Stop right there. "Sexual McCarthyism"? Bill Clinton's minions started that term in 1998 to describe supposedly false accusations of adultery. Just as there were no false accusations of adultery then regarding Clinton, there was no false accusation of Janet Jackson. There was no false accusation of Victoria's Secret. There was no false accusation of Howard Stern, the man currently spreading the term "sexual McCarthyism." One wishes they were false, and that TV and radio programs had a sterling reputation for dignity and decency. They do not.
To bolster the impending-oppression thesis, Reuters brought in Robert Thompson, the Syracuse guru of anything-goes pop culture, who generally approves of whatever TV trend is unfolding to stay hip with the media elite. Thompson claimed: "This new hypersensitivity of the past year or so is changing the content of broadcasting. Right now everybody is looking to take the heat off, turn the public attention down a few notches for a season or two."
"Hypersensitivity"? Is objecting to a massively witnessed TV nudity stunt like Janet Jackson's "hypersensitive"? On the contrary, what the potentates of popular culture have increasingly offered us is a new hyper-insensitivity, dragging us down a road where we're goaded into accepting each new devolution of public taste. The public has been pushed around by sleaze merchants enough, and now the public has pushed back. How hypersensitive of them.
But Professor Thompson is wrong on the facts. The public mood may be more disapproving of sleaze, but it's not true that "everybody" in broadcasting is avoiding it now, as if every parent of small children can relax. Just last week, we witnessed the forced-fellatio plotline of FX's "The Shield." That doesn't match the Thompson thesis.
Fox's "That '70s Show" recently had an entire half-hour plot centered on masturbation, and how the two engaged lead characters are struggling to put some abstinence before their marriage. From the moment the lead character Eric is caught in the act in the bathroom, with a shot of his fianc?and her friend reacting by making faces and innuendoes, there is barely a moment free of graphic sexual discussion of an already exceedingly graphic subject.
Hollywood is hardly demonstrating "hypersensitivity" to public complaints. Corporate bureaucrats in L.A. and New York with an eye on public opinion may be growing more sensitive to how people feel. But envelope-pushing TV producers are still driving full speed ahead into the wall of social chaos.