Primetime TV shows that appeal to teenagers are promoting the "sexualization" of girls at an alarming rate, including more portrayals of underage females being objectified than adults, especially for laughs, according to the Parents Television Council.
The questionable watchdog group is calling on producers, advertisers and government regulators to take an honest assessment of the sexually provocative way girls are portrayed on TV and take it down a notch. Or two.
But, is this study legitimate, or simply another way for this group to manipulate the statistics for its established agenda? The PTC is known to use scare tactics and thin statistics to jump to huge conclusions and generalizations about sex in America. It often does so without the appropriate, neutral scientific research to back up any of its claims.
PTC president Tim Winter, armed with only a 20-page study that the group released today, hosted a conference call with journalists and others to ask Hollywood to treat sex much as it has smoking: Strip it out where possible, for children's sake.
"They can step up. They can tone it down," he said, during the media blitz.
PTC analysts looked only at the top 14 scripted shows that Nielsen identified as being popular among children 12-17, including "The Office," "NCIS," "Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Vampire Diaries."
"Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults," according to the study, called 'Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinseltown's New Target' — hardly neutral language for a legitimate study.
The PTC argues that girls are increasingly shown as having their worth dependent upon their sexuality, a media phenomenon it asserts leads to passivity, depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. In other words, TV is the root of most of the sexual evils of our time.
The report claims that 73 percent of televised sexual incidents that involved girls under 18 were designed to be funny, thus using "laughter to desensitize and trivialize topics that might normally be viewed as disturbing."
The study says 98 percent of the portrayals of underage girls acting in a sexual manner occurred with partners with whom they have no committed relationship, and 75 percent of such shows don't include the "S" descriptor beforehand to warn parents what's coming.
To bolster the PTC's case, the group put several "experts" on its conference call today, including former model Nicole Clark, who made the 2008 documentary film "Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation."
"Our girls are being sexually objectified as young as six," said Clark, who is pregnant and broke down into tears several times during her presentation. "How did things get so crazy?"
Television executives are robbing children of their innocence — "preying on them" — she asserted, and their victims aren't strong enough to reject the destructive messages.
"Why can't the media be on our side?" she asked.
The provocative question regarding the veracity of this study was addressed in detail in an excellent column written by Chris Kelly, which appeared in today's Huffington Post. Read the opinion editorial in its entirety below, or directly at the website:
TV is Smutty, but the Parents Television Council is a Disgrace
By Chris Kelly
"L. Brent Bozell is a cheap has-been who died years ago, but that doesn't mean his work-from-home pressure group, The Parents Television Council, can't still come up with the occasional hot title for a press release. Take, for example, this week's shocking study — more than 35 hours in the making —
Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinseltown's New Target (deep breath) A Study of Teen Female Sexualization in Primetime TV
Just looking at him, you'd guess that L. Brent Bozell's savvy with technology was limited to opening cans, but you've got to hand it to him — the man can manipulate a search engine.
If there's one thing L. Brent Bozell hates about our sleazy, lowest-common-denominator media, it's teen girl sex teen female teen teen sex girls.
Especially in that dern "Tinseltown," where a smooth-talking sharpie can turn a dizzy doll's head, pitch her some woo, love her up, and leave her table dancing in some gin joint.
L. Brent Bozell is a busted valise, and the PTC is a card table, but the report has already been covered, and taken seriously, by ABC News, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Daily News. None of which mentioned that, just to give you a feel for where the PTC is coming from, this week they made a grid of every show on network television, and said only two were appropriate for family viewing — Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Minute to Win It.
Here's the PTC's release about the teen sex sex teen sex thing:
LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2010) In a new report, the Parents Television Council details the nature and extent of Hollywood's obsession with sexualizing teen girls. PTC's report, Tinseltown's New Target: A study of Teen Female Sexualization on Primetime TV, is based on a content analysis of the most popular primetime broadcast shows among 12 to 17-year-olds during the 2009-2010 TV season.
