Television

Must-See *Broadcast* TV?: "Fisting, Anal Sex, Penis Pictures"

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Forget premium cable channels such as HBO, Showtime, and "Skinemax." According to the bluenoses at The Parents Television Council (PTC), ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are the new showcases of depravity.

It's clear that explicit jokes and boundary-pushing storylines are changing the definition of what sexual content is acceptable in prime­time. Out are love triangles and awkward dates. In are jokes about anal sex, "fisting" and teen masturbation that Parents Television Council president Tim Winter says are "absolutely inappropriate for primetime broadcast television."…

Fox's New Girl season premiere featured Zooey Deschanel repeatedly muttering "sex fist!" as an expression for the roommates' quest to hook up at a wedding. Multiple fisting jokes followed — as did episodes where the gang got stoned and Deschanel dated a guy with a micropenis…. Over on Fox's The Mindy Project, nearly an entire episode focused on Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina debating whether he "slipped" and attempted to, ahem, go in the back door. That led to discussions of sexual positions, including the "necktie," "ascot" and "bagpipe."…

[The] 10 p.m. drama How to Get Away With Murder featured a character saying, "He did things to my ass that made my eyes water" and ended an episode with Viola Davis asking, "Why is your penis on a dead girl's phone?"…

The Hollywood Reporter hypothesizes that tougher and tougher competition for eyeballs—whether watery from ass play or dry as a [insert Golden Girls joke here]—from cable is goosing the race to the bottom.

What's behind the trend? Competition with cable, of course, and a desire by low-rated shows such as Mindy and New Girl to cause a stir (for the most part it hasn't worked). Some say network censors have pushed back less often now that FCC fines are few and far between, though one top exec downplays the hoopla. "As lines blur between broadcast, basic cable and premium cable, there may be a concentration of pushing sexual boundaries in certain shows," he says. "But it is hardly a mandate or a trend."

Read the whole story.

Note the parenthetical above: for the most part it hasn't worked. Doesn't that solve the problem right there? People who want to watch "raunchy" TV can and are doing so. And those who don't want to watch don't have to and are clearly skipping such fare.

Years ago, the former head of the FCC Kevin Martin complained to Congress:

"You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want[….] But why should you have to?"

Let me suggest that we've grown up as a country in at least two ways. First, we're more comfortable with adult themes (in ways that extend beyond sex, too) in our popular entertainments. And second, most of us have moved on from the "but why should you have to" mind-set and are ready, willing, and able to take command of our personal mediascapes. Hell, let's throw in a third: Given that 90 percent-plus of us get our TV via cable and satellite, the distinction between broadcast TV, whose content is regulated by the FCC, and cable, whose content is not, no longer makes any possible difference. As former FCC chairman Michael Powell told Reason back in 2004, the always-arbitrary distinction between broadcast media and other forms never made sense logically, especially since it meant radically different standards related to First Amendment protections. Only the most rock-headed can still pretend the distinction makes any sort of operational sense.

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