What offends one person might not offend another. That’s why the FCC has such a difficult job regulating what is naughty and what is nice.
The FCC has roughly 1,800 employees in various bureaus and offices, so it’s a safe bet that a lot of them have television sets. For those who do, they must have noticed that the content is getting a little strip-joint-ish, a tad brothel-ly, a mite longshoreman-esque.
And I’m not talking about tube fare that airs at 10 p.m., when the tykes are asleep. I mean prime time and earlier, like in the middle of a basketball game.
I’m not a prude. I have character witnesses who will testify that I’m just as randy as the next guy. But recently I saw a “Grey’s Anatomy” promo in which actor Eric Dane (McSteamy) said to a female castmate Sara Ramirez (Callie) — and I’m paraphrasing slightly because it took me a few moments to pick up my jaw — “If you want what’s here (pointing to his lower half), you’ll have to use what’s here (pointing to where his brain is).”
That aired during an NBA playoff game, which took place late afternoon (in the West) to early evening (in the East). I assume there were at least some children watching, and at least some of them might have queried, “Mommy, what does that man mean?” Then Mommy would have to reply, “Well, Suzy, what he’s telling the nice lady is that, if she wants to enjoy the pleasure of his genitalia, she’ll have to use her ingenuity.”
On another NBA playoff broadcast — this is not all I watch; it just seems that way at this time of year — there was a promo for an airing of one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. It said: “Who is the fairest pirate of them all? Orlando has the hair. Johnny has the makeup. But Keira has the chest.”
Get it? Treasure chest? Maybe the cable network felt secure in using the reference partly because it also showed two men holding a treasure chest, and also because even kids probably know Keira doesn’t have a large bosom.
But the recent champ in this genre is the trailer that was shown on TV for the film, “What Happens in Vegas,” which aired at various times of the day and night. In one, Dennis Farina’s character introduces himself as “Richard Banger,” and Ashton Kutcher exclaims, “Dick Banger!” Then he says something like, “We’re gonna have a lot of fun with that name!”
I’m sure children everywhere are exclaiming, “Mommy, make it stop!” referring to the onslaught of sophomoric potty humor. But I’m also sure that on some level the suggestive nature of these spots is creeping into little minds, which traditionally have been protected from in-your-face sexual content.
It might be a crude sign of the times, but it’s not exclusive to television promos. The proliferation of anything risqué or downright vulgar is everywhere, from the boob (sometimes literally) tube to radio to magazine covers to the Internet.
Recently I went to ABCNews.com and it listed the most viewed stories, as many sites do. One of them said, “Mel Gibson’s F-bomb tirade.” So I checked it out, thinking, “OK, what did he do now?” It wasn’t much of a rant. He was leaving a restaurant and paparazzi were waiting for him in the parking lot. He then yelled to the owner of the establishment, “These f-----g guys are ruining your business!” Basically, he uttered two F-bombs. As Mel eruptions go, it was rather tame.
But before you get to view these “most popular” clips, ABCNews.com – like many sites – make you sit through a 30-second commercial. This time, it was Jeep. So Jeep was in essence sponsoring Mel Gibson’s F-bomb tirade. In fairness to Jeep, it buys ads in packages, like most corporations, so it doesn’t know exactly what it’s sponsoring from minute to minute. I clicked it a second time and it was a different company altogether. Yet here is the word “F---” getting corporate sponsorship.
What’s next? A billboard campaign for the word “motherf-----”? Putting “s---” on a sandwich board? How about saying all of George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” on television?
I realize this isn’t a completely new phenomenon. Way back in the ’60s, Noxzema ran an ad for its shaving cream that was considered quite provocative for the time showing a hot blond model cooing, “Take it off! Take it all off!” as the song “The Stripper” plays along. She was referring to the stubble, but then again, she wasn’t. And just a few years ago Paris Hilton was shown chowing down on a burger in a Carl’s Jr. ad that raised eyebrows because it bore a remarkable resemblance to Paris’ sex video, only with a burger instead of something else.
Yet it’s all a matter of degree. And right now, the degree to which audiences are being force-fed sex and vulgarity is friggin' ridiculous.
I’m not a member of the Family Research Moral Beliefs-Imposing Squad, and don’t plan to be anytime soon. I’m just an average guy who likes to watch a basketball game without having to see Ashton Kutcher take a leak in the sink.
Is that too much to ask?
Michael Ventre is Los Angeles-based writer and a regular contributor to msnbc.com.