Breasts are not bad

Yes, the country sure has fallen to hell since 2003 wouldn’t you say: naked people on the street, wild sex everywhere, young children sold into sexual slavery in once-quiet suburbs. Yes, we were corrupted as a country back then by the nanosecond flash of a breast and a butt.

Good God, I hate the FCC and its interference in speech and culture.

They’ve gone and done it again with a fine against ABC for a flash of T&A on NYPD Blue five years ago.

The description of the scene by the FCC is more lewd and lascivious than the scene itself; it is written as if by a dirty old man:

[A] woman wearing a robe is shown entering a bathroom, closing the door, and then briefly looking at herself in a mirror hanging above a sink. The camera then shows her crossing the room, turning on the shower, and returning to the mirror. With her back to the camera, she removes her robe, thereby revealing the side of one of her breasts and a full view of her back. The camera shot includes a full view of her buttocks and her upper legs as she leans across the sink to hang up her robe. The camera then tracks her, in profile, as she walks from the mirror back toward the shower. Only a small portion of the side of one of her breasts is visible. Her pubic area is not visible, but her buttocks are visible from the side.

The scene shifts to a shot of a young boy lying in bed, kicking back his bed covers, getting up, and then walking toward the bathroom. The camera cuts back to the woman, who is now shown standing naked in front of the shower, her back to the camera. The frame consists initially of a full shot of her naked from the back, from the top of her head to her waist; the camera then pans down to a shot of her buttocks, lingers for a moment, and then pans up her back. The camera then shifts back to a shot of the boy opening the bathroom door. As he opens the door, the woman, who is now standing in front of the mirror with her back to the door, gasps, quickly turns to face the boy, and freezes momentarily. The camera initially focuses on the woman’s face but then cuts to a shot taken from behind and through her legs, which serve to frame the boy’s face as he looks at her with a somewhat startled expression. The camera then jumps to a front view of the woman’s upper torso; a full view of her breasts is obscured, however, by a silhouette of the boy’s head and ears. After the boy backs out of the bathroom and shuts the door, the camera shows the woman facing the door, with one arm and hand covering her breasts and the other hand covering her pubic area. The scene ends with the boy’s voice, heard through the closed door, saying “sorry,” and the woman while looking embarrassed, responds, “It’s okay. No problem.”

This is the FCC’s “analysis:

As an initial matter, we find that the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs – specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” Although ABC argues, without citing any authority, that the buttocks are not a sexual organ, we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense.

I’d say that the buttocks are not an organ. I’ll cite this definition from Oxford American: “a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function, such as the heart or liver in humans.”

What’s offensive about this is the sexism of it: A woman’s butt is dirty and corrupting. A woman’s breast is obscene.

When will the women of America stand up and protest?

What is the moral difference between this and making women wear burkas?

But what’s really fun about this is that by calling the buttocks a sexual organ, as the FCC does, they are acknowledging that anal sex is sex.

The FCC says it received “a number” of complaints about this. They don’t even both saying what the number is anymore since that’s been shown (by me) to be meaningless. Though at least this time the FCC admitted that it received “letters from members of various citizen advocacy groups.” First Amendment spam, that is.

The government — no government — should be involved in restricting and regulating speech in any medium. Period.

  • Jeff, I agree that there should be no FCC. But, I do not agree that showing a woman’s naked body is protected “free speech.” With all due respect, that’s nuts. What political statement does that make that prevents the government from infringing on citizens’ individual rights? Such an interpretation cheapens the meaning of the First Amendment and dispirits Americans from fighting to keep those protections.

    In regards to the nudity, I’d say that that was not just a breast, but full nudity other than literally showing genitals, and society does have a right to keep nudity out of the public square though laws — ideally the same laws for nudity in the street as over the air. No FCC needed. The Internet makes this problematic, and it looks like society will have no way to enforce nudity laws on the Internet. But given a choice, it is better for society to allow nudity on the Internet than allow the government to regulate nudity and everything else on the Internet. This is not ideal, and it will continue to degrade our culture. Looks like parents who want to teach their young boys and girls that porn is not a good thing will have to enforce these rules themselves with the aid of technology. (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

  • I do agree with you entirely on the freedom of speech and nudity is a right. What is the first amendment. We are talking here about peoples rights and not an education to your kids that porn is good or not good .. you should be proud to educate your kids that in america people have their rights as according to the first amendment. Not being an American I do not have such freedom in my country but I have been trying terribly to get a green card. Cant afford the charged that people make these days though.. What is that statement on the foot of the Statue of Liberty .. Sigh ..

