Murphy’s Law – Good marriages make bad TV

Joel Murphy

Hollywood hates you, hates marriages and secretly wants your children to grow up to be sex-crazed adulterers.

At least, that’s the impression I got after reading a new study released by the Parent Television Council entitled “Happily Never After: How Hollywood Favors Adultery and Promiscuity Over Martial Intimacy on Primetime Broadcast Television.”

The Parent Television Council reviewed 207.5 programming hours of primetime network television from all of the major networks (and the CW) during a four-week period in September and October of 2007. According to a press release from PTC, their study found that “broadcast networks depict sex in the context of marriage as either non-existent or burdensome while showing positive depictions of extra-marital or adulterous sexual relationships with alarming frequency.”

Now you might think that network executives prefer to depict marriages as boring and promiscuity as exciting because it makes for better television, but in reality, this is a top-secret plot hatched by the Hollywood elite to erode the sanctity of marriage. According to PTC President Tim Winter, “These study results suggest that many in Hollywood are actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently showing it in a negative manner.”

That’s right, “actively seeking to undermine marriage.” Apparently, Winter thinks that all of the top execs get together in secret smoke-filled underground rooms and hatch plots to destroy marriages. (Those evil bastards!) But that’s not even the worst part. Winter goes on to explain how Hollywood is exposing our impressionable young children to deviant sex acts.

“Even more troubling than the marginalization of marriage and glorification of non-marital sex on television is TV’s recent obsession with outré sexual expression,” he said. “Children and teens are now exposed to a host of sexual behaviors that less than a generation ago would have been considered off-limits for broadcast television.”

The official press release goes on to explain that “according to the PTC study, some of the once-taboo-for-TV sexual behaviors that are now found on primetime television include threesomes, partner swapping, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality and sex with prostitutes, in addition to depictions of strippers, references to masturbation, pornography, sex toys and kinky or fetishistic behaviors.” (I’m not sure what shows the PTC has been watching, but they make network television sound incredibly awesome.)

So what else did the Parent Television Council find? Here are some highlights:

  • Across the broadcast networks, verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by nearly 3 to 1, and scenes depicting or implying sex between non-married partners outnumbered scenes depicting or implying sex between married partners by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.
  • References to adultery outnumbered references to marital sex 2 to 1.
  • Although the networks shied away from talking about sex in the context of marriage, they did not shy away from discussions of masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, manual stimulation, sex toys, bondage or kinky or fetishistic sex – there were 74 such references during the study period.
  • The Family Hour – the time slot with the largest audience of young viewers where one might reasonably expect broadcasters to be more careful with the messages they are communicating to impressionable youngsters – contained the highest frequency of references to non-married sex. Family Hour references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in marriage by a ratio of 3.9 to 1. During the 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. hours, the references to non-marital versus marital sex averaged 2.5 to 1.
  • Visual references to voyeurism (a third party present, watching or taping while sex takes place), transvestites/transsexuals, threesomes, kinky sex, bondage, sado-masochism and prostitution outnumbered visual references to sex in marriage by a ratio of 2.7 to 1.
  • Of all the networks, ABC had the most references to marital sex, but many of the references were negative. References to non-marital sex, by contrast, were almost universally positive or neutral.
  • References to incest, pedophilia, partner swapping, prostitution, threesomes, transsexuals/transvestites, bestiality and necrophilia combined outnumbered references to sex in marriage on NBC by a ratio of 27 to 1.

So what do these findings tell us (besides the fact that I’ve been missing out on some great programming on NBC)? Well, for starters, they tell us that the people over at PTC have way too much time on their hands. Seriously, who watches 207.5 hours of television and marks down every single references to sex? Something tells me the people who did this study might not have the happiest marriages in the world. Perhaps if their own sex lives weren’t either “non-existent or burdensome,” they wouldn’t be so concerned with whether or not fictional characters are having unfulfilling sex lives.

And even if this report proves that Hollywood prefers to show kinky sex acts and sexless marriages over happy spouses getting it on, what exactly does that prove? How can Winter and the PTC justify that these findings prove that the powers that be are “actively seeking to undermine marriage”? Isn’t it just as logical to assume that perhaps promiscuous singles and adulterous spouses make for better television than happy married couples?

One of the most common setups in all TV shows is to have a major character yearning for another major character (Jim and Pam, Ross and Rachel, Mohinder and Matt Parkman). People like the anticipation – the “will they or won’t they” aspect of the show. Once Jim and Pam actually got together on The Office, they became boring. On Friends, the writers quickly had Ross and Rachel break up because they knew it made for better television than having them together. That doesn’t mean that the writers were secretly hoping to undermine the sanctity of marriage – it just means they were trying to find a way to write compelling television.

And even if you are convinced that Hollywood has a secret agenda to undermine marriage, who can say that this current approach actually works? I’m engaged to a beautiful girl who makes me incredibly happy. I also watch a lot of television. Lately my fiancée and I have been catching up on previous seasons of Rescue Me, which is not a primetime show, but is certainly a program where all of the major characters cheat on their spouses.

Does this show make me question my engagement or wonder about the sanctity of marriage? No. It just makes me feel better about my own life. Knowing that my significant other isn’t out there banging other dudes at will makes the arguments we have seem insignificant.

Why do you think guys like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich have been able to have such successful careers? Why do you think Cops has remained on the air for all this time? People like to see other people’s struggles because it makes them feel better about their own lives. It’s the same reason Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club starts going to support groups for terminally ill people – knowing that our lives aren’t as tragic or as screwed up as the people on television makes us feel like “the warm little center that the life of this world [crowds] around.”

So I say let’s continue to depict sex in marriage as non-existent and boring. NBC is clearly doing their part, but I think the other networks can step it up a bit. Come on Hollywood, make your characters even more depraved and twisted so that we can all sleep better at night.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try to do my part to make this world a better place – I’m going to try to help the members of the PTC get laid.

Random Thought of the Week:
Playgirl announced that they will no longer be printing their magazine, which means that the guy in the back of that van who offered to photograph me for Playgirl magazine probably wasn’t on the level.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.


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