Sunday, March 21, 2010

Never in America

On 15 March, 2010, This Morning, a popular morning television show in Britain, had two models acting out various sexual positions. We wondered how this would play out in the US.


If the Sex segment on the UK’s This Morning show had happened in the US (at any time of the day or night) executive heads would be rolling like ten pins, advertisers would be cancelling multi-million dollar campaigns and an outraged nation would be uprising. Don’t believe me? Remember the outrage over Janet Jackson’s 2004 boob-flashing “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl? Heck, the offending ta-ta was conveniently adorned with a nipple ring, yet you’d think Ms. Jackson and Jason Timberlake had been doing the biz on national TV. Such was the response from “concerned” citizens that the FCC (Federal Communications Committee) promised a “thorough and swift” investigation of the half-time show and the major TV networks installed five minute delays on live shows just in case anyone thought about pulling a similar stunt.

Read any commentary against sex and nudity and the word “morality” is usually not far behind. Rick Steves, a popular travel TV journalist, writes frequently about the nude spas he has visited in Europe, often wondering out loud why Americans are so hung up about nudity:

“You may not want to bring the more casual European approach to sex and the human body back home with you. And I'm not saying we should all run around naked. But I suspect that children raised in America, where sex is often considered ‘dirty,’ are more likely to have an uncomfortable relationship with sex and their bodies than those in Europe.”, says Steves in one article.

His detractors invariably criticize his morals, as in this insightful response: “Europe has been good to Rick Steves, so it’s no surprise his "standards" in propriety have been relaxed.” Or this dingbat: “I really enjoy Rick's shows on PBS. On the other hand I can do without articles like this insinuating that we are prudes because we still have a little morality left here.”

See what I mean. Why does nudity have to go hand in hand with morality?

Anyhoo, for Americans who prefer not to let it all hang out, there’s a website just for you: Wholesome Wear – offering “swimwear that highlights the face rather than the body”.

I wonder if this will be compulsory wear for all beaches in the US before long?


I think the best illustration of the insouciance* surrounding sex here in the old world is, when I showed the article to my wife, she said, “That’s nothing new, they’ve done that before on Breakfast TV, showing sex positions for older people.” (I just hope they weren’t using Bruce Forsyth and Ann Widdecombe as the models.)

So it would seem, though a smattering of people are pretending to be shocked by this, on the whole, it was taken pretty much in stride.

And, to be fair, there really wasn’t much titillation involved; here’s a sample of the televised demonstration, altered for American audiences according to FCC regulations:

Not exactly something to stir your porridge, is it? And, frankly, I think most people have figured out the “man on top get it over with quick” position on their own by now. If they haven’t, then they are probably the type of people who sit at home shouting at the telly and writing angry letters to the BBC and ITV.

But I digress.

I think this openness about sex and nudity is a good thing (even if coming a little late in my life). For one thing, it allows you to read a newspaper or magazine with pictures of naked people in it and not have everyone else on the subway car assuming you are reading porn.

Imagine taking the number 4 to Bleecker Street and opening the New York Post only to find a huge photo on page three of Mandy, a PA from Flatbush who is very concerned about Obama’s health care reform, orphans in Afghanistan and world hunger, but doesn’t seem to care a fig about putting her baps on public display. You’d likely be tossed off the train and lucky not to be arrested for aggravated public indecency.

Here, the Page Three Girls are legendary. They aren’t scandalous or shocking; they are simply there, part of the fabric of every day life, like the spectre of National Identity Cards, only less hideous.

For those of you in the US who have never seen a Page Three Girl, I offer this, censored, naturally, to comply with FTC, ATF and NSA regulations:

* A heretofore unknown difference between US and UK English, perhaps? My MS Word UK thesaurus claims this words is akin to “rudeness, impertinence and cheek**” My US dictionary, however, says it means “Blithe lack of concern; nonchalance” Be aware that I am using the US-style insouciance. (Post Script: I just looked Insouciance up in the Concise Oxford Dictionary and the definition is similar to the US definition. Maybe it was just Microsoft mistaking Insouciance for Insolence.)

** This is how I know it was the UK spell checker.

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  1. ye gods... Wholesome Wear is shocking in thing, the bathing machine..

  2. I no sooner posted this article when my wife surfed onto a show called "Embarrassing Bodies" which featured a woman complaining that her vagina was too big. They sat her on a table, spread her legs and there it was for all to see, on national television, at 7 in the evening. My wife switched to a different channel.

  3. I'm also from across the pond, be it Holland, and after years in the US I am still amazed about the prudish undercurrents of many aspects of life here. Every time I am in Europe I see things on TV that I instantly recognize as something that absolutely positively would never make it on the TV screen in the US.

    I get a kick out of love scenes in American movies where --afterwards-- the participants get out of bed, draping the sheet around them, dragging it off the bed. I mean, who is there to see them naked? The person they just had sex with? In European movies people get out of bed naked, walk to the bathroom or pull on their clothes. What's wrong with seeing a naked but or breast for Pete's sake?

  4. I think nudity and sex ARE separate taboos (though obviously it's hard to draw a strict line between the two of them). I'm not prudish about nudity, but when it comes to advice on sex positions on morning tv, I'm quite glad to be in America, actually. Do we really need advice like this on general tv, or do you join me in suspecting that people in the media like pushing the boundaries, for the sake of it?

    Mike, I think the tradition of Page 3 topless photos is offensive, actually. Because I'm sure there would be an outcry if we saw a picture of a different nude man every day. So it's ok to show a nude woman just for male titillation or pleasure or whatever it is, but not ok to show a nude man (and yes, I know, it's not the whole woman, just the top half, but I think my point stands).

    I always felt uncomfortable if I was sitting next to someone on the tube or bus who was reading The Sun. I think it is sad that, as you say, it isn't "scandalous or shocking" in Britain. Wouldn't you rather live in a society where it was?

