America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 5

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6. Some people are mental y unbalanced, and hearing "bad" words or seeing "bad" body parts might motivate them to commit s.e.x crimes.

Prove it.

This is the desperate plea of last resort. "If everyone were normal, the s.e.x stuff on TV and radio might be OK, but some people are disturbed, and we must limit everyone's rights so we don't encourage these disturbed people to do dangerous things."

Public policy generated by the fear of a handful of crazies is never never sensible, and isn't the norm in American life. We don't limit food distribution because of bulimics, we don't limit car distribution because of terrible drivers, and we don't limit lotteries or casinos because of compulsive gamblers. sensible, and isn't the norm in American life. We don't limit food distribution because of bulimics, we don't limit car distribution because of terrible drivers, and we don't limit lotteries or casinos because of compulsive gamblers.

I challenge the sincerity of would-be censors' fear of "the crazies." If they were seriously concerned, they would have eliminated all guns following the 1999 school shootings in Columbine-but they didn't. They would have eliminated college fraternities because of the periodic injuries or deaths during hazing-but they haven't. The "What about the crazies?" argument is just another strategy for lowering the acceptable standard of adult media experience (along with "What about the children?"). It's intellectually indefensible, and we shouldn't give it any weight.

As talk show host d.i.c.k Cavett said about TV causing violence and other social problems, "There's so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?"2 There's one more point about the al eged harm of s.e.xual imagery on radio and television. Western Europe has been running the experiment America refuses to, for decades. Western European radio and television feature words, themes, and pictures (including nudity) that are prohibited to American audiences and broadcasters. According to the predictions of America's moral crusaders, Europe should therefore be a cesspool of s.e.xual perversion. But it's just the opposite.

Table 6.1 shows some convincing facts.3 It's what parents are always telling their eight-year-olds: "I know you're afraid, but that doesn't mean there's something real to be afraid of."

THEY SEE s.e.x EVERYWHERE-AND THEY HATE IT Let's return to the list of s.e.x-related broadcasting that the crusaders are trying to eliminate. You'll recall it's a long, long list.

That's a big problem for them-they see s.e.x everywhere. everywhere. Where you might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about p.e.n.i.s size, crusaders Where you might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about p.e.n.i.s size, crusaders 56 56 Table 6.1 Teen Birth and Abortion Rates, by Country Teen Abortion Rates Teen Birth Rates (per (per 1,000 women ages Nation 1,000 women ages 1519) 1519) United States 48.7.

27.5.

Netherlands 4.5.

4.2.

Germany 12.5.

3.6.

France 10.0.10.2.

feel a.s.saulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel a.s.saulted. Where you might be turned off (or intrigued) by an Oprah Oprah episode about teen hookers, they feel a.s.saulted. That's a lot of a.s.sault. If you're not obsessed with s.e.x, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casual y observe "dumb joke health product social problem (exaggerated or not)." They perceive "s.e.x s.e.x s.e.x." episode about teen hookers, they feel a.s.saulted. That's a lot of a.s.sault. If you're not obsessed with s.e.x, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casual y observe "dumb joke health product social problem (exaggerated or not)." They perceive "s.e.x s.e.x s.e.x."

And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with s.e.x they resent never have a nice day.

When people are obsessed by s.e.x-not about doing it, but by the subject- they see it everywhere. everywhere. Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotional y equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. You know how some people have a frustrating day at work, come home, and kick their dog? People who are obsessed by s.e.x regularly feel a.s.saulted by yet another on-air example of it (remember, they don't know how to ignore it), and in response they kick Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotional y equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. You know how some people have a frustrating day at work, come home, and kick their dog? People who are obsessed by s.e.x regularly feel a.s.saulted by yet another on-air example of it (remember, they don't know how to ignore it), and in response they kick you. you.

And then they claim it's for your own good. Nice touch. Do they say that to their dog while kicking it, too?

What if such people saw s.e.x everywhere, but didn didn' t t fear it? It is, after all, possible to see the erotic fear it? It is, after all, possible to see the erotic potential potential around us-s.e.xual issues in healthcare, the needs of teens to be better prepared for relationships, the beauty of people talking honestly about difficult s.e.xual feelings, the complexity of adultery, the poetry of everyday eros-and rather than feel repulsed and desperate to escape from it, to feel intrigued, compa.s.sionate, bemused, and involved in the human parade, the Divine Comedy. around us-s.e.xual issues in healthcare, the needs of teens to be better prepared for relationships, the beauty of people talking honestly about difficult s.e.xual feelings, the complexity of adultery, the poetry of everyday eros-and rather than feel repulsed and desperate to escape from it, to feel intrigued, compa.s.sionate, bemused, and involved in the human parade, the Divine Comedy.

