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November 19, 2004

Media Showing Some Spine — Finally!

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If you weren’t aware, another one of those “culture war” controversies began swirling this week over a promotional ad shown on the Monday Night Football telecast. The promo — for the trashy television show, Desperate Housewives — shows a star of the show, Nicolette Sheridan, slipping out a towel and jumping into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.

Fresh off its supposed “moral values” mandate in the recent election, a number of conservative groups (including the FCC — which, at this point, qualifies as just another conservative group) hit the roof over this supposed indecency.

Although I intentionally try not to focus too much on network television, what caught my attention (more than the tawdry subject matter itself) was how certain media actually stood up to the right wing spin. Sure, ABC issued a formal apology (which doesn’t matter, because any fine they might be assessed probably wouldn’t come close to the value of the free publicity), and there was a typical handwringing piece in the Washington Post faulting the network for a supposedly “over the top” example of sexual innuendo.

What I also noticed (and was proud of), however, were the instances where the media chastised the right wingers for “much ado about not very much.”

There was a nice piece in the New York Times primarily taking ABC to task for apologizing. Quoting the article:

“Unless the network was apologizing for not having allowed the actress to turn around, then the mea culpa is baffling: women’s nude spines are shown on commercials for body lotion and shaving cream all the time.”

Then, there was also a spirited segment regarding the” incident” on Paula Zahn’s show. One of her guests –a sort of poor man’s Limbaugh — was a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, named J.T. “The Brick.” Poor J.T. should have gotten himself booked on Fox News, where he belongs. Instead, the ranting J.T. ran headlong into a calm John Smallwood of the Philadelphia News. Smallwood was able to explain how this sexy promo happened to appear on a program which is primarily known for showcasing scantily clad cheerleaders and sexual dysfunction commercials.

Not that I’m so enamored of Zahn, but I think she also showed some real backbone. Linking television’s sexual exploitation of women to football’s glorification of violence, Zahn let loose with the following: “Well, gentlemen,” she steamed, ” You know what I would like to see the public get just as outraged by? The chronic defiling and dehumanization of women in prime-time television and the dozens of murders we see every night of women [on police dramas]. Wouldn’t you like to see people get exercised about that…!

One More Point

Because my mandate is the “visual beat,” there is one other point I wanted to make about this (psuedo-) controversy. While many progressive websites have taken issue with the same conservative hysteria I have, it’s interesting, at the same time, how they avoid posting the specific “evidence” that stoked the fire. I find this a little disingenuous (or maybe just prudish). Whether it’s the intent of liberals/progressives to challenge victorian attitudes OR to simply take conservatives to task for hypocrisy, I believe we should have the confidence to illustrate our arguments with the unexpurgated source material.

The image at the top of this entry is representative of the images I saw on most progressive sites.

…And here is the most “incriminating” frame from the ad that I was able to lift:

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You can view the promo at Ifilm here

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