  • tom

    “The government — no government — should be involved in restricting and regulating speech in any medium. Period.”


  • Steve

    I absolutely love the FCC prose. In fact, I love any time that government tries to describe something allegedly titillating. You should read arrest reports and indictments…!

    Seriously, even if one wanted to reserve for society the right to hold the line on explicit content — not necessarily a bad thing — I would argue that the already damn broke and that the jig is up.

    And its not that I celebrate this: Today’s changing standards and the realities of cable and the Internet present some pretty dicey content that I have no choice but to explain to my 10 year-old daughter. And it is actually more news than nudity: Recently I came downstairs and was thrilled to see her reading the New York Times. Until she asked me why the boy in the story can’t walk anymore because “he choked on his vomit.” And all of a sudden a discussion of heroin and overdoses and loss of air to the brain was taking place alongside our cheerios.

    Did I want to? No. But I am of the school (thanks to my Mom) that when questions come, you answer them. And the result was actually pretty good. I fact, it is at least arguable that she might have been at the right age to hear this, before she is fully immersed in all the layers of panic and rhetoric that complicate honest discussion.

    The point I am making is that if it isn’t the tush on an NYPD Blue re-run, it’ll be another tush, and another. And the challenge will be to maneuver in this world and to teach our children the values we want in the midst of an avalanche of explicit content.
    Even if the technology Steve talks about works (and I hope it does) eventually it won’t. And any kid will be able to find any content. And yes, some parent in the future – for all their good intention and belief in sexuality and intimacy as things to be cherished – will come home to a bewildered 10 year son who wants to know why some orifices that you never told him were part of reproduction were in fact used in just that way. You and I can pray that never happens, or we can simply acknowledge that we live in a world where it will.

    I think we have to think of new models of moral education. In much the same way that you have pointed out, Jeff, that the breaking dam of free content is pretty much broken forever, requiring new business models and new ways of thinking about profit, the breaking dam of explicitness is simply a fact. Why can’t we think of ways to be as spiritual and morally vigilant as we want, but to do it in a world that — for good or bad — will be transparent? Put up all the glass shower doors you want. But this is an era when at least the outlines of the breast or tush in the shower will clearly visible.

    Moral education must now embrace a radical honesty that has – until this historical moment – been completely avoidable. No Mom and Dad, mine included, could permanently win the epic Playboy battles of the 1050s and 1960s, but they could hang on for quite a long time. They can’t anymore. And while radically honest morality will serve up some embarrassing and painful moments, the end result, I think, will be a new way of seeing the world where the issue will not be whether or not kids should see things, but what they should think about them when they do.

  • Aaron, since you are not an American, and, Tom, since you are quoting from a document I have never heard of, here is the way the First Amendment is written:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    “Freedom of speech” referred to free use of our vocal chords to criticize government. “Freedom…of the Press” referred to free use of a printing press to criticize government. You can make-up whatever rights you’d like and attribute them to America, but you would not be correct in doing so.

  • Eric Jaffa

    I don’t want the FCC regulating language.

    But it’s OK by me for them to regulate nudity on broadcast TV.

  • chico haas

    500 cable channels, the entire Internet – and you bitch about some rules governing nudity on the public airwaves of what, four dying networks? If the gov’t wants to subject the public airwaves to a blander set of values that you have, so what? You’ve still got Wifey’s World.

  • The further Puritan morality gets pushed into government the more the US starts to resemble the rule of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads.

    The only difference (so far) is that he had to fight a civil war to gain control, while the Religious Right has done it through the use of more subtle propaganda and voting buying techniques.

