November 5, 2009

Gossip Girl Is Going To Corrupt Someone

gossip girl.JPG
please let it be me, please let it be me

The Parents Television Council does not like threesomes on TV.  This is what they wrote in a letter to the network about the upcoming threesome episode of Gossip Girl:

Will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?

Wow.  Do you really think that this is the best choice of words to sway the makers of a show called Gossip Girl?


I can understand worrying that menages are being mainstreamed-- "Parents worst nightmare!"  But there's a bit of ignorance here: teens don't watch Gossip Girl, they watch The Hills.  The median age of the CW network is 34.  Gossip Girl draws 2-3M viewers, 84% are women over 18-54, average age 27.  Believe me, they already know about threesomes, and at least eleven have been in one (p<.00001)


That said, the PTC does have a valid point, made terribly.  Barely five percent of the TVs that are on at that time are tuned to the show; in other words, very few people watch it.  Yet there isn't anyone who doesn't know about it, even if it's imagined based on magazine covers.  So the airing of a menage episode mainstreams it for people who don't watch the show, and that's actually more powerful a cultural influence.  i.e. If you're a fan of the show, the threesome is specific: those three people are doing it.  For everyone else not watching, it becomes background noise: "oh, people are having threesomes now..."

This is why it is true that even if you are not interested in pop culture, pop culture is interested in you.


Look back at the PTC's quote at the top: the overly formal syntax is a set up, it's an organizational chart.  They're the parents, reprimanding the adolescent network "who should know better" than to do that to their little sister audience.  Obviously the CW isn't going to buy it, so in order for this to have any power, it has to be made public.
Hence, this comes from a press release.

The PTC asks, I assume without intending any irony:

Finally, you must ask yourself, how does airing this program serve your obligation to serve the public interest?

If the PTC's obligation is to try and get sex off TV, how does releasing a press release angry about "promiscuous and consequence-free sexual behavior", days before the episode airs, serve the public interest? Doesn't it just make you program your DVR?  The press release got picked up by the news agencies and now it's everywhere-- the only reason I know there is a menage episode coming up is because of this letter.

The network's own promotions talk about the program as a 'parent's worst nightmare.'  How many 30-year olds care what their parents think?  Zero.  Only a teenager would be responsive to a parental 'forbidden fruit' marketing ploy like that, and CW knows it."
Do they not understand, or do they understand perfectly well, that their press release far more contributes to the mainstreaming of "risky behavior" than the show itself?  It's a question of branding: since the PTC is out of touch, anything they hate must be good.  Once a brand is established, anyone can use it any way they want:

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The PTC needs to read its own mission statement.  They're upset not simply that there's sex on TV, but that the TV makes that sex more acceptable to society.  Ok, fine, but then they should not be in the business of censoring TV, but in influencing cultural norms to not want sex on TV.

In other words, they should be doing it quietly, applying direct pressure on networks so that if they obtain the desired outcome, it appears that it came naturally.  Otherwise, it looks like you are suppressing something-- and people will look for it; or it appears self-aggrandizing.

I have no personal beef with the PTC, but I am observing that the PTC, like so many other groups pressing for change, deliberately take approaches that fail (and have repeatedly failed--"mind blowingly inappropriate" is from 2007) and thus ensure their own existence.  Worse, not only are they not effective, but their self-referential publicity makes it difficult for another group to gather members in order to legitimately try to effect change. If the PTC really cared about stopping sex on TV, then, oddly, the best way for them to do it is to disband.