The Bare Facts on TV Nudity

Originally posted: September 1, 2012

Unless you attend Prince Harry parties in Vegas or belong to a nudist colony, odds are you seldom see naked bodies parading around as you go through your daily activities. That’s why a study just released by the Parents Television Council should concern people who think television should adhere to basic standards of cultural decency.

The study compared the number of incidents of nudity on network prime time during the 2011-12 season to the previous year. There were 76 incidents of full nudity on 37 different shows last season. Only 15 incidents were broadcast the previous year. Sure, the networks blurred or pixelated the most private body parts, but there was no missing what was going on. Nearly 70 percent of the scenes were broadcast before 9 p.m., so there were surely millions of children in the audience. These data don’t include animated nudity, partial nudity or suggested nudity.

Compounding these statistics is the disturbing fact that networks failed to follow their own content rating warning system. The PTC reports that the “S” icon for explicit sexual content was displayed on only five of the 76 programs. So much for the warning system the television industry says is sufficient to alert unsuspecting viewers.

Make no mistake; in this situation, television producers are forcing their cultural values on mainstream America. It was bad enough when television created cultural rot with sexualized jokes, gross violence and bleeped foul language. Now the entertainment industry is pushing the boundaries with blurred nudity for no apparent reason other than to shock and show its disrespect for the wide majority of Americans whose cultural values are inconsistent with what the media want to impose. There is no other explanation for a scene from last season’s “America’s Got Talent” on NBC in which Howie Mandel strolls around naked in front of a guy while deciding which shoes to wear.

Network executives think that blurring or pixelating nudity gives them cover, so to speak. It doesn’t. Just as with bleeped four-letter words, viewers can fill in the missing content. The meaning associated with the foul language or full nudity is unmistakable. It is also irrelevant that the actors in these scenes are usually covered partially by undergarments that are erased by special effects technology, giving the appearance of nudity.

Apologists and excuse-makers for the entertainment industry reacted to the PTC study with the same tired explanations designed to exempt television executives from any responsibility. Dennis Wharton of the National Association of Broadcasters said in a published report that broadcasters are “committed to empowering parents with program ratings and program-blocking technologies.” Thanks for nothing. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg said in an interview that the blurred nudity isn’t as bad as “rapes and mutilations and blood” on crime dramas. So, society can’t address offensive television nudity because there is gross and inappropriate violence being aired at other times?

Psychologist Bonny Forrest told guest host Laura Ingraham on “The O’Reilly Factor” that “this is all about parenting” and “government regulation is not the answer . . . it doesn’t work.” Society has provided all kinds of support mechanisms to help parents keep their kids from inappropriate influences. Those regulations aren’t 100 percent effective either, but the regulations remain in place. This problem, however, isn’t ultimately about regulation anyway. It is about the irresponsibility of network execs.

Other defenders of the status quo simply attacked the PTC as an agenda-driven organization. These network sympathizers excuse producers from responsibility for polluting culture. Sure, the PTC has an agenda, but so do the networks, and the television establishment has much more money and air time to impose its cultural standards.

One must wonder what it is about nudity that broadcasting executives think is so funny and essential to prime-time plots, and why network CEOs won’t assert more leadership by telling their programmers to stop this practice.

Theologian and author Father Jonathan Morris wrote in one of his books about the danger created when a society takes a totally subjective or “anything goes” approach to values. Given the content changes we see in the PTC’s latest study, network television seems headed in that “anything goes” direction.

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