    Cromwell lasted 12 years, so perhaps there is hope for the US as well. What is it about nudity (or even sex for that matter) that so upsets people. Do they bathe in the dark?

    When societies were mainly agricultural kids knew all about the cycle of reproduction at a very early age. It doesn’t seem to have done them any harm and unlike the Victorians the churchmen of the the time didn’t demand diapers on horses.

  • robertdfeinman, If you have kids, do you allow them to watch porn (or would you, if you did)? Or would you sit down with them to enjoy porn as a family? If not, why not?

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  • Steve Boriss:
    I know you really don’t expect an answer, but I’ll bite.

    First, I’m a poor one to ask the question of since I didn’t own a TV until my kids were in high school. When I went away to college I stopped having access to a TV and didn’t bother buying one after I graduated and got married. I decided there were better things that we could all do with our time. They managed to keep abreast of the zeitgeist by seeing shows (occasionally) at friend’s and neighbor’s homes. The only time there was ever an issue was when a teacher assigned viewing a program as part of an assignment. Fortunately this was infrequent and the teachers were accommodating. So, my view is that TV is mostly a waste of time. I know that my kids saw some porn in the homes of some of their friends whose parents were a bit casual with the videos. It was never a big issue.

    Yes, I now have a TV, I watch a half dozen mindless shows each week and my kids (who are now adults) seem normal and watch the normal amount of TV for people of their age. They do, however, read much more than average.

    As for “porn”. I’ll separate that into two areas. There is the traditional meaning which is poorly produced material meant to promote sexual arousal in those viewing it. Young kids have no interest in watching this, it doesn’t work on them and the lack of plot, meaningful dialog or anything else that makes up a typical narrative show makes it boring. At most they giggle. Does it scar them for life to see it? There is no such evidence, despite what the Puritans want us to believe.

    Now if you mean explicit or implied sex in a regular drama, then whether the show is suitable would depend upon the rest of the material. I certainly kept my kids away from watching violent shows. I don’t know whether watching violence promotes more violence or not, but why subject children to such stressful situations?

    Now what you are conflating is nudity with sex. In much of Europe the attitude toward nudity is much more open than here in Puritan America. There doesn’t seem to be any decay of morality as a result. The FCC is complaining about nudity and equating it with sex, this is a reflection of their religious viewpoint and their desire to impose Puritan morality on government operations.

    It would take a deeper thinker than I to explain why Christianity got hung up on “original sin”. More lives have been ruined by ignorance of sex and reproduction than have by watching porn.

    You don’t get pregnant or STD’s from watching a video.

  • robertdfeinman, Thanks for the response. I personally think that as a nation we have become more and more vulgar, rude, unprincipled, and childish in the past few decades, and Europeans have become even more so. I do not envy them, nor their very low marital and reproductive rates, nor their low rates of happiness in surveys — all of which I think are related. We are all entitled to our views on the value of culture — I happen to think it is a good a civilizing thing that makes people treat each other better. We are also all entitled to our religious views, but secular views do not fall outside what would be called “religious views.” They are a type of religious view, and deserve no more weight in a country that allows freedom of religion. So the people should have the right to make illegal those elements that are bad for our culture at the State, not the Federal, level.

  • How about National Geographic?

  • I do have to say that if I ever have children, I will be much more upset by them watching people getting blown up, torn apart, or tortured on television and in movies than I will after they’ve seen a naked woman for a few seconds.

    Why is it that I can turn on CBS and see bits and pieces of a nude corpse but seeing bits and pieces of a nude live woman in a bathroom is obscene? It’s ludicrous.

  • Steve Boriss:
    The traditionalists in each generation always think that the culture is going down the tubes. The parts of popular culture that I tend to ignore seem “more vulgar, rude, unprincipled, and childish” to me as well, but people said that about Elvis and go back far enough, about Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire.

    What is different now is that technological means of distribution have made it possible for many more people to participate in pop culture and interact with a wider audience than ever before. So perhaps all that is happening is that things that were local or regional can now be observed elsewhere and this leads to the perception that there is some sort of widespread moral decay.