We could argue that moral crusaders can can' t t evaluate the "community standard" around s.e.xuality, because they don't see evaluate the "community standard" around s.e.xuality, because they don't see any any s.e.x-related issue s.e.x-related issue in context in context (and seeing things in context is part of the legal requirement for determining the community standard). Consider their outrage about the soldiers' language (and seeing things in context is part of the legal requirement for determining the community standard). Consider their outrage about the soldiers' language Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 57 Broadcast "Indecency" 57 in Saving Private Ryan, Saving Private Ryan, or the shriveled, bare b.r.e.a.s.t.s of Holocaust prisoners in or the shriveled, bare b.r.e.a.s.t.s of Holocaust prisoners in Schindler Schindler' s List s List-crusaders literally can't see these as non-erotic, because once a theme or word or picture in any way relates to s.e.xuality, it belongs to the single, simplistic category they have-"s.e.xy."

Moral crusaders have also invested magical, demonic powers in certain combinations of syl ables. They have spent mil ions of dol ars pursuing NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's "s-word expletive," Bono's "F word expletive," and Comedy Central roasts that "bring unspeakable vulgarity" into U.S. households.4 The legislature and courts of our proud democracy have actual y spent thousands of working hours debating whether Bono used "f.u.c.king" as an adjective or a s.e.xual reference5-a legal point that would determine whether adults were al owed to hear it on TV.

Seeing s.e.x everywhere, and hating it, explains censors' desperate grab for power, and their desperate demand for action now. now. But asking these people about a "community standard" regarding s.e.xuality is like asking an anorexic to evaluate a movie for its possible connection to food or eating-which they'd see in every frame. But asking these people about a "community standard" regarding s.e.xuality is like asking an anorexic to evaluate a movie for its possible connection to food or eating-which they'd see in every frame.

When the government or crusaders refer to a "community standard," should it be the standard of people who see s.e.x everywhere, or of healthier people who have a less obsessive perspective? We must acknowledge that for people who see s.e.x everywhere, cleansing the environment so that they see none is virtual y impossible. They wil never be satisfied, as we'l see below in the section on children's programming.

"WHY MUST YOU INCLUDE s.e.x IN EVERYTHING?"

This is a common complaint of those who want less eroticism in the public sphere. But that's the wrong question, a phony question. And once moral crusaders get everyone looking at the wrong question, it doesn't matter what answers people come up with.

The right question is, "Why must you delete delete eroticism from everything?" eroticism from everything?"

s.e.xuality is an enormous part of human life. That's why, whether on cave walls, pottery, papyrus, or the Internet, it's been a central theme of art since the beginning of recorded history.6 The choices faced by the broadcast media (and of all performing, literary, and fine arts) are to portray s.e.xual themes well, portray them poorly, or omit them. Erotophobes want America to move from portraying s.e.xuality poorly to omitting it. We actually need to move in the opposite direction-from portraying it poorly to portraying it well.

Unfortunately, the s.e.xual material on TV and radio is either stupid (e.g., sitcoms, shock jocks) or extreme (e.g., CSI, Nip/Tuck CSI, Nip/Tuck). Broadcast media typically portray s.e.xual themes, situations, and feelings as less interesting, less rich, and less sophisticated than they can be, not to mention less accurately and more stereotyped. That actually is is a problem, but antis.e.x crusaders don't see it. a problem, but antis.e.x crusaders don't see it.

58.We need more everyday, real stuff in between these poles-an idea which, oddly, many observers consider too radical. The intensity of CSI CSI-type s.e.xual references may be in bad taste, but it's inevitable. It's how both Hol ywood and audiences act out their frustration with the lack of realistic s.e.xuality in broadcasts. It's why the second a show announces that it's pushing the edge on language or nudity- NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, The Daily Show NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, The Daily Show-people rush to tune in. Imagine-characters talking or behaving like real people- incredible!

Methodically stripping s.e.xuality from the public arena not only distorts all portrayals of life, the process itself is socially devastating. We saw this in Europe's witch hunts, Victorian England, and again in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

We must stop being defensive about this and say unequivocal y, "Yes, eroticism belongs belongs in broadcast media presentations-because it's part of the lives the media portrays, and the lives of its audience. Coming to terms with s.e.xuality is part of growing up. This involves a process that may not always be comfortable, but it is essential for emotional, spiritual, family, and community health. in broadcast media presentations-because it's part of the lives the media portrays, and the lives of its audience. Coming to terms with s.e.xuality is part of growing up. This involves a process that may not always be comfortable, but it is essential for emotional, spiritual, family, and community health.

