Broadcast TV's New Norms

Written by PTC | Published October 23, 2013

In 1992 the NBC series Seinfeld aired an episode titled "The Contest," which dealt with masturbation. Despite the theme, through intelligent and creative writing that adults could understand (but children could not) the word was never used, and the behavior was never depicted. My, how times have changed. In less than ten days already this season, two programs have come close to showing characters masturbating, and a third implied it with a visual gag. [caption id="attachment_1212" align="alignleft" width="311"]Betrayal on ABC Betrayal on ABC[/caption] The networks have apparently changed their minds about what’s suitable for prime time. An act that couldn’t even be discussed in 1992 is now openly depicted on the small screen. The first was an extended scene on ABC’s “Betrayal” which showed a woman lying in bed with her hand under the bed sheet, and close-up shots of her face as she becomes aroused while fantasizing about an encounter with a man on a train. Only a few days later, the heavily teen-girl-targeted CW network debuted “Reign,” a period drama about the early years of Mary, Queen of Scots. In the debut episode, a group of ladies in waiting watch as their monarchs consummate their marriage. One of the ladies becomes so excited that she runs to a secluded staircase, lifts up her skirts, and… well, not much is left to the imagination. The Seth MacFarlane sitcom “Dads” also used it as plot device, when a man spills water on his pants and tries to rub out the water stain. A woman looking at him through the window after just stepping out of the shower, of course misinterprets his actions, and the man is later interrogated by a woman who uses a litany of adolescent euphemisms to describe what they thought he was doing. Where is the proof of audience demand for masturbation scenes that would justify three of them in ten days? If someone in a park or on a street corner were to do this, they’d be arrested for public indecency, but on television, apparently, it passes for entertainment. Is this how far we’ve sunk, culturally? Is this really what we want from our entertainment? If we let the networks continue to get away with scenes like these, it will soon become the new normal for broadcast television. And then what taboo will they seek to shatter next? How much further are we willing to let things go before we decide enough is enough?

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