What Offends Me

Broadcasters were again censured for indecency last month. The offending image was of a woman preparing to step into a shower in an episode of NYPD Blue. The FCC deemed her body indecent.

The commission previously ruled that Janet Jackson's breast was indecent, as well as adjectival F-words, except in Saving Private Ryan, the graphic World War II epic in which expletives were deemed artistic. In instances where celebrities let fly in exclamation, the F-word was interpreted to describe a sexual act. A federal court disagreed. The FCC asked the Supreme Court to review.

I am probably about as tired as the next person of having overtly sexualized images and vulgar language shoved in my face, even if I can verbally hold my own with any Merchant Marine. But I'm equally weary of the shrill prurience that equates all female nudity with "titillation," one of the factors by which regulators determine what is indecent.

The women in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show strut like strippers wearing postage stamps. If the entire Victoria's Secret empire is not designed to titillate, I don't know what is, but that show gets a sniggering pass. An au natural woman stepping into a shower? Pornographic. A scene from a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue, which drew a fine from the FCC, while similar scenes involving men were not censured. Black boxes added by editorial concensus.

I am disturbed by what is in the minds of such beholders, and how it is they cannot discern the difference between their own response and what is intended. I am disturbed in general by anyone who does not take responsibility for their own behavior, though I realize blaming females for vasomotory is a venerated institution.

That does not mean that it should be institutionalized.

I am not defending the right of broadcasters to run buttocks and swear words. Frankly, I don't care. My television turns off. I should note that I don't have children. A lot of people tell me they cannot control what their children see on TV. It may be more difficult today than it was for my folks, but they managed. Their television turned off as well.

What concerns me here is the type of material deemed indecent. The rear end of a woman getting into a shower is considered indecent. The same shot of a man in the same program, is not.


What if the woman was, by community standards, considered unattractive? Would a similar scene be judged indecent? What if she was elderly? What if she was RuPaul?

What offends me most about incidents that motivated the FCC censures is not so much the body parts and profanity, which I find mostly tedious. It is what appears to be the absence of true intellectual rigor on the part of those charged with legally defining indecency.

Knee-jerk regulation is offensive; misogynistic knee-jerk regulation should be illegal.

Deborah D. McAdams welcomes your comments atdmcadams@nbmedia.com.