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Ads and Condoms and Pigs

The condom makers at Trojan have come up with a new ad. It shows a bar full of human-sized pigs attempting to gain women's attention. The women look bored. Only when one pig wanders into the bathroom, buys a condom, and -voila! - is transformed into a human male hunk, are the women suddenly attracted. "Evolve" is the word on screen at the ad's end.

Trojan sought to buy airtime for this commercial on CBS and Fox, both of which have accepted Trojan ads in the past, but this time - voila! - the unexpected happened. The broadcasters rejected the ad, citing their broadcast decency standards - when it comes to commercials. The New York Times reported that in a letter to Trojan, CBS wrote, "While we understand and appreciate the humor of this creative [sic], we do not find it appropriate for our network even with late-night-only restrictions." In its written response, Fox said that it had rejected the spot since "Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

Are congratulations in order here? Perhaps we should commend the networks for demonstrating some sense of right and wrong on this decision: a sexually-charged predatory bar scene over the public airwaves, is just not appropriate. So call it a small victory for reticence in an era of endless sexual logorrhea. But why apply that sense of morality just to these commercials?

CBS made a moral argument in its letter, while Fox tried to suggest the ad wasn't medical enough. But in each case the network also managed to open itself to the charge of galloping hypocrisy.

In a letter to the Times, Vanessa Cullins, the vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood lobby, protested. "Fox and CBS have been taking sex to the bank with shows like 'Temptation Island' and 'The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.' To reject these condoms ads is the height of hypocrisy and irresponsible programming."

While no one would categorize Planned Parenthood as a lobby against sexually explicit TV, they're right that the hypocrisy is obvious. CBS and Fox entertainment programming has been far more sexually explicit than these commercials. Fox had an entire series ("Skin") based on the pornography industry. CBS is not only infamous for its breast-exposing Super Bowl halftime show, but for following that up with an teen-orgy scene on "Without a Trace," which show was formally cited as "indecent" (ya think?) by the FCC, and which show was re-aired and aired yet again in reruns with the CBS middle finger flying in the face of that agency.

CBS also looks hypocritical given that in 2003, when it was still owned by Viacom, along with its sister network UPN it ran a series of condom-promoting scenes within its sitcoms as part of an AIDS-education initiative with the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Kaiser Foundation folks apparently believe that sex scenes on broadcast television during prime-time are acceptable - as long as the condom-education message is present.

There are dozens of raunchy sex scenes on these networks' programming every week that on the offensiveness meter surpass what was presented by the Trojan ads. And what about all those other sex ads these networks do carry? TV watchers of all stripes complain about sexual-product ads on TV, especially the Viagra/Cialis ads that seem omnipresent to sports fans. ("Daddy, what's a penile erectile dysfunction?") Yet Fox hasn't rejected those for not being health-related enough.

It's possible that two networks rejected this ad not because it was too sexual, but it's too sexist - against men. Can you imagine the makers of female contraception casting women as farm animals because they haven't gone on The Pill?

Viacom stations no longer aligned with CBS, like MTV and Comedy Central, are naturally running these Trojan ads. So, too, are ABC and NBC. Perhaps for this reason alone CBS and Fox should be commended. But they cannot escape the charge of hypocrisy until they do more to demonstrate to both advertisers, as well as their programming assembly lines, that there is a moral line somewhere in TV Land that should not be crossed. There is some border, some frontier where sexual manipulation of the audience goes too far. This time, the pigs didn't win.