This content analysis was limited to just 35 hours of TV — that's including commercial time — over two weeks. They only watched scripted shows on the four major networks, so the study doesn't include reality shows, which actually make up half of top 25, or whole channels, like MTV, TLC, Adult Swim or Comedy Central — the ones that air the shows teenagers actually watch. So remember, this study of modern TV trends has been prepared by people who've never seen American Idol and don't have cable. It's like getting a tsunami warning from a man listening to a seashell.
Pretty shocking, right, Grandma? Get out your checkbook. But let's take a closer look, claim by claim.
"When underage female characters appear on screen: more sexual content is depicted."
Than when? Than when underage female characters don't appear? Than during reruns of My Little Margie? Than when the Wright Brothers pioneered powered flight? Than when the TV is off?
Not only don't we know what any of these terms mean, we don't know to what, if anything, they're being compared. We just know it's MORE.
So we turn to the study itself, and find the PTC means more sexualized images of underage female characters than adult female characters.
This could be shocking, but remember, the PTC got to pick the shows it gets to talk about. And they picked the (network, scripted) shows that teenagers watch. So, it's not really that weird that they're about teenagers, and not about adults. Would it be less creepy if teenagers were watching shows where adult women had more sex than teenagers?
And what exactly is "sexual content?" According to the PTC, it includes dancing, nudity (partial, obscured or implied) and "scenes in which sexualization was intentionally ambiguous and communicated using subtle overtones and social cues" including scenes that "required knowledge of a previous storyline or history and/or knowledge of the characters' general disposition."
Your move, Taliban.
In other words, everything and anything. They don't know smut, but they know it when they see it, kind of see it, or don't see it at all. This, of course, is lunacy.
"The teen girls show next to no negative response to being sexualized."
According to the PTC report:
"Only 5% of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized (excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality)."
Again, remember: This announcement is being made based on the close study of less TV than the average teenager sees in a weekend, and deliberately excludes the shows the average teenager chooses to watch. And by "being sexualized" the PTC sometimes means sending subtle social cues about a willingness to dance.
Let's look at where they get their 5 percent. It's in Table 3 "Frequencies and Percentages of Female Characters' Attitudes Toward Being Sexualized Based on Age":
Participant's Attitude Positive 16 Negative 2 Unclear/Neutral 23 Total Incidents 41
Look at this another way: Even given their insane definition of sex, and their tiny sample of episodes of shows — that aren't really representative of anything — they still find that 25 out of 41 underage characters' responses to being sexualized are negative, unclear or neutral.
That's 60 percent. Which could be better, but it's not bad.
"More sexual incidents occur outside of any form of a committed relationship."
Here the Parents Television Council jumps the tracks entirely. What do they imagine they want? We're talking about children. What sort of committed sexual relationships would L. Brent Bozell like eight year olds to enter? This isn't an argument; it's just dog noises.
"There is less accuracy in the TV content rating."
Goddamn it, here we go again. Than what? Less accuracy than what?
One last shocking figure from the report:
"The data show that 73% of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke."
Outrageous! Except the PTC only looked at 14 shows, and nine of them were comedies. I'm thinking the comedies were the ones making light.
By the way, of the 14 shows in the study, only six even have underage characters: Two and Half Men, Glee, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, American Dad and The Simpsons. So by "Tinseltown," the Parents Television Council means one sitcom, one dramedy, and four cartoons, one of them over 20 years old.
Obviously sexualizing children is wrong. But so is talking nonsense about nothing in language designed to deceive. It's contemptible and obvious, and L. Brent Bozell should knock it off."
The sexualization of children is deplorable, and appears to be ans increasing phenomenon throughout our society. It is an important topic that should be looked at with neutrality, not by a group that has an established agenda and manipulates minimal statistics primarily to generate fear and its own sensational headlines and point of view.
— The Curator