A Naked Ass Isn't Worse Than Murder — Except on Television

Illustration for article titled A Naked Ass Isn't Worse Than Murder — Except on Television

The Supreme Court's currently considering a case that would effectively lift the more stringent decency standards to which network TV programming is currently held. Networks say that it's not fair that cable gets to go out till 2 am and go on dates and stuff when they're stuck memorizing Bible verses at home and practicing penmanship. The FCC claims that The Children Will Be Damaged if they're allowed to hear swears or look at butts on CBS. More damaged than they are by witnessing network TV depiction of murders or jokes about violence against women? Apparently!


America's longstanding, complicated, and confusing prudery around regulating crude language and nudity in entertainment is both well-documented and long debated. The latest front in the War Against Indecency is broadcast TV, which is currently held to standards more strict than those applied to their cable brethren. An episode of NYPD Blue featuring a woman's naked backside (we say "backside" because we are decent), an award show where Cher says the F-word, and an episode of The Simple Life where Nicole Richie laments the difficult of removing cow shit stains are serving as central evidence in the networks' case. According to the group that wants the old standards lifted, everyone has cable and the internet now, anyway, and it doesn't make sense to continue fining networks for stuff that would cause nary an eyelash batting over in cable town.

As of Tuesday, it appeared that the justices had donned their fanciest, most clutchable pearls and seemed as though they were leaning toward upholding the more strict standards for broadcast TV. Chief Justice John Roberts said that he wanted his children to have a safe space on television. The incredibly hairy Antonin Scalia added that people who watch network TV should expect a modicum of decency.

As Erika and Nicholas Christakis point out at TIME, the notion that what's shown on network TV is decent and unharmful to the children is a laughable one. For every accidentally exposed breast during a Super Bowl Half Time Show, there are at least 10 disgusting, decaying bodies that met unspeakable ends on CSI. For every impressively fancy string of swears bleeped out by censors, there's a corresponding joke about violence against women, or a cartoon cat murder. Witnessing violence, even dramatized, can lead to kids acting more violent or aggressive themselves. Absorbing harmful attitudes toward women can lead children to grow up thinking nothing's more hilarious than jokes about ladies staying in the kitchen. A steady stream of prime-time network TV as it currently exists, in other words, might shape a generation of little jerks. T&A has nothing on SVU.

Further, plenty of TV channels offer a respite from the constant titswearing that the FCC and Antonin Scalia seem to think occurs on cable. Many channels voluntarily offer specifically designated children's programming all the time, and as far as I'm aware, there's never been a murder on Yo Gabba Gabba!. Parental controls provided by TV manufacturers and cable providers give parents even more control over the entertainment diet of their children.

If parents want network television to raise their children to be the unblemished princess doctor veterinarians of their dreams, it's long ago been time to give up the ghost.

Our concern over nudity and swearing is misguided [TIME]



I'd like to roll my eyes, but I have a hangover. The network news alone is as traumatizing as any nipple slip and that's on several times a day. We're supposed to accept that the human body is somehow disgusting and can't be shown, but murder and other violent crimes, homophobia, misogyny and the general nastiness of human beings and the world are acceptable because it's fiction or 'reality'? Isn't the human body real too? Isn't it the viewer's perception of sexual impropriety that's the illusion?