  5. And actually, I think Page 3 of The Sun IS porn, and the quicker the people on the Clapham omnibus, or the number 4 to Bleeker Street, recognises it as such, the better.

    There. I've said my piece.

  6. I think the This Morning producers were in it for the ratings. Apparently Philip Schofield Tweeted that all the feedback was great.

  7. Lets be frank, the USA are still pretty prudish about nudity aned/or sex but dont seem to have any issues with violence? hmm.

  8. ummmmm Iota - the Sun actually does show a bare chested male - the page seven man - or at least they used to, and strangely enough not one single guy got his knickers in a twist about it (nor any woman either).

  9. I'm sorry but Page 3 is not about 'harmless nudity' that occurs when one is in a state of undress for an entirely appropriate and natural reason (such as exiting the shower, sunbathing on a beach or having sex), it is about objectifying women's bodies so the lads who read the Sun can get their fill of what they feel is their Universal Right To Look At Boobs. It is NOT the same as a bare-chested man whatsoever because men's chests do not contain any sex organs, unlike female's. Men are allowed to walk around topless, women are not. So to say it's the same thing is ridiculous. A more appropriate comparison would be male full frontal nudity. Do men want to see some oiled cabana boy with a stiffie staring at them with a come-hither look every day on the morning commute? No? Well, women don't generally like it either. Don't try to pretend that Britain is some kind of enlightened society that treats nudity with respect and indifference.

  10. I agree with Snowflowers Mum - I find violence much more offensive/harmful to children. I also agree that Page 3 of The Sun is porn. Anyhoo - I'm living in Belgium, and on Belgian and Dutch TV I have in the last few weeks repeatedly come across pictures of - let's, for the Americans, say - male members in full working order, used to illustrate a point/for comic effect. I am always amazed at the things other countries can get worked up about.

  11. Toni hit the nail on the head. I think it's disgusting that Americans would make a huge fuss over such things yet allow abhorrent acts of violence in their films and televisions shows. It's why I prefer British mysteries and crime shows over American ones because the emphasis tends to be on the psychological and not on showing so much blood an gore.

    After living through a highly misogynistic election in 2008 and complaining about how a certain woman in particular was treated I can't support something like the Page 3 girl I'm afraid. While I have no problem whatsoever with nudity, the Page 3 Girl does smack of sexism. It IS about objectifying women and to be fair there should be a fully nude man on the same page. On the other hand I'm sure it will be one of my son's favorite memories about our holiday this summer. ;)

  12. I think Mike was being a bit tongue in cheek about the Page Three girls, BTW.
    However, I also think there is just as much objectification of women in the States as there is in the UK, it's just not naked. They still use models draped over cars at the motor shows, and look at the huge empire that is cheer-leading. I don't care how much gymnastics there is in cheer-leading these days, it's basically young girls (and a few guys) in short skirts dancing around and cheering on the big, beefy, sporty males.

  13. There's definitely just as much objectification of women in the US as in the UK. It just irritates me when people try to point to said objectification as an example of how Europeans are more 'open' than Americans. Yes, they are more comfortable with nudity than your average American but a lot of other cultures are reserved about nudity too and it's usually the more religious ones. America is a pretty religious country so it makes sense. Britain? Not so much. I don't see anyone mocking Muslim countries for being 'prudes' -- they are simply more conservative and so displays of nudity are more shocking and moralistic to them. I'm not saying I agree, it's just the way it is.

  14. There's an important distinction to be drawn between network tv in the States and cable. On certain cable channels people wouldn't bat an eyelid at this sort of stuff.

    Network TV, however, caters for the lowest common denominator. And it is very timid. Just watch news programmes on network TV: they are afraid even to report facts lest they be accused of bias.

    Advertisers, too, have network TV by the short and curlies: at the hint of anything too risque and they'll pull adverts from that show.

    The USA is a tremendously varied country and in about 50% of the country I don't think people would care about that This Morning segment.

    But the advertisers and the networks have also to appeal to (or at least not offend) the hardline religious groups that dominate in certain sections of the country.

  15. But with network TV even, they have absolutely no problem at all with showing Viagra commercials in the 5.30pm news slot - when my 6 year old is walking around. He asked me the other day what an "erection lasting more tha four hours" was. I was so shocked I can't remember how I reacted. There should be a watershed on commercials like this.

  16. America seems almost schizophrenic in that regard, a la Expat's example above. I saw several adverts when I was there that probably wouldn't be shown in Britain, at least not so early.

    (Talking of adverts, I remember one on a billboard a few years ago showing a disabled couple, and the wording was "Sex is a problem. Susan's a screamer." which I thought was an excellent advert for disability awareness, but totally inappropriate for a billboard in the middle of town. Not sure why I've mentioned that. I just remembered it.)

    Anyway, I dislike the Sun and the prevalence of soft porn in general, and I would turn over from programmes like the Embarassing Bodies one! Can't say I'm a fan of This Morning either, though that's just because daytime TV is generally rubbish. But as several people have said, I am more concerned about graphic violence in films and on TV, and don't understand why it's not seen as such an issue in the States. It seems very strange to me.

  17. When I was a kid I seem to remember men and women showing up in the hundreds to see Page 3 girls like Linda Lusardi and Samantha Fox when thet'y open a supermarket or something. I always thought Page 3 was just highly embarrasing for those involved. And besides, why spend so much money on a snazzy Marks and Spencer bra...just to take it off?

  18. I don't think the level of censorship on network TV really hit me until I attempted to watch an episode of sex and the city on TBS - it must have been at least 10 minutes shorter and MUCH less funny!

    Oh and did you read about the tampon advert that's been banned because they used the word 'vagina'?

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