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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Fallen Lineup

A new crop of TV series objectifies women, promotes promiscuity

By John W. Kennedy
Sept. 18, 2011

Whether it’s shows depicting male-pleasing young women in the 1960s or modern, urban single females, a bevy of new network television programs have promiscuity as a central theme.

Two new series attempt to duplicate the success generated by AMC’s Mad Men, the nostalgic cable show about an advertising agency during the 1960s in which women are second-class, eroticized citizens. Mad Men has captured the Emmy Award for best drama the past three years.

The Playboy Club on NBC is set in Chicago and depicts pornographer Hugh Hefner as the icon of the sexual revolution. “The door to all your fantasies ... and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of all time,” a network promo declares.

Pan Am on ABC promises “a drama full of sexy entanglements” in which “the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world.”

Though set in the 1960s, the situations portrayed on The Playboy Club and Pan Am include content that would not have been allowed by network television standards and practices half a century ago, notes Robert J. Thompson, communications professor at Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television.


“One of the major themes of these shows is going to be about the ’60s as a decade of change when progressive ideas were being introduced,” Thompson says. “But there still were enormous institutions that completely objectified women from head to toe.”

Stephen Winzenburg, communications professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, believes the women on these shows will be portrayed as liberated and fulfilled.

“It will be revisionist history, making women look more empowered than they actually were,” Winzenburg says.

Timothy Rohde, former associate English professor at Evangel University, agrees that a 2011 lens peering back to an earlier era will reinvent the women in The Playboy Club lineup.

“The spin will be spunky women getting ahead rather than victimized by men,” Rohde says.

Thompson suspects The Playboy Club and Pan Am will be popular with many viewers who remember the heyday of the magazine and the airline. He also says the shows’ stylized appearance could hook younger people watching TV.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner — now 85 — did voiceovers for the first episode, where he brags of fulfilling a dream by building a kingdom “where the rules were broken and fantasies became realities for everyone who walked in the doors.”

Although the Parents Television Council typically doesn’t protest shows before they hit the airwaves, The Playboy Club is an exception, according to Melissa Henson, the organization’s director of communications and public education.

“It’s clear from the outset the goal is to have women who are very scantily dressed, in a position of subservience to men, helping to mainstream the Playboy brand and indirectly mainstreaming pornography,” Henson says. She notes that actors and actresses in the show have signed nudity clauses, presumably for more explicit DVDs released after the first season.

Morality in Media, an interfaith organization opposing indecency, helped convince NBC’s Salt Lake City affiliate not to air The Playboy Club. KSL President Mark Willes said the values of the station are “completely inconsistent with the Playboy brand.” Morality in Media lambasted the network for foisting harmful pornography upon viewers, and launched a boycott of the show.


Another new ABC series, Good Christian Belles, originally carried the same name as Kim Gatlin’s book, which uses a derogatory term instead of “belles.” Winzenburg, noting that Darren Star, who created HBO’s Sex and the City, is one of the executive producers of Good Christian Belles, anticipates the show will feature eroticized, hypocritical, gossipy characters. ABC is promoting the series as a “wicked new drama” in which a reformed “mean girl” returns to Dallas to face the sins of her past “after her marriage ends in scandal.”

“We’re at a point in society where Christians don’t have much of a voice when it comes to popular culture,” Winzenburg says. “It looks like the TV networks are taking advantage of that.”

Winzenburg believes ABC with Good Christian Belles is trying to present a Christian version of its fading hit Desperate Housewives.

Rohde thinks Good Christian Belles will present churchgoers as people of false piety and incivility and predicts that many Christians who watch the show will be outraged by the language and sexual situations, but not by behavior that borders on narcissism. He says the series likely will represent Christians as a subculture that says they hold a set of beliefs as true, but acts in the opposite way.

“People may get more upset by sexual innuendo than by contradicting certain core values that we hold as Christians — being kind, honest, faithful and helping those in need,” Rohde says.

There are several additional new series showing young, crass, aggressive, promiscuous female leads. Given the growing number of female TV executives and scriptwriters, Henson is puzzled by the various new shows that demean women.

Apartment 23 (another ABC series that dropped a derogatory descriptive for a female from its title) is about a dysfunctional female odd couple living in Manhattan. Whitney on NBC follows a cohabiting couple trying to keep their living arrangement from becoming stale. New Girl on Fox has a title character who moves in with three guys. On CBS, 2 Broke Girls, whose executive producer Michael Patrick King wrote episodes of Sex and the City, follows two waitresses. ABC also is airing a remake of Charlie’s Angels, introducing three new “head-turning beauties.”

Winzenburg theorizes that network television series featuring women abound when men are off fighting a prolonged conflict, as soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, he cites Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie as shows about subservient women who in reality held much power.


In 22 years of teaching courses about television, Winzenburg says he has found little distinction between the viewing habits of Christians and non-Christians.

“Most Christian students don’t think twice about watching a trashy show,” Winzenburg says. “They see TV as an amoral medium. When they watch a program of people sleeping around they don’t think it is wrong; they just think it is entertainment.”

But the values expressed in popular entertainment are becoming the life values of more and more young people, observes Dennis Franck, national director of Single Adult Ministries for the Assemblies of God. Franck notes the rapidly growing number of couples living together outside of marriage, a trend that has accelerated steadily since the ’60s.

“Cohabitation skyrocketed 1,150 percent from 1960 to 2000,” Franck says. “Marriage was created for man and woman as an exclusive relationship of trust, security, stability, and spiritual, mental, emotional and physical union. God specifically designed sex to be used in the protective relationship of marriage where two people of the opposite sex are legally and publicly responsible for their union. He does not bless something that is out of His design and will. Casual sexual relationships devalue a person, cause identity to be confused, and defeat the purpose of bonding that occurs with a relationship of two people married for life.”

In any event, Thompson says a 1960s solution seems advisable to parents who are concerned about their children viewing such shows.

“Kids can watch this stuff if they are squirreled away in their bedrooms with the door shut,” Thompson says. “One TV in the house would solve a lot of problems.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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