Keep Sex in Its Place

Guest Commentary

Some call the fuss being made by the FCC over the Janet Jackson incident a threat to the First Amendment. But this isn't The People vs. Larry Flynt. This isn't a First Amendment issue at all. It's a quality-of-content matter.

Many people seem to think that, if the FCC clamps down on decency, it is the start of a slippery slope toward government control of all media content. If there is a slippery slope, it is going the other way. If we don't set a decency boundary, every network will be pushing the envelope a little further in the battle for publicity, and it won't be long before everything on TV is soft-core pornography.

Groucho Marx once said, "If someone has to be dirty to be funny, they are not funny." The same thing applies to drama and music. It takes real talent to create a compelling drama or a hilarious comedy without resorting to sex or jokes about sex. If the best Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake can do is take off their clothes and do the grind, then they basically possess the same level of talent as a nightclub stripper. I expect a little more imagination from our creative community.

Believe me, I'm not a prude. I used to listen to Howard Stern all the time. His old WOR(TV) shows are still the funniest programs I've ever seen. However, Howard lost me about the time his guest list consisted entirely of strippers, hookers, and porn stars. The simple fact is that too much sex becomes outright boring. That is what happened to Stern and also what is happening to the broadcast networks.

The broadcast networks are faced with declining ratings due to competition from cable, DVDs, the Internet, and videogames. For the past few years, network executives have devised the same pitiful strategy to increase ratings (which has not worked, by the way). They toss about words like "edgy" and "controversial" or phrases like "pushing the envelope" to describe the kind of programs they think will lure people back.

To the adolescents that run Hollywood, these words all mean the same thing: more sex. The fact is, more sex does not equal more edge. A program like All in the Family
was extremely edgy for its day, and it had no sex at all. The same with today's Law & Order

If sex were all people wanted, then the Playboy Channel would be the highest-rated network on TV.

The bottom line is that there is a time, a place, and a manner in which sex is right for TV, and halftime of the Super Bowl was not it.