On a recent episode of the CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men," it is implied that Jake, the teenage son of Alan's character, is having threesomes with some of his female classmates. Like everything else in the raunchy sitcom, it is played for laughs and no actual sexual acts are depicted.
Not laughing, though, is the Parents Television Council. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit media watchdog group which has made a business out of monitoring television content, released a study Wednesday blasting the broadcast industry for sexualizing teenage girls.
“The results from this report show Tinseltown's eagerness to not only objectify and fetishize young girls, but to sexualize them in such a way that real teens are led to believe their sole value comes from their sexuality," PTC President Tim Winter said in a statement. On a conference call with reporters to discuss the study, Winter said the issue of sexual content and its effect on teenage girls and children needs an "intense spotlight."
The report focused only on broadcast shows and not cable TV, movies or magazines. PTC looked at the top-25 shows among viewer 12 to 17 and then analyzed the amount of sexual content on them. Shows that stood out, besides the above-mentioned "Two and a Half Men," include the CW's "Vampire Diaries," Fox's "Glee" and CBS' "Big Bang Theory." Not on the list was the CW's racy "Gossip Girl," but that's because the show is not among the top 25 with teens.
Asked why PTC doesn't focus on cable or movies where there is as much if not more content that might be considered inappropriate or risque for kids and teens, Winter acknowledged that those channels also need scrutiny. He expressed particular concern about the upcoming MTV show "Skins," a remake of a British hit about sex- and drug-obsessed teens. He said he was not ruling out looking beyond broadcast TV for future reports on sex and kids.
"TV executives have made it their business to profit off of programs that depict teen girls blissfully being sexualized by casual partners," Winter said.
Broadcasters often make for an easy target vs. movies, cable TV and magazines because unlike other media they are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and their advertisers are sometimes more susceptible to pressure from advocacy groups.
According to the report, underage female characters were depicted in a sexual manner far more often than adults and only 5% of those depictions showed the character expressing any form of "dislike" for being sexualized. The PTC looked at sexual innuendo, "erotic kissing" and "erotic touching," "implied intercourse" and "implied nudity" in making its assessments.
"Clearly there are inherent dangers in having a cultural milieu that accepts and encourages this sexual contradiction of encouraging underage girls to look sexy, yet realizing they know very little about what it means to be sexual."
Winters said the PTC was not looking to single out any particular show, network or producer with its report. It said it wants to make parents more aware and the creators, performers and distributors of the shows more understanding of the "magnitude of their influence." The goal, Winter said, is to "spark a new national dialogue."
TV Watch, a group whose backers include CBS, NBC Universal and Fox parent News Corp. said in a statement that, "parents understand that all programing is not for all children and, according to polling conducted solely among parents, take seriously their efforts to ensure their children view what is appropriate based on their age, taste and values. What is increasingly difficult to take seriously, is a patchwork of studies characterized by vagaries and omissions, apparently intended to raise money because the group has the word 'Parents' in its name."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: The CW's "Vampire Diaries," which was singled out by PTC study on sexualizing teen girls. Credit: Quantrell Colbert/CW
For the record: This post was corrected to reflect that the PTC is now based in Los Angeles and updated to include a statement from TV Watch, an organization whose supporters include several broadcast networks, reacting to the study.