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Indecency's Getting A Bad Rap

by Steve Young

The Real Outrage On Super Bowl Sunday

As a TV writer, critic and living and breathing male, I think it's time to respond to the deluge of bad press that radio, television and good old American licentiousness has been receiving.

First there was the Janet Jackson Super Bowl reveal, which became the most clicked into Internet moment in history. Word is, the week following, provided more computer crashes and VCR breakdowns due to overworked "pause" buttons since the Madonna-Spears kiss. Was that a tongue? Oo-ooh.

There was the (successful) attempt to shove the anti-what is right about America, indecent Howard Stern off the AM/FM dial, while ignoring the charm and humanity of the decent Michael Savage and the rest of the chaste gods of the Right who sell their soul and divide their country 24/7 for ratings and book sales.

Then we have stations who chose not to air "Saving Private Ryan" because of its...its...darn language.

Now it's Monday Night Football and the opening sketch between (and I mean "between") Philadelphia Eagles highly-rated receiver, Terrell Owens, and "Desperate Housewives's even higher-rated, tight end, Nicolette Sheridan.

In the skit, Owens is persuaded by Sheridan's dropping of her towel, to take a pass on the game and instead take Nicolette's pass. At that moment, Sheridan's naked (can I still say "naked" in a newspaper) back was seen, waist up. Hokey-smokey. Get the children out of the room. A back. Naked yet.

You would think with all the worry from those who say that teaching the existence of homosexuality in a school health class will cause our young-uns to "go" gay, would appreciate the shoving of a rather attractive naked female back in the face of our children as a great foundation for "going" heterosexual. Of course, unless there were a plethora of female children watching MNF.

Thank God these family associations who are watching out for us weren't around during the explicitness of my National Geographic's topless aborigine days, to say nothing of my dear, dear Sear lingerie catalogs.

As soon as I saw the ABC apology regretting the explicit incident, I thought the same as most of you. The real apology was due to the huge majority of the MNF demographic (males, puberty-to-forever), for the incident not being explicit enough. As far as that group is concerned, the shot which revealed Sheridan's waist-up back would have been more appreciated if the camera man thought to drop the shot to knee and above. I'm a knee man. And let's be honest, how far through the roof would the ratings go if next weeks MNF game offered full frontal and actual intercourse in the opening sketch?

But the real question is: was is really indecent? If you actually saw the Eagles-Cowboy game, the most indecent aspect of the show was the Cowboy's dreadful performance (they lost 49-21). If you want to complain about indecency in television, I say, get rid of "Fear Factor." The reason you can't: too many of you are watching it. Bad taste is the right of every American. Jerry Springer -- need I say more?

And isn't that the problem? The histrionics of the "decency" police, a small amount of people telling the rest of us what we can and cannot watch, attempts to censor decisions that should be ours.

How can a small group decide for the majority what we should watch, or in Howard Stern's case, listen to? If that was the rule of decision, John Kerry would be getting ready to move into the White House. Actually, decency-police to the rest-of-us percentages applied, come January, Ralph Nader would be parking his hybrid at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Some may say that, in the least, a warning should be given if something risque is to be shown, but how soon will that lead to "Worthless, Ill-Written Show To Follow?" And who will judge that?

I for one would like to outlaw every show that has a writer on staff under the age of forty. You know what I find indecent? Those guys taking my job. But just because I feel that way (and hope you do too), I can't make that decision for the rest of you. If you don't want to watch things you find disturbing...don't. Don't let others take away your right to watch, or not watch, what you want.

Then again, if they can get rid of those under-forty TV writer kids, perhaps I'll rethink the issue.

Steve Young is an award-winning television writer, political editor of National Lampoon and author of Great Failures of the Extremely Successful (Tallfellow Press)

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Albion Monitor November 17, 2004 (

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