The opposite? Think Salem, Ma.s.sachusetts. Think about turn-of-the century American children who were literal y handcuffed to their bedposts each night to prevent them from destroying their health through masturbation.7 Think about the s.e.xual y tormented J. Edgar Hoover, and Joseph McCarthy tormenting the rest of us.

Stories about real life, commercials about real situations, jokes about real misunderstandings-the media doesn't insert insert s.e.x into these, s.e.x s.e.x into these, s.e.x lives lives in these. in these.

Americans need and deserve to see it and hear it, in recognizable, sophisticated, normal-seeming ways.

Morality groups and many elected Congress members want the airwaves sanitized to be "family friendly" or "safe for children." This a.s.sumes that families never observe or discuss s.e.xual themes, and it begs the question of what is is safe for children; morality crusaders apparently mean it to be reducing all programming and advertising to themes and words that won't challenge kids' safe for children; morality crusaders apparently mean it to be reducing all programming and advertising to themes and words that won't challenge kids'

alleged innocence.

This would give children way more rights than adults-which, by the way, is exactly what these same groups are trying to do regarding the Internet (see chapter 8). But as Mark Twain said, "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it."

It is dangerous for a democracy to restrict adults to what's (supposedly) safe for kids. It keeps citizens from facing and exploring different ways of addressing adult chal enges. It encourages pa.s.sivity and narrow thinking. But to those in power, des.e.xualized adults are less threatening than ful adults. And for morality groups, convincing a mil ion people that F words in the living room are more dangerous than toxic waste across town, or overcrowded cla.s.srooms down the street, creates a const.i.tuency that is Battleground: Broadcast "Indecency" 59 Broadcast "Indecency" 59 frightened and therefore motivated to donate money and time to morality groups.

INDECENCY VS. OBSCENITY VS. "I HATE IT"

The legal and political issue of "indecency" is confusing for two reasons.

First, the very idea of a democratic government giving itself the right to determine what adults can see and hear is bizarre. Second, because this bizarre idea contradicts the guarantees of our Bill of Rights, Congress and the courts have had to erect odd ways of defining what is and isn't permissible.

Speech and broadcasts related to s.e.xuality fall into three legal categories: (1) obscenity, (2) indecency, and (3) non-obscene, non-indecent stuff that some people hate. The three are defined below. If the legal language sounds like subjective nonsense, that's because it is. But our government takes these criteria seriously. Prosecutors and morality groups depend on these definitions to help them limit what you can hear or see.

1. "Obscene" material must meet a three-p.r.o.ng test: * An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., characterized by an inordinate and unhealthy s.e.xual interest or desire); * The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, s.e.xual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and * The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Obscene speech is not not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time.

2. "Indecent" material, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards, s.e.xual or excretory organs or activities.

It is illegal to broadcast anything indecent between 6:00 a.m. and midnight.

3. It is not not illegal to broadcast non-obscene, non-indecent things that some people hate. illegal to broadcast non-obscene, non-indecent things that some people hate.

You can see that when a civic group or elected officials want to restrict your access to certain words or pictures, getting the government or the courts to decide that it's indecent or obscene is a phenomenally powerful tool. Once something is ruled indecent or obscene, the government then has the right (actually, the obligation) to restrict or ban it.

60.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could decide, for example, that the word "breast" is indecent, in which case, adults wouldn't be al owed to hear it on the air between 6:00 a.m. and midnight, seven days per week. It could even decide that the word "breast" is obscene, in which case it wouldn't be al owed on any show at any time. Farfetched? Wel , groups like Citizens for Community Values are pushing legislation that redefines certain words and images. And already, we take it for granted that Jay Leno can't say the words c.l.i.toris or fel atio, much less show examples of either.8 As these definitions show, a bureaucrat, judge, or Congress have wide lat.i.tude in determining which words and pictures you do not have the freedom to hear, see, or broadcast. "The problem is, the indecency 'standard' is not a standard,"

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argues Cato adjunct scholar Robert Corn-Revere. "It's basically a test for what people find distasteful, which is entirely in the eyes and ears of the beholder."9 Too much of the War on s.e.x is described as allowing or restricting broadcasters from doing this or that. While this is accurate, your your rights to hear and see are equally under attack. This crucial point seems to get lost over and over. rights to hear and see are equally under attack. This crucial point seems to get lost over and over.

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