    We no longer have bear baiting demonstrations or public executions, so perhaps standards have improved and people like us have just lost a sense of perspective.

    As for Europeans being less happy, I’d like to see your source.

    Here’s a typical source that I frequently quote and they (Deutsche Bank) find the opposite. For example, from chart 10:
    The UK scores at 40, Italy at 50 and the US at 30 on something called the “Happy Planet” index. Read the report, I don’t think the bank has an ax to grind. I could site several other similar studies, I spend a good deal of time discussing improving happiness instead of GDP.

    To you, a low marriage and birth rate is seen as a moral defect, but that’s because of your religious/moral viewpoint. In Western Europe religion plays a much smaller role and the same measures do not apply. You make the mistake of thinking that your social framework is the only “correct” one and that thus who view the world differently are mistaken.

    This is the kind of cultural blindness which gets Americans in so much trouble when they start to preach to the rest of the world. (I’m not talking about dictators who use cultural relativism arguments hypocritically.)

  • Marcus Kirsch

    to Wendy ( and the rest )
    it’s not a surprise why violence is favoured to sex. Look at divide and conquer. Saying that one of the basic needs of human beings or so to speak the easiest way they can have fun without paying money is bad, confuses, rightly, a lot of people. Confused people are easier to ‘manage’. Lower their threshold to accepting violence as a basic right in order to ‘survive’ against crime and other ‘enemies’ and they will make good soldiers.
    If a given situation transcends common sense values, then people will naturally agree.
    I am not sure if we are loosing our values more and more, I rather think we were never following them in the first place as much as we were told. We still exploit the weak and serve our greed as good as any century before.
    Just because we dont hear it in the news doesn’t mean its not there.

  • robertdfeinman, I trust this study by Pew Research as a good source for rating happiness, and it shows Americans happier than Western Europeans on pages 5, 8, and 9. It’s not clear to me what that Happy Planet index is based upon, although the idea that people are much happier with their lives in, for instance, Mexico, as it shows is enough for me to dismiss it.

    I don’t fret much about what “the rest of the world” thinks, given the natural envy any superpower would likely draw, that their press is typically as monolithic center-left as ours, and that our own outlets like CNN present America in a negative light. I think it is axiomatic that children are among life’s greatest sources of happiness, and that does not require one to be religious to believe this — even the left is always talking about how important children are.

  • Beatnik Joe

    I see where you’re coming from, Jeff, but I think you’re over-reacting. Broadcast television is an old medium governed by old laws. Of much greater importance is a free internet and free cable\satellite.

    Obviously, parents have the right and responsibility to decide what amount of nudity, language or violence is appropriate for their children. The ideal system would allow a parent to know precisely what sort of content a television program will contain and filter it for their home as they see fit (without affecting the rest of us.) The old broadcast standards are just a very outdated, quite poor implementation of this ideal (for example, you find racier programming on later at night on broadcast.) As the ideal becomes more practical, we should move toward it.

    It’s similar to nutrition labels on food. You should have the right to buy and consume whatever food you wish, and you should be provided with the information you need to make an informed decision.

  • Steve Borris:
    You say you don’t fret about what the rest of the world thinks, but then quote a survey which tries to find out what the world thinks.

    Using the same survey:
    Life Satisfaction Rises (2002 vs 2007, % change)
    U.S. 65 65 0%
    Canada 67 71 +4%
    Brazil 43 63 +20%
    Mexico 58 76 +18%
    Argentina 45 59 +14%
    Venezuela 50 60 +10%

    Notice that Mexico still scores higher than the US. Perhaps there is something to midday siestas after all.

    It is only by comparing across countries that one can see how one’s own society is doing. The unwillingness of conservatives to consider that some aspects of life may actually be better elsewhere is part of the persistent cultural blindness.

    First you take issue with people’s life choices as to family and marriage and now you seem to be denying their own opinions of their contentment. Perhaps you need to get out more.

