What So Bad About Sex on TV?


Here's another disturbing sex

story the mainstream media

refuses to cover: There's

fucking and sucking on TV. Lots

of it. So much so that The Henry

J. Kaiser Family Foundation –

one of the few nonprofit

organizations that signals its

tyrannical aspirations in its

very name—recently issued a

"scientific" report entitled Sex on

TV. "Across all programs on

television that contain sexual

content, an average of 3.2

scenes per hour present messages

involving sex," conclude the

researchers, who leaven that

happy finding with this

sprinkling of cautionary

saltpeter: "When television

presents sexual content, there

is scant attention devoted to

sexual health issues that are

essential considerations in

weighing one's options for

sexual activity today."

In case you're wondering

precisely how "scientific" the

survey was, let's just say that

if the Manhattan Project had

possessed this level of rigor,

dedication, and brainpower, the

Japanese never would have

survived World War II to make films

such as Godzilla, King of the

Monsters; Godzilla vs.

Mechagodzilla; Godzilla's Revenge; and

Godzilla 1985, much less buy

Rockefeller Center back in the

go-go '80s: "This study

identifies and analyzes the

messages involving sex and

sexuality … [in] … [a]

large, representative sample of

programming totaling 1,351 shows

… aired between October 1997

and March 1998…. Programs were

… systematically evaluated

using scientific content

analysis procedures applied by

trained coders." The researchers

didn't just pick these "trained

coders" off the beach like so

many washed-ashore tampon

applicators, either: We're

talking "Twenty-seven

undergraduate students at the

University of California, Santa

Barbara," who willfully

interrupted their own Harrad

Experiment-by-the-sea in order

to watch actors and cartoon

characters schtup on the small


Nor are we talking only about

the obvious, in-your-face dirty

talk that goes on every morning,

noon, and night—you know, fare

like the NAMBLA-underwritten PBS

show in which Tinky Winky struts

around the Teletubbies set like

it's his own beachfront property

at Fire Island, or the 20/20

interview with Monica Lewinsky

that garnered Who Shot J.

R.?-level ratings as the

gigglesome ex-public servant

recounted how she "very subtly"

presented herself rearward like

a cow in estrus to the nation's

top law enforcement officer and

unconvincingly claimed her

childhood motto had been,

"You're not the boss of me"

(which, besides being a

signature line for Boogie

Nights' Dirk Diggler, is a

passing strange slogan for the

gal best known as presidential

ashtray and autosuck device).

That's not to say Sex on TV

isn't as sweaty with such

moments as the local Pink

Pussycat Parlor—or, for that

matter, the latest promo for

Dawson's Creek. It is, of

course. In fact, it has to be to

do its job (though it's not

quite clear what that job is,

other than to provide a

supplemental revenue stream for

the professors who put it


While perhaps not quite the

one-handed read one might have hoped

for (there's always George

Stephanopoulos' upcoming memoir

to look forward to), the report

does offer more than a few

useful pickup tips for those of

us stranded on the dry side of

the glass teat. Remember, the

authors counsel, it is always

easier to get laid in some sort

of alternate universe,

especially if you are involved

in struggles with the forces of

Good vs. Evil (something that

did come through loud and clear

during the Lewinsky interview).

To wit, this recitation of a

panty-moistening tryst from

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: "Buffy

and Angel both appear to be

normal teenagers, but in fact,

Angel is an immortal who is

hundreds of years old. The two

have a romantic interest, and

she tries to impress him by

dressing up in 18th-century

attire for Halloween. Later, in

a quiet moment in Buffy's

bedroom, Angel asks her why she

chose that costume. He tells her

she doesn't need to try to

impress him and that he's been

looking to meet someone

'exciting … interesting.' The

moment grows more intimate as

Buffy advances her face very

near to his, asking 'Really,

interesting, how?' He responds

by moving his face closer to

hers and the two begin to touch

their faces together sensuously

before proceeding to a deep,

passionate kiss."

A similar set of simple truths

also pervades this example drawn

from USA Network's cartoon

Savage Dragon (a show that

redefines niche marketing, as

its only known viewers are in

fact Sex on TV's 27 UCSB

undergraduate coders): "The

title character is a part-human,

part-animal superhero who works

as a uniformed police officer.

Dragon, as he is called, is hurt

in the line of duty and returns

to the station. After reporting

the incident, he encounters

Rita, an attractive young female

officer. Rita fawns over Dragon,

commenting, 'You should be in

bed with someone taking care of

you. Someone like me.' Dragon

responds awkwardly, apparently

wishing to avoid her, but she

grabs him by his tie and pulls

him toward her, asking

seductively, 'Where does it

hurt?' Dragon says that he is

getting better quickly, but Rita

persists, saying 'Good, I

wouldn't want you to miss the

ball. So are you taking anyone?'

Dragon replies, 'Oh … well …

I … haven't actually asked

anyone.' Sensing her chance,

Rita says assertively, 'Then we

can go together. You won't

regret this, Dragon.' Rita rubs

his chest and says seductively,

'You know I could be pretty

savage myself!'"

To its credit—unlike NBC's Tom

Brokaw or ABC's Peter Jennings,

both of whom have eschewed any

mention of Juanita Broaddrick –

Sex on TV doesn't shirk from

offering tales ripped straight

from the trenches of the sexual

revolution. Consider this

cautionary Looney Toon: "The

Bear family returns home to find

Bugs eating their porridge. The

bears are on the verge of

physically attacking the

intruder, when Bugs invents a

ruse to save himself. He begins

to flirt seductively with the

Mama Bear, who quickly falls for

his charms. Bugs croons to her,

'Your eyes, your lips … why,

you're beautiful!' and he kisses

her long and hard on the lips,

ending with a big 'Smack!' Mama

Bear is so smitten with Bugs

that she protects him from the

other bears, and then pursues

him relentlessly, wanting more

of Bugs' attention. She pleads,

'Tell me more about my eyes,' as

she caresses his face and tries

to embrace Bugs, who wants no

part of her affection. He races

into his rabbit hole but she

follows and he soon emerges

covered with lipstick all over

his body."

So what have we learned after

80-plus pages of such sexual

McCarthyism (not to be confused

with the far more dangerous

sexual McCartneyism,

manifestations of which include

the writing of silly love songs

and the inclusion of talentless

wives in bands)? That vampires

make good kissers; that

part-human, part-animal

superheroes in uniform are chick

magnets; that even Bugs Bunny

gets screwed on occasion. But of

course we knew all that going

in, just as we knew the ending

would go something like this:

"By providing more balance in

addressing these concerns,"

intone the folks behind Sex on

TV, rehashing the tired adage

that inevitably infects all

writing about the boob tube

(including this piece),

"television could be helping

young people make more informed

– perhaps even lifesaving –

decisions about sex in their own

lives." In moments such as this,

we realize our pity for Bugs

Bunny is fundamentally

misplaced. Even as the rascally

rabbit is being mauled

relentlessly by Mama Bear, he is

at least wondrously free from

interminable discussions that

simultaneously posit television

as our corrupter and savior.

Somehow, the high price he pays

seems much lower than the cost

we bear to watch TV for free.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.