TV’s con­tempt for mar­riage

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - L. BRENT BOZELL III

Doug and An­nie Brown be­came a hot topic of con­ver­sa­tion in June when his book came out, called “Just Do It.” The mar­ried cou­ple from Den­ver made a de­ci­sion to do some­thing dra­matic to their mar­riage and have sex for 101 days in a row. They called it a “sex­pe­di­tion.”

They ex­pressed sur­prise at how much closer they be­came, rel­ish­ing con­ver­sa­tions, hold­ing hands and strength­en­ing their mar­i­tal bond. They felt like court­ing each other the way they did when they first met in their twen­ties.

On the jokey sur­face of our pop­u­lar cul­ture, we con­sis­tently en­counter the idea that mar­riage ru­ins sex. But pop cul­ture is just plain wrong. Study af­ter study has shown that mar­ried peo­ple have higher rates of sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and sat­is­fac­tion than sin­gles.

The prob­lem for Hol­ly­wood in all that is that mar­i­tal sex just isn’t naughty enough for en­ve­lope push­ers. Like over­grown teenagers, TV pro­duc­ers are stuck in ar­rested so­cial de­vel­op­ment, and seem­ingly can’t vi­su­al­ize Mom and Dad hav­ing an ac­tive and ful­fill­ing sex life. They would rather vi­su­al­ize the crazy and the kinky side, fea­tur­ing the sin­gle swinger.

The Par­ents Tele­vi­sion Coun­cil stud­ied the first month of prime-time pro­gram­ming dur­ing the fall 2007 sea­son, and found that across the broad­cast net­works, ver­bal ref­er­ences to non­mar­i­tal sex out­num­bered ref­er­ences to sex within mar­riage by nearly 3 to 1. Scenes de­pict­ing or im­ply­ing sex be­tween non-mar­ried part­ners out­num­bered scenes de­pict­ing or im­ply­ing sex be­tween mar­ried part­ners by a ra­tio of nearly 4 to 1.

Never mind the im­pact this warped world­view has on im- pres­sion­able youngsters, so many of whom are hit with th­ese mes­sages early in the primetime hours. Con­sider the ef­fect on teenagers and young adults, the kind of de­mo­graphic over which TV ad­ver­tis­ers drool. In most cases, they are un­mar­ried, but close to the age when mar­riage could hap­pen. If they’re watch­ing tele­vi­sion, the prospects of a happy, healthy mar­riage with sex­ual ful­fill­ment in it look hor­ren­dously dim. Con­sider a few ex­am­ples:

On ABC’s sit­com “Big Shots,” a mar­ried man pro­claims, “I’m the only per­son in Amer­ica hav­ing G-rated sex. And that was six months ago.”

On the ABC sit­com “Car­pool­ers,” a mar­ried man laments, “I haven’t seen my wife naked in two years.” He adds, “When you’ve been mar­ried as long as I have, see­ing your wife naked is hav­ing sex,” and starts to cry.

On ABC’s drama “Bos­ton Le­gal,” William Shat­ner’s char­ac­ter, a stereo­typ­i­cal dirty old man, pro­claims, “Here’s the thing about monogamy. It only works if you cheat.”

On the CBS smut-com “Two and a Half Men,” a mar­ried woman de­scribes mar­ried life as one long hon­ey­moon. An­other woman cracks, “That’s be­cause she bangs a dif­fer­ent groom ev­ery night.”

Sev­eral pro­grams fea­tured plot­lines with for­merly mar­ried cou­ples dis­cov­er­ing a pas­sion­ate sex life — but only af­ter their mar­riages fiz­zled. They dread re­mar­riage as a re­turn to the frozen tun­dra. Ob­vi­ously, TV writ­ers can mine the ex­is­tence of a sex­less mar­riage, or a cheat­ing spouse or a dirty old lawyer. But when you put all the puz­zle pieces to­gether into a Big Pic­ture, there’s a fraud­u­lent mes­sage be­ing sent: Mar- riage is a pre­scrip­tion for bore­dom and gloom.

The op­po­site is also true, ac­cord­ing to Hol­ly­wood. While mar­riage is marginal­ized on tele­vi­sion, all kinds of im­moral sex­ual be­hav­iors are ex­ploited, from the fan­tasies that many sin­gles gig­gle about (three­somes, part­ner-swap­ping) to sick thoughts that most peo­ple con­sider dis­gust­ing. Pe­dophilia, necrophilia, bes­tial­ity, in­cest — all have been raised on tele­vi­sion.

The PTC found in its onemonth study pe­riod that NBC had only one ref­er­ence to mar­i­tal sex, com­pared to 27 ref­er­ences to all the im­moral sex­ual be­hav­iors. It cer­tainly says some­thing about the for­mula NBC be­lieves is re­quired for get­ting eye­balls to new shows.

Let’s take the ex­am­ple of in­cest. It is now ac­cept­able comedic fod­der. On CW’s “Aliens in Amer­ica,” two male twins tell a boy he should love his sis­ter’s breasts: “You don’t love those? What are you, gay?” When the boy ob­jects, a twin urges on in­cest: “Man, if she were our sis­ter, I’d be up in her room ev­ery night.” On the Fox car­toon “Amer­i­can Dad,” the teenage son Steve is por­trayed as mas­tur­bat­ing to a nude pic­ture of his older teenage sis­ter.

Per­haps the most dis­turb­ing thought on all this is that TV shows come and go with all kinds of bizarre sex plot lines, and when one fails, net­work ex­ec­u­tives won’t think it might be the bizarre plots that flopped. They have the op­po­site re­ac­tion: It wasn’t of­fen­sive enough. They think noth­ing suc­ceeds like ex­cess.

L. Brent Bozell III is the pres­i­dent of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter and is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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