So just when you thought it was safe to let your children watch television again, MTV has announced the release of its latest scripted show The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a new high school oriented comedy.
Well none of us would be wrong in thinking that the premise of a prime time television show focused on high school students could be anything more than a modern re-packaging of 1960s situation high school comedies such as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis or Gidget . And we are right except for a twist. This nerdy high school kid attracts attention, not because he’s a looker, is a jock, a top scholar or because he is rich. No, this character’s claim to fame is the size of his penis.
No kidding. The executives at MTV, in an attempt to raise lagging ratings, seem to believe that a situation comedy would attract greater attention among its largely teen audience if the focus was on the lead character’s anatomical wonder.
The focus on the size of the male member is of course not unknown on cable television. Another example of such obsession is Hung, an HBO scripted series in which a divorced former high school sports legend falls on hard times and decides to exploit his best asset in a last-ditch attempt to change his fortunes. He forms a partnership with an out of work poet and they set up shop as a prostitute and a pimp. The glorification of this course of conduct seems to continue on the website of the popular show, where contestants are challenged to ” Pimp Ray” (the lead character) and win $10,000. Additionally, visitors can view The Diary of A Pimp.
Want even more lubricious content focused on prostitutes and their handlers. Well then tune in to Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl, where you can find everything you want on how glamorous and fun it is to be a high class prostitute.
Sickened enough yet?
Well to add to your disgust you might try The Secret Life of the American Teenager ( which in development was originally titled “The Sex Life of the American Teenager”) . This show, Disney’s biggest hit, depicts such scenes as teens in bed with one another, underage drinking, a father peppering his daughters with questions about their sex lives and a pregnant girl in hospital awaiting the birth of her child . Not to be outdone is the ABC Family Network’s Roommates about four post high school graduates who ‘share’ “four bedrooms, one bathroom and no boundaries.”
I wrote about the overt sexualization of family television in my editorial Four Bedrooms, One Bathroom, No Boundaries, back in March with the debut of Roommates.
How does such prurient fare make it to prime time? Well the producers of R.J. are quite candid. Says MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman, “For me, [the show] speaks to where we need to go as a network,” he said. “It’s smart, refreshingly candid and really captures what our audience wants: a nuanced, multilayered portrayal of their lives.”
Back in March 2009, Anne Sweeney, President of Disney’s ABC affiliate, validated Friedman’s reality approach to family entertainment in this way: “The best way to resonate with your audience is to be authentic and you’re only authentic if you are holding up a mirror to your audience and saying, ‘I see you.’ ”
How can we allow our kids to channel surf when almost every channel which labels its fare “family entertainment” is no more than a viaduct for soft porn? Am I alone in believing that television is wildly out of control and that the people running it have no more connection or allegiance to traditional values than the pimps and prostitutes that they seem to want to glorify?
When I first arrived in the United States, 25 years ago, I could not stop watching MTV. The music station then was non stop action and fascinating. Today I can’t bear to watch even a single video, so unashamedly sexualized, misogynistic and salacious has it become. From the empathetic to the voyeuristic, we seem to have have lost something vital on our path from Dobie Gillis to R J. So now instead of offering me a source of information about the world, my television represents something so dangerous and sordid so that I can rarely bring myself to even turn it on.
That might make me a prude. But I doubt very much that I stand alone.