s increasing hostility to family audiences. A point that ET reinforced at the outset by saying that the segment would address content they “couldn’t even describe during the Family Hour.” (See ET clip below.)
Since the start of the fall television season, formerly taboo sexual themes have dominated the broadcast airwaves during primetime – more troublingly, on programs that are rated as appropriate for a fourteen-year-old and which air early enough in the evening that they frequently are watched by fourteen-year-olds.
On a recent episode of Scandal, the popular Shonda Rhimes political thriller, the president’s teenaged daughter slips away from the Secret Service to go to a party where there are drugs and alcohol, and engages in a threesome with two boys, who perform a sex act called an “Eiffel Tower” with her and record the act. The term is not one I was familiar with, but apparently many teens are – I won’t provide the meaning here, but on the episode the main character, Olivia Pope describes the scene as one of the dirtiest things she had ever seen.
E! describes the outcome of the incident:
Instead of getting angry and yelling at Karen, Mellie took a different approach. She told her daughter that she understood her grief and the fact that she had just wanted to feel something, and told her she got a pass. So, not only did Scandal feature a storyline in which a young girl got up to some insanely adult shenanigans, but it also didn’t punish her for it. In fact, it sort of made light of the whole thing. The scene in which Quinn, Huck, and Olivia were trying to help Karen remember who exactly she had “slept” with was downright comical.
So there you have it, kids. You can engage in high-risk, promiscuous sex with two strangers, and not only are there no consequences, it’s even downright comical!
Over on Fox, The Mindy Project devoted an entire episode to anal sex. We hear the voices of Mindy and her boyfriend Danny coming from the bedroom:
“Wait, Danny, Danny, that doesn’t go there!”
It’s not as if there haven’t been jokes about this particular sex act on television before. There have, and given the current state of television, I think we can safely assume there will be far into the future. What is unusual is an entire episode devoted entirely to what is still considered by many to be an outré form of sexual behavior.
When put on the spot to defend the episode, Mindy Project creator and star Mindy Kaling said that she wants to deal with “things that no one is seeing anywhere else [on television].”
That, unfortunately, is the mindset of too many writers in Hollywood. They’re not interested in delivering what the viewing public wants to see. They’re not helping us to laugh at ourselves or the absurdity of day-to-day life, as sitcoms of just a generation ago often did. They’re not looking for meaning or deeper truths as satirists of the past once did. No, their prime directive is to push whatever buttons are left unpushed, and as long the writers think it’s funny, well, consequences be damned.
Entertainment Tonight concluded its segment by essentially throwing up their hands and saying, “… but what can you do about it?” They finally concluded that parents just can’t rely on the ratings system – which only exists to give parents information so they can make the best viewing decisions for their families. And though it’s strange to hear from an entertainment news source that so often just echoes Hollywood’s talking points, it’s true. We can’t rely on TV ratings, and two recent studies shed some light on why we as parents need to be concerned about this new trend.
The first, by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center and published in the journal of Pediatrics shows that the more sex and violence parents watch in films and on television, the more permissive they are with what they allow their children to watch. So even if you want to make the case that the programs we are discussing here are intended for adult audiences and children have no business watching them, the Annenberg study demonstrates that, in time, the more we as adults become desensitized to extreme sexual content and violence, the more permissive we are likely to become with screen rules involving our children. The study also has major implications for the television ratings and MPAA ratings, which have both experienced significant content creep since their inception. As audiences become increasingly desensitized to content, what once might have garnered an R or TV-MA rating today would probably only be rated PG-13 or TV-14, and on down the line, so that children to day are being exposed to significantly higher levels of adult content, even on programs rated as appropriate for children.
The second study reveals that “sexting” is the new normal for teens. But as compared with what those teens are seeing on television, “sexting” must seem almost chaste, and that’s the problem with a media culture that is constantly seeking to push the envelope, because as soon as that behavior gains currency on television, it’s no longer seen as “out there” but instead is viewed as normative. And for teens who still get most of their sex education from television, that’s an alarming prospect.
Catch a glimpse of the Entertainment Tonight episode below with PTC president Tim Winter discussing these disturbing trends on broadcast TV. Your donation could make a world of difference in stopping these trend from going further.