• 50 Shades of Selling Sex to Kids

    by  • February 9, 2015 • Misrated, Movies, Ratings Reform, Television • 17 Comments


    If you are accustomed to watching the TODAY show while you’re getting your kids ready for school in the morning, you got a heavy dose of BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism) with your Wheaties last week.

    50 Shades of Grey is opening in theaters this weekend. It is the story of Christian Grey, a powerful businessman who engages in a sadistic sexual relationship with Ana, a mousy and immature young college student who becomes his submissive, and TODAY has been heavily promoting the film on its morning show and on its website. Not because it’s news or because there is substantial market research showing that TODAY viewers are especially interested in the film’s release, but because 50 Shades is a sponsor, and the production company that’s releasing the film is owned by the same parent company, NBC Universal.

    Last week viewers were given “exclusive” previews and 50 Shades-inspired segments and web features like “what to do when the kids find your ‘adult’ toys.”

    Anyone can understand that studios want to market their film in order to get people to come to the theater, but there is something distasteful and disturbing about the way 50 Shades has been marketed. Ads for the movie ran during the Super Bowl (the most-watched television event of the year, and one of the most-watched by families), after the Golden Globes, during prime time, and during the TODAY show. We’ve heard complaints from parents about billboards for the movie cropping up near their kids’ schools. The Vermont Teddy Bear company is selling a Christian Grey teddy bear that comes with a mask and a pair of handcuffs. And outraged parents are fuming that a “50 Shades” line of sex toys can be found in their local Target store right next to the kids’ toothbrushes.

    NBCUniversal’s efforts to market 50 Shades is pushing BDSM into the mainstream, and even making it accessible and normative to kids. It also encourages them to view sexual relations in the context of a loving, committed, long-term relationship as boring or unfulfilling.

    In a 2008 study, the Parents Television Council found that references to unusual or “kinky” sexual behaviors, including bondage or threesomes, outnumbered references to married sex by 2:1. If anything, the TV landscape has only gotten worse since then.

    At the end of this month, WE tv will be debuting Sex Box, a reality series in which couples will have sex on stage inside a sound-proof box, then come out and discuss their relationship problems afterward. One of the featured couples, WE tv tells us, are in “an open relationship with one partner wanting to make their sex life even racier, including S&M.” (You can sign the PTC’s national petition calling on WE tv to “Stop ‘Sex Box’” here.)

    Today more than ever teens are exposed to a host of once-taboo sexual behaviors including kinky or fetishistic behaviors.  Behaviors that were once seen as fringe, immoral, or socially destructive have been given the imprimatur of acceptability by the television industry – and children are absorbing those messages and, if recent survey data is to be believed, imitating that behavior. But tragically, most real-life Anas, as Gail Dines points out, would end up in battered women’s shelters, the hospital, or even the morgue.  Something to think about the next time Today breathlessly teases yet another “steamy” 50 Shades trailer.



    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    17 Responses to 50 Shades of Selling Sex to Kids

    1. Matt Norcross
      February 16, 2015 at 7:43 am

      And it opened at #1 this weekend due to the college-age women who have nothing else to do. Just goes to show how far we’ve fallen as a society. Let’s hope when The Peanuts Movie is released this coming November, society wakes up and realizes people don’t want that garbage on TV or at the movies. Fox & Friends on Fox News should do this same kind of marketing for The Peanuts Movie. However, the difference would be unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, Peanuts would be much more family friendly.

      • Moax429
        February 24, 2015 at 1:45 pm

        Agreed, Matt. I saw the trailer for the Peanuts movie a few months ago and it should appeal to *all* fans (like myself) of the comic strip and TV specials, young and old.

        I also hope ABC will use the same marketing ploy for “Star Wars, Episode VII,” also coming next holiday season, and exploit it on “Good Morning, America” and other ABC shows. That should appeal to the series’ fans, young and old as well. (Disney owns ABC, and they now own Lucasfilm Ltd., who produced the new “Star Wars” movie, also. The film will be Lucasfilm’s first “Star Wars” release through Disney.)

    2. Ann Macdonald
      February 13, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      The ads for Fifty Shades are being shown during family shows with little time to turn them off. For years, movies had to show only upcoming attractions that coincided with the rating of the movie being shown. Why hasn’t TV been mandated to follow those standards?I’ve always been an avid TV fan but in the last few years, I find there’s little I care to watch of the newer shows on broadcast or cable TV. The language is filthy,-the situations filthier and thank God I don’t have little ones to find shows for. I cannot believe that the majority of Americans like having such trash brought into their living rooms.

    3. Susan Slautterback
      February 13, 2015 at 9:20 am

      This movie is sick and shows the dark side of people. Please remove the Ads from TV. They are promoting nothing good.

    4. Disgusted
      February 13, 2015 at 8:56 am

      Dislike!! Dislike!! These ads are too explicit for kids!!

