Last month the Kaiser Family Foundation released yet another report on television's continued slide into the moral sewer. A primary focus of the study was the subject of responsibility. It found that of every hundred sitcom episodes containing sexual material, on average only three mentioned what the report called the "risks and responsibilities of sex."
It gets worse. The study looked at 88 scenes in which sexual intercourse was "either depicted or strongly implied." How many of those scenes included even a passing reference to sexual risks or responsibilities? Not a single one. Two characters' decision to engage in sex is about as consequential as their choice to dine at a Mexican rather than a Chinese restaurant.
You'll not be surprised to learn that as far as Playboy is concerned, all this carefree frolicking is just peachy. In a March piece called "Hot TV," the skin magazine heaps praise on such series as Fox's "Ally McBeal" (Ally, to the article's delight, slept with a male model "simply because he was well hung"); HBO's "Sex and the City," with its copious use of the f-word in its most graphically sexual sense; and the WB's "Dawson's Creek" (Playboy likes the line about a fifteen-year-old boy who "goes to sleep jerkin' his gherkin and...wakes up humping his mattress").
The Kaiser study provides valuable empirical data concerning the problem. But it doesn't give you a flavor for how utterly repugnant and pornographic prime time television - with millions of youngsters watching - has become. We're not talking pay-per-view, or even cable. This is now standard for broadcast television.
-On ABC's "Spin City," Nikki is late for her date with Mike. When she shows up, he's not especially affectionate, and explains why: So excited that he couldn't wait for her, he'd masturbated. "I had a couple of glasses of wine," he tells her, "I'm thinking about you, and next thing I know, I'm all over myself." Nikki, flattered, asks, "How was I?" Mike replies, "You were hot, you were wild, you were primitive..." They've just begun to kiss when a friend of Mike's walks in. Mike puts a pillow over his lap to conceal his renewed arousal.
In another "Spin City" episode, Stuart, Mike's co-worker, is accused of sexual harassment. One of Stuart's alleged misdeeds, Mike reads from a document, is "'pressing the elevator button without using his hands.' What floor?" Stuart answers, "Three," to which Mike responds, "That's not bad."
On the same network's "Dharma & Greg," Dharma, a woman in her twenties, has just answered the phone: "Jeans and a T-shirt...Yeah, I guess they're pretty tight...No, I don't know what you're doing...Oh, that is a wonderful, and in this day and age very safe, expression of your sexuality."
-On Fox's "That '70s Show," which centers on a group of teenagers, an exchange student asks his American friends, "How much masturbation is too much?" One friend replies, "No such thing as too much."
-On NBC's "Just Shoot Me," Dennis returns from a Jamaican vacation he took with Courtney, a new girlfriend. He hints to his co-workers that things got steamy ("The tide wasn't the only thing going in and out") but soon admits she snubbed him. "It's not like I didn't see her naked," Dennis adds. "I was just pretending to be asleep while she was getting it on with the tennis pro."
Later, Dennis's colleague Elliott dates the same woman, who's a bit more receptive to Elliott's advances than she was to Dennis's, promising Elliott "the hottest, wildest, oiliest night of crazy, freaky, monkey sex this side of Bangkok." Apparently she delivered, judging by Elliott's subsequent remark: "She's amazing. I felt like I was with three women, and I've been with three women."
And on the same network's "Will & Grace," the much-touted first-year comedy about a straight woman and her gay male best friend, Will advises a fellow homosexual who is heading to a Halloween event, "Don't put anything in your mouth that isn't wrapped."
Remember all that talk, a couple of years ago, from the networks about taking responsibility for their programming? This is their idea of responsibility: Every one of these shows airs before 10 p.m., when the largest and youngest audience is present. Three of them are broadcast during the so-called family hour.
Remember all that talk about a ratings system? "Spin City" garnered a TV-14, meaning it's just fine for 14-year-olds. The rest all were rated TV-PG, meaning they "contain...material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children." (My emphasis.) That includes storylines about homoerotic oral sex.
It's getting harder and harder to argue with the blow-up-your-TV crowd.