  • robertdfeinman, Frankly, I am sensing some ideological blindness on your part. This is a country built on debate. We are all entitled to our views. Secular views are not worth a nickel’s more than religious ones, even though their is an irritating conceit on the part of the secular that they are. And once again, I really don’t care what other countries think of our views because I like ours the best. If I didn’t, I’d consider moving someplace else. It’s hard to believe there would be too many takers on moving to a “happier” place like Mexico. If there were, we wouldn’t be thinking of building a fence.

  • kat

    I hope this means robert is packing up and going to Mexico where life is so much better. Must be why so many illegal Americans are in Mexico.

  • Steve:
    We are entitled to our own views, but not to our own facts. When the facts don’t support your biases you ignore them (even as you selectively quote others).

    It’s also nice to see the profound kat back as well. Kat you might want to check on the number of people from the US that retire to Mexico. It’s true that they have a more privileged position in the society than the average Mexican, but one of the motivations of many is because they can live comfortably on their meager retirement income.

    It is possible for one to notice the faults of the US at the same time as the strengths. It is also possible to notice that there are places in the world that do some things better than in the US. Blind patriotism is just that, blind.

    Both of you need to get out more. Try learning something about universal health care, free higher education, child care services for working mothers, eight weeks of vacation time, extensive unemployment and retirement insurance benefits and the possibility of women to get elected to high public office.

    Various countries in the EU have all or some of these features. Stop waving the jingoistic flag, it’s unbecoming.

  • robertdfeinman, Thanks for finally telling us that you are a run-of-the-mill, intolerant European socialist. No thanks, but I prefer an American system based on a First Amendment that allows all voices to be heard, with the best ideas sorted out in the public square. I don’t need a bunch of know-it-all eggheads in Brussels passing laws without a vote of our citizens. And if that makes me an unbecoming American dolt, waving the jingoistic flag, that’s just fine with me.

  • Steve:
    The conservative follower always takes the same steps when confronted with uncomfortable ideas that run counter to their ideology.
    1. Dispute the facts
    2. If that fails, change the subject
    3. If that fails, insult the speaker

    You don’t know me from Adam, but you’ve decided that I’m a “run-of-the-mill, intolerant European socialist”. Have you read any of my essays, they’re all on my web site?

    Did I defend the European central government? Did I even mention a central government? What do social services (which are decided by each country individually) have to do with the issue? Did I mention the economic system of any government? Does providing a free higher education mean that the country embraces socialism?

    When I was in college it was free, right here in good old NYC.

    Where does the first amendment come into all of this? If I remember correctly the reason this thread got started was because Jeff Jarvis was complaining about overreach by the FCC in violation of the first amendment. I seem to recall agreeing with him.

    I’ll close by saying that step 4 is always that the closed minded ideologue goes off unchanged. Ideologues are immune to any attempts to alter their world view. Every once in awhile one of us “intolerant European socialists” decides to waste a bit of time “debating” the closed minded, knowing full well that we will end up being slandered.

    That you can’t see how large the gap is between what you think the US is like and how it has been managed over the past decade is one of the reasons that the GOP keeps pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Perhaps your defensiveness is a sign that you are starting to realize that everything isn’t as rosy as painted by your leaders. One can only hope.

  • robertdfeinman, Good grief, can we please have a little intellectual honesty here? Actually, I did skim your essays before my post, and I’d encourage my fellow Buzzmachiners to do the same. On this page we see an article called “What is a Conservative?” with the description “Conservatives list programs that they support, but these are not principles. Their only principle is preserving privilege.” Nice. Then there’s an article called “After Capitalism, What?” that includes the admission “Perhaps this sounds communistic or utopian…” Yes, actually it does. And there’s “Can Wealth be Redistributed More Equitably?: The gap between rich and poor is wider than ever in the US. Without some adjustment society runs the risk of civil unrest or economic inefficiency.” Not to mention the article titled “Is Democracy Necessary?” Are you going to tell me that you are a Ronald Reagan conservative? I was unable to find any idea that was inconsistent with European socialism.

