Liberal Congressman agrees with Supreme Court: Sex is too dirty for TV

When it comes to the battle over what constitutes obscenity on television, it has been a difficult couple of weeks for broadcast media in America.

On May 4, the US Supreme Court remanded an obscenity case back to a lower court, essentially ruling that the FCC's $550,000 fine for Janet Jackson's 9/16th's of a second of exposed nipple at the 2004 Super Bowl was not "arbitrary and capricious."

In so doing, the high court also supported its ruling of the prior week, which argued that television stations could be cited for "fleeting expletives" uttered at live events.

The court basically argued that anything that could be broadcast could also fall under the rubric of "actionable indecency." This means that, had C-Span been there to capture Vice President Cheney dropping the f-bomb on the floor of the Senate, the news channel could have been fined heavily and charged with indecency.

Even as the high court was making its stand against four-letter words of Anglo-saxon origin, a Democratic Congressman extended his battle against the tools of male potency. Rep. Jim Moran has reintroduced the "Families for ED Advertising Decency Act," which would categorize ads for Viagra and Enzyte as indecent, and thus make it illegal to broadcast them on television between 6 AM and 10 PM.

While one might think that positions on this issue would come down to party affiliation, with socially-conservative Republicans queuing up to battle freewheeling Democrats, the reality is a bit more complex. Certainly, groups like The Parents' Television Council criticize television for its supposed emphasis on sexual intimacy outside of marriage; moreover, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that the offensive nature of the word f*ck "derives from its sexual meaning."

On the other hand, Jim Moran is a Democrat representing the politically liberal 8th Congressional district of Virginia, and his legislative record checks off a long list of lefty talking points. In fact, his justification for banning Viagra ads from television is not that sex is obscene, per se, but rather that stations "are showing these ads when small children are bound to get curious." Thus, in Moran's construction, by showing commercials that delicately hint at the whats and wherefores of healthy human sexuality, television stations are inducing conversations about reproduction that that parents might not want to have with their children.

It's hard to imagine how someone could find Viagra commercials offensive, given their general focus on couples using the drugs within the bounds of loving, committed relationships. Even the slightly racy, if somewhat Leave It to Beaver-tinged, Enzyte ads feature a married man whose "male enhancement" is clearly intended for the pleasure of his "Mother's Little Helper"-dazed wife. One could scarcely imagine more generically wholesome vision of sex than the one presented by these ads.

For that matter, 43 states have laws on the books making it legal for women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Although Virginia is not quite so liberal, Moran's state specifically exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws and permits it on any state-owned property. While I'm not equating breastfeeding with Viagra usage, it seems likely that public breastfeeding might lead to the same sorts of curiosity -- and conversations -- that would be inspired by a Viagra ad. What's more, those talks, which presumably would begin with "When a man and a woman love each other very much...," are a well-established part of the American vernacular.

If one were to boil down the history of American popular culture -- and culture in general -- to two words, they would probably be "sex sells." There is a very sound reason for this: sex is basically the most fascinating topic imaginable, and its appeal, in one form or another, is fairly universal. Ironically, what seems to be almost as universal (and strangely bi-partisan) is the discomfort with widespread societal acceptance of its reality. Ultimately, this means that, until the American public discourse catches up with the American libido, popular culture will find itself skirting with illegality even as it tries to give its viewers what they want to see.

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