TV’s Moral ‘Standards’

Cast your mind back a bit. Almost a year ago (February 1, 2004), Janet Jackson apparently shocked the world with her revealing performance with Justin Timberlake at Superbowl XXXVIII. The incident dented the careers of the two stars, and the impact is still being felt through TV censorship now.

Funny – although I was watching, I wasn’t shocked in the slightest.

This seemingly society-shaking, breast-glimpsing moment lasted all of maybe half a second, if that. It was at the end of the last song of the performance, and the lights went down moments later. If you saw enough to seriously disturb you in that time, then I’m sorry. And you’re lying.

The shot we saw was a long-distance shot, and very little could be seen of the ‘offending’ moment. The close-ups that we have all been inflicted with ever since are the result of the ability of the media to isolate a single frame of film and zoom in on whatever they want.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it was nothing I haven’t seen before (sorry you have to hear this, mum). In fact, I have seen similar shots so many times on TV, movies and so on, that it wouldn’t have shocked me if Janet had been grinding up against the camera when it happened, let alone in a long-range, momentary shot.

Why is it acceptable to see these images in movies, and yet not acceptable in another show?

Are there different moral standards depending on the style of program? Not to my knowledge.

Oh, yes, the ‘family viewing’ claim is about to surface. Right. I’m sure the little kids out there were really warped by that shot. Not.

Sorry to break it to you, ma and pa, but your kids are going to see this stuff far sooner than you think, if they haven’t seen it already, and as I’m sure you discovered, there’s nothing morally damaging about it.

If you want something disturbing and morally suspect, take a look at the TV shows where people compete, on camera, to get married (can you say The Batchelor?).Or maybe, just maybe, take a look at the world around you. How’s that for scary?

You want something shocking? How about that half-frozen homeless person you just ignored while you walked down the street.

The final straw for me was when ER cut a shot of an elderly lady’s breast from a show a few days later because of the controversy. Seriously, what’s going on here? ER isn’t exactly a show for kids – maybe you should worry about the blood in there too? Should we edit that out? Personally, I find the sight of people in serious distress, acted or otherwise, far more disturbing than Janet’s cleavage.

Let’s be honest, in the context of everything we see nowadays, a shot of Janet Jackson’s right breast is far from offensive, and despite the faux outrage, there are far worse things to worry about nowadays. Deal with it.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.