Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Desperate Watchdogs

I'm mildly amused by the furor touched off by ABC-TV's little attempt at humor to kick off this week's Monday Night Football game. Of all the injustices in the world to get exercised about, we're choosing a skit about a woman offering herself sexually to a pro football player.

Yeah, like that never happens.

Now Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, raises the spectre of racial stereotyping over the issue. I'll admit, my first thought when I saw how this business was blowing up was, "I wonder whether people would be this upset had it not been a white Nicolette "The Sure Thing" Sheridan coming on to a black Terrell Owens." After all, there will always be those latter-day Lester Maddoxes among us who recoil at the very hint of miscegenation, as if different shades of skin implied different species.

But then I thought, "Yeah, given the current political climate, they probably would be." Never mind the fact that the sketch revealed about as much of Ms. Sheridan's epidermis as is routinely on view every week on Desperate Housewives. And never mind the fact that the NFL (jokingly referred to in some quarters as the Naked Flesh League) has been exploiting feminine pulchritude to promote its product since time immemorial. (Three words: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.) The self-anointed morally upright these days love to get up in arms about trivial stuff like this, then skulk back to their hidden porn stashes and clandestine swinging.

Let's not kid ourselves here. ABC exists, as do all commercial broadcast corporations, to sell advertising. (The first truth of television: If the networks honestly thought people would watch nothing but commercials 24/7, there would be no programming on at all. Period.) The more people who watch ABC programming, the more ABC can charge for that advertising, and the more money the network returns to Disney stockholders. You can bet your last wet towel that plenty more eyeballs will be tuned in to Desperate Housewives next Sunday, and to Monday Night Football the following evening, as a result of all this commotion. ABC will rake in the geedus hand over fist. And the advertisers and stockholders will smile broadly and light fat cigars. Don't you think for a minute that they'll cry a single tear for the alleged moral decline to which they have indirectly contributed.

Oh, and here's a note for Michael Powell, the FCC Chairman, who tossed off the pithy quote, "I wonder if Walt Disney would be proud." Check your history books, Michael: Uncle Walt's favorite color was green.

What intrigues me — which I haven't heard anyone yet mention — is that no one seems to notice that the skit that touched off all this outrage featured a woman who will celebrate her 41st birthday on Sunday. In a culture that elevates youth and despises age — especially in women — to the degree that modern America does, it's worth noting that the most talked-about sex symbol of the week is officially middle-aged.

That may just represent a weird sort of progress.

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