  • Brit

    Five years ago? FIVE YEARS AGO!?! What in the world!? As a faithful NYPD Blue fan, I really can’t remember that scene at all (at first I thought it was describing an early Sylvia/Sipowicz encounter, but never mind). That’s the killer in this, that the FCC has taken five years to levy a fine on a scene in a TV show that pales in comparison to anything that can be seen on the covers of magazines in any bookstore or supermarket anywhere in the country. I have to have an aspirin now and go lie down.

  • Brit

    And as for a woman’s buttocks — haven’t low-rider pants made those ubiquitous and therefore invisible in the past couple years??

  • Steve:
    Thanks for looking at my web site, unfortunately you read the words but misread the ideas.

    You don’t like my characterization of conservatism. Fine, write your own, you have a blog.

    My “After Capitalism, what?” is a speculative piece, not a policy prescription. How do new ideas get vetted if someone doesn’t first float them?

    Now, of course, you take any idea that excessive wealth imbalance means that those who support an adjustment must be socialists. Not so, I usually cite the example of the UK where they managed to break up the undue influence of the landed gentry through a policy of death taxes and higher marginal tax rates. All the while Britain remained a democratic, capitalist country (although it did have some governments which imposed limited state ownership of failing industries).

    My warning that excessive imbalance can lead to social unrest is based upon historical examples. I’m not advocating anything, just warning of possible risks.

    The conservative axiom is “it’s mine, I earned it”. If you don’t think this favors the wealthy then look at the stats. You may think that even if it’s uneven that’s the best way for things to be organized. That’s your privilege, but why you would support the billionaires at your own expense remains a mystery to me.

    If you chose to write a rebuttal on your web site, send me a heads up. I think we have imposed on Jeff Jarvis’ hospitality enough already.

  • Nudity, in one form or another, has been part of artistic expression for almost all of recorded history. To ignore that is to ignore reality. To blanketly say that nudity is bad, I think betrays centuries of art and culture that have helped build our culture. Seeing the naked human form is not going to damage anyone. If someone feels threatened by another person being naked, I think that the problem lies more with the viewer.

  • Mr. Boriss,

    Thank you for making it plain that you are a run-of-the mill intolerant American anal-retentive socialist troll. You’re not about decency. You’re certainly not about protecting the children. What you are is a small minded, dirty minded, sex-obsessed perpetual adolescent who lacks the intestinal fortitude to get a full castration and rid himself of those evil, dirty thoughts.

    I know your type. You don’t want kids watching porn because it would kill the porn industry. Once our young people learned how lifeless, how phony porn is, they wouldn’t pay a penny for the crap. And public nudity? Why that would put skin mags out of business.

    Why, if we became comfortable with our bodies we might even start accepting other things.

    I had kids and I caught them watching porn on the Internet, the first thing I’d ask them is, “Do you think she actually agreed to do this, or was she coerced in some manner?” They said they thought she was coerced I’d ask, “What happened that makes you think she was coerced. What did he say or do? What did she say or do?”

    Any parent with Internet access in the home will catch their kids watching porn on the computer, can’t be avoided. Porn, especially the “realism” crap, gives a twisted and very inaccurate picture of how sexual relations work. I should hope any good parent would take the opportunity to correct mistaken impressions.

    Besides, when nude the ladies move with a grace and assurance they just can’t match when clothed. Be the public display offensive to you, stay home.

  • Alan, That was hilarious. Let me guess. With ideas like that, you MUST be a professor, right? Yes, by all means, if your 5-year old sees porn on the Internet, please go ahead and ask, “Do you think she actually agreed to do this, or was she coerced in some manner? What happened that makes you think she was coerced. What did he say or do? What did she say or do?.” But please, do not send me the tape — I would rather not see your family walking around the house buck naked.

  • Lots of great opinions. I’m originally from Europe and now live in Canada. I find this whole discussion funny even though I have three daughters of my own that I want to protect. Nuf said on that.

    I’m commenting here to tie this back to a previous post about media, the value of content and so on. The piece Jeff started the discussion was pretty straight forward and well written as usual. Good content and opinion. However, the ensuing discussion is what is of particular interest. It is what happens around the original piece that is most interesting and that is what becomes “content”. The original article drops to the background and the story really is the discussion. Compare that with reading the newspaper. Boring.