In today's Deseret News, reporter Hal Boyd gives readers an unvarnished account of the sexual taboos that have toppled, one by one, on broadcast television.
Because of our longstanding editorial concern with the importance of values in the media, the Deseret News will continue to decry entertainment that portrays violence and immorality as acceptable. Our primary concern is whether culture is helping families in what should be a common effort to raise ethically responsible children.
As a media organization, we understand the potential clash between values and freedoms. Democracy provides individuals the framework to work out their own plans and purposes within the rule of law. It could therefore be seen as contrary to freedom for law to prescribe how things are done culturally.
Nothing, however, needs to be legislated in order for citizens to ask for and expect common decency. Especially in common physical and conceptual spaces, it seems fitting and proper that, regardless of privately-held beliefs and tastes, one should expect to find a measure of behavior and deportment that enhances participation.
And such an ethic of enhanced participation actually demands some measure of ethical behavior and decorum — not the lowest common denominator. It is entirely appropriate for conventional morality (as distinct from the legal rights) within a participatory public square to exclude as beyond the pale, for example, expressions that directly denigrate individuals because of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.
So it is with the pervasive depiction of sexuality in broadcast television. Regardless of the question of rights, if broadcasters and advertisers were genuinely concerned with common decency, they would understand that it is not a simple question of turning off objectionable material. Rather, it is about transforming common space — publicly-auctioned broadcast spectrum — into increasingly inhospitable territory for families, especially parents.
Broadcasters and advertisers who try to profit from sexually suggestive material need to understand that parents don't appreciate being condescendingly dismissed as prudish people who are "offended by sex." Offended by sex? It is parents who, by definition, actually understand sex. They know that in addition to providing intense physical pleasure, sexual intimacy also brings into the life of a couple the immense responsibility to care for children. They know that sexual relations create unparalleled physical and emotional vulnerability that, when shared with commitment and trust, can bond husband and wife together — but if dissipated, can leave irreparable harm.
Consequently, the manipulative use of sex in our culture so misrepresents what many intuitively understand as both powerful and sacred that it assaults public decency. If broadcasters and advertisers, entrusted with public broadcast spectrum, genuinely wanted to enhance reach and relevance, they wouldn't trivialize sexuality.
We can almost hear the chortles from jaded marketers who have the data to show that sex sells. For all of our noble talk about "enhanced participation" and "common decency," they can point to data showing how viewers are voting with their remote controls to watch salacious content.
But this is not terribly surprising. Because of its pleasures, does it really surprise that sex attracts, especially when its charms are deceptively separated from its consequences? Nonetheless, this fact highlights the need for citizens to ask for common decency not only from the purveyors of entertainment, but also from themselves.
Our plea, therefore, extends in two directions. To those who produce and sponsor content, could you acknowledge that families yearn for high-quality, well-produced entertainment that leaves to parents the opportunity to share the precious facts of life with their children? And to those who consume content, let us be more proactive in sharing with broadcasters and advertisers precisely what we think of how their content is helping children and adults to confront the ethical challenges of life. It is only fair to ask for common decency.