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TV’s Sexist Breast Obsession

BY CHRISTOPHER GILDEMEISTER

 

That most prime-time broadcast television programming is drenched with sexual content is not news; but one particularly disturbing recent trend is TV’s overwhelming obsession with women’s breasts.

 

It is pathetic that a medium with the tremendous power which television possesses is willing to objectify one-half of the human race; but increasingly, remarks about breasts, scenes emphasizing breasts and even entire storylines about breasts are becoming commonplace on TV. Such a focus ignores intelligence, personality, charm, integrity and the entire host of human qualities, and essentially reduces women to objects valued only for their anatomy.

 

This trend has been increasing for several years across all the broadcast networks; but some of the most egregious examples of TV’s breast fetish have occurred since the beginning of this year. 

 

NBC hit bottom at 9:00 p.m. ET on July 1st, when America’s Got Talent performer “Busty Heart” demonstrated her unique “talent” by crushing aluminum cans with her breasts. While the full scene was not shown on broadcast TV, NBC displayed the full video on its website (under the provocative title “Busty Heart Uncensored”), as well as thoughtfully providing a link to Busty’s own website, which promotes her strip club. While this was the latest and most extreme example, NBC’s programming has abounded with crass references to female anatomy. On April 3rd, an entire episode of the network’s formerly clean hit My Name Is Earl emphasized men groping women’s breasts: a woman sat with a comatose Earl, kissing him, then taking his hand in hers and placing it on her breast (whereupon Randy exclaimed, "Get your boobs off my brother!"); Earl’s ex-wife Joy tried to revive him by taking Earl’s hand and placing it under her shirt on her breast, which her current husband excused because "above the waist isn’t cheating”; and in a dream sequence, Earl’s wife raised her hands directly over her head as he placed his hands on her breasts and squeezed them. The episode also contained breast-oriented dialogue, such as a police office stating that paramedics rescued “the hot chick with the nice taters.” In addition, nearly every episode in the past year has shown Earl and his friends visiting “Club Chubby,” a striptease bar. Similar events are to be found across the network’s programming, from scenes of naked women clutching their breasts on Las Vegas (2/15/2008), to a mother who lays out several different sizes of breast implants on Wendy's desk, seeking input on what size her daughter’s breasts should be to make her a star (Lipstick Jungle, 2/21/2008), to an entire discussion of breast size on the game show Amnesia (2/29/2008) to a series of crass remarks on the game shows Celebrity Family Feud and Deal Or No Deal – including a contestant on the latter show fondling her own breasts while stating that she will use her winnings to “buy boobs” (2/20/2008).

 

But NBC is not alone in its relentless efforts to objectify women. The Disney-owned ABC network has also shown programming demonstrating the entertainment industry’s obsession with female anatomy. Perhaps the Alphabet Network’s most egregious display in this regard occurred on the game show Here Come the Newlyweds. The program’s March 9th episode featured newlywed wives changing their appearance, then asking their hapless husbands what differences they notice. Several of the women padded their busts, leading to dialogue like, “"These are bigger breasts. Let me tell you something mister, I don't know the technical term, but these are humdingers!" and (after the padding is removed) "Where are them big boobs?" Episodes on subsequent weeks contained similar discussions of women’s anatomy, But it is not only ABC’s reality programs that obsessed about breast size in crass terms. The network’s other programs have also have dwelt on the subject, from sitcoms like According to Jim (Jim to pregnant wife Cheryl: "I can do twins. Twice the amount of diapers, twice the amount of feeding…and your boobs get twice as big!" – 2/26/2008) and Miss Guided (Becky rants at her former teacher: "In 12th grade, you pointed out to the entire class that I stuffed my bra. Well you know what, lady? I wasn't even wearing a bra. These babies are real!" – 3/27/2008) to dramas like Grey’s Anatomy (patient Rebecca asks Dr. Sloan to give her a breast augmentation: “The face is a head-turner, but the boobs aren't stopping anybody on the street.” – 5/15/2008)

                

CBS and the CW are also complicit in the trend, with CBS recently sullying the Sunday night Family Hour. On the July 13th premiere episode of Big Brother 10, contestant April boasted that “My boobs are real!” To prove her point, April invited other contestants to fondle her breasts – culminating with 75-year-old Jerry groping her bosoms as the other contestants whistled, hooted and cheered. This program aired at 8:00 p.m. ET – only 7:00 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones, when millions of children were in the audience. Meanwhile, the April 22nd episode of the CW’s Beauty and the Geek showed one geek leering at a bikini-clad teammate and remarking, “Parts of her body are…larger than you would expect from a typical woman.” Both of these networks aired many more such examples.

 

But predictably, it is the Fox network which has taken the lead in crass commentary on women’s bodies. Fox’s history in this regard can be traced back to the network’s first hit Married with Children, the writers of which apparently considered lewd comments de rigueur. As will come as no surprise, Fox’s reigning champion of lascivious commentary on breasts is the network’s animated atrocity American Dad. The plot of the January 13th episode featured a gas which makes women’s breasts enlarge (and which actually allows Francine to snap ropes binding her with her enlarged breasts). The May 11th episode showed son Steve inventing a “practice sex robot,” on which he inflates two vacuum cleaner bags to serve as breasts. And the entire plot of the May 18th episode revolved around son Steve’s attempts to lose his virginity to MTV star “Carmen Selectra.” Explicit dialogue about breasts dominated the episode:

 

Carmen: “I had my breasts enhanced.”

                

Steve: “Yeah, sorry, Carmen, I can't. The first boobs I'm with have gotta

                 be real. Lose the balloons then give me a call.”

                

Later, Carmen announces she had her breast implants removed so she can

take Steve's virginity.

                 

Carmen: “I flew my doctor in on my private jet and I had them

                 removed. They're all real, baby. So come and get it!”

                

The stage collapses. Without her breast implants to cushion the fall Carmen is crushed to death.

                

Girl: “Oh my God! She's dead! Carmen is dead!”

 

Guy: “If only she'd had some cushioning on her chest. Something not real,

                 fake if you will, to withstand the impact.”

 

Literally dozens more references appeared on American Dad and Family Guy as well as programs like Unhitched, Bones and Til Death. Thanks to Fox, the slang term “boob” has become ubiquitous on television, being heard even on the relatively family-friendly The Simpsons. And Fox’s rancid game show The Moment of Truth has been unable to resist the subject, with host Mark L. Wahlberg asking one March 19th contestant, “Do your breast implants make you feel more powerful?”

 

No doubt the networks proudly believe that individuals like “Busty Heart” and endless reductions of women to a number and cup size will serve as an inspiration to the millions of young girls watching the today’s TV programming.

 

But how many adult women watching such shows are subjected to words and actions that would rightly be considered sexual harassment in the professional world, and sexist and denigrating behavior outside of it?  And how many teens and young girls – many of whom already struggle with issues of body image and self-esteem --  are receiving the message that the size of their breasts is all that matters?

 

Television’s writers, producers and executives often claim that their programming is “progressive,” and that by showing it the networks are “liberating” average Americans from a moralistic, narrow-minded provincialism. In truth, however, these programs reveal the creators of today’s programming for what they truly are: every bit as shallow and crudely sexist as those they supposedly condemn.

 


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


 

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