You Can’t Say That on Television: Sex, Violence, & Primetime Lies

If I had a dollar for every time I watched this kiss, I’d probably only have $50. That was a lot when I was 12.

You’ve seen it all before: A couple TV audiences have been rooting for is finally going to hook up. They’ve somehow ended up locked in a place with no way out, or in a really intense argument because the tension between them has been growing, and the inevitable is about to go down.

The audience feels the crescendo as someone inevitably leans in to snag that first much-anticipated kiss. It takes a turn for the passionate, but as things get more heated, the camera pans away from the action and blurs as it settles on some romantic light source in the room like the reflection of raindrops on a nearby window. Everything else is left to the viewers’ imagination. What happens after that passionate kiss, we assume, is that the characters took their clothes off and engaged in the commonly accepted form of a sex act: good old fashioned penis-in-vagina sex.

Unfortunately, TV has sex all wrong. It teaches us that there isn’t much to sex — other than passionate kissing and missionary. Television shouldn’t have to act as a replacement for sex education, but Googling #WaronWomen will show you just how much of a priority quality sex education has become in the US. So why shouldn’t TV be the thing that tries to present the realities of certain subjects?

Let’s take a look at Glee. Now, I know this season has been terrible, you guys. But let’s not forget the times Glee was honest with us about our lives. Those were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? Remember the one where all those crazy kids lost their virginities…twice? My favorite thing about the two episodes of Glee where people were losing their virginity is that virginity is presented in all ways.

OMG! Two boys kissing?! Call the FCC!

We see Kurt and Rachel, the romantics, taking their virginity very seriously. After having a frank discussion with his dad about the ins-and-outs of sex and the emotions associated, Kurt chooses to lose it to his long-term boyfriend. Finn and Santana, on the other hand, are coming from a side of curiosity. Sex is shown as something that can be simultaneously meaningful to one group of people and less meaningful to another group of people. It suggests that losing your virginity is something that is a personal choice, and every individual should be able to process the act however they please.

Lucille Ball, “with child”

The most unfortunate thing about this content is that when parents saw teenagers having sex on TV, they used it as an opportunity to kick and scream at the network and the advertisers instead of sitting down and having the frank discussions about sex. Instead of changing the channel to protect children that may be too young for such content, they protested advertisers and prevented everyone in the family from watching such filth. The more unfortunate thing is that this happens all the time. It’s been happening for a long time.

It all began with Lucy and Ricky. They slept in separate beds and weren’t allowed to use the phrase “pregnant” to describe Lucille Ball’s real life pregnancy with *gasp* her husband, Desi Arnez. Although it was being used in the plot, likely to avoid covering up the belly, it was still not something that could be talked about with such crude language as the word “pregnant.” The producers used more politically correct terms like “with child” or “expecting” instead.

America has finally come to terms with married couples sharing beds and pregnancy, but there are certainly some subjects that are still highly controversial on network television. Funny that none of these subjects are senseless acts of violence or acts of hate, but rather, the acts of love between two people. On shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the detectives discuss the explicit details of violent sex acts. Why can’t characters on other shows discuss healthy sex acts with equal detail and candor?

The problem isn’t the amount of sex on TV, but that sex is portrayed dishonestly to viewers. This is not about more or less censorship and saying certain subjects shouldn’t be talked about on TV. It’s about the lack of sex education we already have being supplemented with more bad information.

Boy Coy: For the Love of the Deal

Editor’s note: This column was written by (*gasp*) a boy. No matter your scientific, expressed, or preferred gender, you too can write for us! Direct interest to servingteatofriends [at] gmail [dot] com.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a type. The list of 5’7”+ fair-skinned brunettes I’ve courted (or attempted to court)  easily provides sufficient data points to identify a trend. Data analysis would also reveal that the most genuine romantic experiences in my history were spent in the company of stark outliers. It is likely this very pattern that draws my attention (and this post) to the talk of types.

Anna’s Ron Swanson-referencing investigation of the deal breaker phenomenon sent my synapses in the direction of another equally hilarious NBC sitcom. In fact, the 3rd season finale of “30 Rock” features long-suffering protagonist Liz Lemon garnering media adoration for a conveniently relevant catchphrase: “…That’s a deal breaker, ladies!”

A cursory Google of the phrase turned up this delightful webpage, complete with an informative collection of Daily Deal Breakers. I was particularly amused by the accompanying image of a disheveled male 20-something: Deal breaker incarnate, it seems. While initially put off by his application of cadet grey slacks and navy pinstripes, my mood relented to sympathy under the influence of his pitiable “give-a-guy-a-chance” anti-swag. I began clicking through countless disqualifiers, determined to determine if Mr. DB was being held up to the draconian standards his expression implied. Many deal breakers (“If your man owns a mint-condition Hellboy figurine”) came off as a bit unfair. I quake in fear when I consider my girlfriend may put the axe on our relationship in response to the unrelenting torrent of Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon analysis that comprises my Facebook profile.

Gotta' deconstruct 'em all!