    5. Dawn A
      February 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      The beauty about life is that we all have a choice. I havent watched or turned on a TV for over ten years. I started to see where the world was going and that I couldnt stop it either and I made the choice for my family not to go there at all then. I am surprised at how many families feel the same way I do but dont have the courage to give the TV up entirely. I dont miss it. My children who have all been raised without it tell me they plan on raising their children the same way without any coaxing on my part. We watch movies edited on VidAngel or through our edited CLEARPLAY blu-ray DVD player. We watch a lot of Leave it to Beaver and The Cosby Show around here. Good Old-fashioned morals can still be found but it takes work and discipline. Thank you Parents TC for all that you do. It makes a difference and it sends a ray of sunlight into the world.

    6. Eileen Scarborough
      February 11, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      My daughter that has three children, never watches regular TV. She, her husband and children watch Disney or DVD’s with good movies for children. She said none of her friends with children watch regular TV any more. So sad
      that regular TV are loosing all their young viewers because of all the garbage on television! I watch mostly programs like American Idol, the Voice and some
      Movies on upper channels I think it is sad what has happened to Television!!!
      Why do they keep putting more sex on television, everyone is so sick of it!

      • brandon
        April 23, 2015 at 1:02 am

        In Europe, sexual expression is considered a beautiful art form. Take the Renaissance and Baroque periods for example.

        • Christopher Gildemeister
          April 23, 2015 at 9:07 am

          I’m sorry Brandon, but that’s a ridiculous argument, one which we encounter all the time. “But…but…but there’s violence in Shakespeare, too!” say defenders of Friday the 13th and the Saw movies. Yes, there is some violence, but it’s nowhere near as graphic; the violence isn’t the point; and there is a deeper meaning or message behind what Shakespeare was doing — not to mention a felicity of expression and language in poetry unmatched today.

          That’s why Shakespeare is great literature, and Sons of Anarchy was ultra-violent, sick trash. Similarly, I’m not familiar with the Baroque or Renaissance artists that depicted DBSM, complete with captive women and fetish gear.

    7. Coach Kitt
      February 11, 2015 at 9:17 am

      This is absolutely disgusting…the people who did this movie are sick…directors…actors and anyone else involved in it. Christian Grey you are a sick individual!!! You need to change your first name!!!~

      • Moax429
        February 13, 2015 at 3:42 pm

        I’ll wager this was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA’s ratings system but got changed to R on appeal without any cuts.


        Because Universal pays part of the MPAA’s salary, and so Universal most likely bullied the MPAA into giving this film a less restrictive rating. Which also seems rather hypocritical when you consider Universal had the *very first* NC-17 rated movie in 1990, “Henry and June.” Apparently Universal needs to mature, step up to the plate and accept responsibility – something they and their colleagues will most likely *never* do.

        Thank the Lord for the Catholic News Service’s (more truthful) ratings system, which rightfully classified “Fifty Shades of Gray” O – morally offensive. To me, that’s good enough reason right there not to waste good money on a misrated-by-”Hollyweird” piece of trash like this.

        • Moax429
          February 13, 2015 at 3:46 pm

          And yes, Coach Kitt, you are 200% correct. Christian Grey and all associated with this film *are indeed* sick individuals!

          • brandon
            April 23, 2015 at 12:59 am

            Just because someone is interested in BDSM does not mean they are sick and immoral. Even though i’m not part of that crowd I still don’t judge them. I have friends who are into that stuff and they are still my friends. If that is what people like to do you shouldn’t judge.

            • Christopher Gildemeister
              April 23, 2015 at 9:02 am

              Presumably, what your friends do is in the privacy of their own bedroom with the door closed. They don’t invite hundreds of 17 year olds to pay money to watch them.

    8. Carole
      February 11, 2015 at 5:57 am

      I was raised when TV could be watched anytime night or day by anyone in the family and you didn’t have to worry about all the trash kids might see. Those days are gone and now anything goes. I don’t think it can be stopped and I hear within a few more years it will be much worse. It’s sad it’s come to this. I’m thankful my kids are grown but it saddens me that the future families and children will miss out on good family shows like I had. I think more and more people will start pulling the plug. Personally for my husband and I, there is little on we care to watch anymore. We depend on DVD’s mainly. We also watch some older shows on Insp, UP, Turner Classic Movies: TCM and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark channel. Sadly, parents can’t stop that show or any others, it’s out of our hands. TV is filled with mostly trash and the trash pile will just continue to grow because for every parent that hates the trash, there are other people that will watch it.

      • M.
        February 13, 2015 at 2:23 pm

        I agree with you: Where are the REAL family-friendly movies and weekly shows we grew up with. We do not have cable since it is more expensive trash to watch so we watch Decades, PBS, Antenna TV and This TV, some shows on Bounce. Some shows on regular tv like The Middle and many E/I shows on Saturday morning and some cooking shows not to compete but to show how to cook healthier meals. I sign petitions every chance I get to stop shows or advertisements that are inappropriate or demeaning. Please do the same and help those who are trying to do something about it. Start complaining to your tv provider by telling what you want to watch, especially if you pay for it. As a mother and a teen leader, I use these inappropriate shows (and there are plenty of them) to discuss family values, integrity, how to take action and make a difference, how to evaluate a show/movie… I am asking parents to watch what their kids are watching and offer alternative movie night or game night, fun-cooking night… there is so much more to do than watching bad tv programming. Enjoy having real fun with your family!

      • sanhareeb.ahmad@yahoo.com
        July 14, 2016 at 5:57 am

        Sexy Films kids councils

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