Others (“Your man wants to plan your honeymoon around Comic-Con”) registered as perfectly viable scenarios to alter the deal. In fact, the most common theme among Deal Breakers revolved around the stereotypically masculine lack of consideration or respect for a partner. My favesies on this end of the spectrum included “Your man disappears and then shows up after seven months of no contact” and “If your man has seven cell phones, but won’t give you any of their numbers.” Though thoroughly entertained, the page nearly failed to appear in this post because of its inconsistencies with the initial deal breaker conversation. Previous posts had debated the merits of a physical criterion, not  selfish habits that might delegitimize the validity of a long-term partnership. Furthermore, commenter Katey pointed out how the reliance on visual analysis is an unavoidable component of modern dating:

 “Most of the guys I date have similar attributes. I am attracted to a certain type of man, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I also expect that if I guy asks me out, that I already meet his basic appearance requirements. I don’t want to find out later that he is not attracted to my brunette locks. Shallowness is part of attraction. Do not tell me that any of you are going to walk into a bar and, purely based on looks, let everyone be an option to you. That’s not how it works. We all have a type and we all have deal breakers.”

She’s right.  It would be unrealistic to consider any human being as acting in error for evaluating potential suitors with a “basic appearance requirement.” Likewise, it would be unfair to call someone out for establishing a preference for certain physical qualities.

Things become counterproductive, however, when these aesthetic sorting algorithms rationalize a continued relationship despite the appearance of Lizlemonian-mode Deal Breakers. This practice is grossly common among my heteromale peers. I have watched many XY’s willingly succumb to the allure of the trophy-girlfriend, only to be bemused as they continuously gripe over a litany of incompatibilities. Then again, this pattern is often the dominant motivation for relationships in the first place. If affirmation minimums and convenient orgasms are the signs of functioning companionship, our physical markers seem perfectly adequate for selecting a status-changer.

Reprogramming our brain’s inclinations for attraction is impossible.  Still, a more challenging approach to why we agree to go on dates in the first place may bear more fruitful results. At the very least, an adjustment may help to retool a system that Anna accurately describes as rewarding, “a consideration that happens in two seconds over one that is more generous and more time-consuming.”

Granted, it’s reasonable to assume commenter Geoffrey speaks for most of us when he notes that he would, “go mad if I had to go on five dates with every person I met.” On the other hand, should we accept dates as the sole medium for getting to know someone we happen to find attractive?

Sorry I’m Not Sorry That “Friends” Saved My Life (or: Why This Smart Girl Loves Sitcoms)

No one told me life was gonna be this way.

I know, I know — the late ’90s called, and they want their sitcom mania back.

But hear me out. My freshman year of college, I went through a really nasty breakup with my high school boyfriend. And I mean drunken-fights-in-front-of-a-haunted-house, being-called-a-Nazi-via-AOL-instant-messenger nasty. The breakup period lasted for about two months, from mid-October until the first day of finals in December (I know!), and for a long, long time after that, I was a black hole of dispair. I looked, felt and walked around like the dead girl from The Ring who pops out of televisions and drowns people.

In addition to writing a lot of incredibly pathetic fragments of poetry during those dreary post-breakup days, I also relied heavily on the three seasons of “Friends” on DVD.

I only own seasons four, six, and seven, plus a weird DVD my mom got for me, probably at one of those Blockbuster sales (remember when video stores were still a thing?), which contains just five episodes from season one. But let me tell you. I have watched every single episode on every single one of those DVDs way more times than I can count. I could probably recite Monica and Chandler’s tag-teamed proposal word for word, complete with Chandler’s super-smooth opening line of “Oh my God.” I know all the answers to the game Chandler, Joey, Rachel, and Monica play in the episode where the girls lose the big apartment (and Phoebe gets artificially inseminated by her brother). In fact, I know these episodes so well that I often find myself about to quote lines from the show, only to realize that would be the actual lamest thing a young adult could do in 2012. Besides maybe gush about “Whitney.”

In part, I watched “Friends” because I needed something, anything, in my own head besides my thoughts, which, at the time, felt like they were trying to jailbreak out of my head with homemade shivs. Being inside my brain was so painful that I needed something loud, brash, and totally banal to drown everything else out.

But I think that explanation is too easy, and too desperate in its attempts to find a reason that a smart girl would like less-than-smart entertainment. After all, there were lots of ways to drown out my own sad thoughts. I could have read “Anna Karenina,” and inhabited a lot of other people’s sad thoughts, instead. I could have volunteered to help people with real problems, or concentrated on turning my pain into art, or all the other things that would have been considered more productive than memorizing sitcom lines. But I didn’t. And I didn’t want to, more to the point. I wanted to watch “Friends.”

There’s something truly comforting — not in a bland, mask-the-pain way, but genuinely palliative — about the relationships on shows like “Friends,” or even its slightly edgier counterparts, from “Seinfeld” through “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “30 Rock” (what can I say — I’m an NBC gal). On those shows, so vastly unlike in real life, bonds between people bend, but do not break. The continuity and audience maintenance of the sitcom genre depend on the characters’ ability to forgive and, very quickly, to forget past wrongs and embark on a new adventure every week. Ross thought he and Rachel were on a break? No problem; aside from some snide remarks, the two managed to repair their friendship within a few episodes. And the same goes for all these shows — by and large, no one holds grudges, or hurts one another irreparably, or breaks up and never speaks again. Exes can be friends, because they’re both signed for at least the rest of the season, and anyway, fights that go on too long are boring and uncomfortable for audiences.

So in a way, I think watching ungodly amounts of “Friends” actually did help heal my broken heart. After all, as I watched, all the friends had hearts broken and put back together again, and they managed to do so with a laugh track. And just like I’ve learned lessons from great novels and great films, I have learned a whole lot from crappy television. Most importantly: Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe taught me that everything hard will eventually be less hard – you just have to wait a couple of episodes.