Then there's the sex, and the sex talk. While the usual sexual innuendo far surpassed all other forms of sexual content in this study, nudity was the second-most-frequent type of sexual content on reality TV shows, followed by anatomical references and references to or uses of pornography. The PTC also counted 16 instances of sexual activity on reality programs included in the study, as well as one reference to bestiality, two references to masturbation, eighteen references to kinky sexual practices (including group sex), and two implied instances of oral sex. Does that sound like great family viewing right after dinner?
We won't get into -- no kidding -- the bikini-waxing segment of the "Top Model" show. But how about the moment on the very popular "Survivor" series in the Amazon where the women Heidi, Jenna and Shauna were bathing topless and talking about how they should use their nudity to distract the men and advance in the game? It's not surprising that two of them later ended up in Playboy, having created a market demand for men to see what was behind the network pixilations.
Reality programs thrive on one-upmanship. ABC's "The Bachelor" lets a man pick a bride out of a group of single, attractive women hand-picked by the producers. Fox's "Married by America" let the audience pick the bride. Producers of "Big Brother" hope for a "hook-up" they can televise nationally. Fox forced couples to "hook up" or get kicked off the island on "Paradise Hotel." Every time a reality show ups the ante with outrageous behavior or shocking footage, it's encouraging subsequent shows to add more skin, more twists and more shocking behavior, resulting in that perpetual race to the bottom.
What's a young viewer likely to learn from reality TV? Backstabbing and betrayal will get you ahead in life ("Survivor")? Marriage is not to be taken seriously ("Married by America")? Money matters more than love when choosing a life mate ("Joe Millionaire"; "For Love or Money")?
Networks are clearly pushing the envelope with reality series, so parents ought to write to network executives and advertisers. The FCC needs to be vigilant in enforcing commonsense decency standards for broadcasters. Producers make choices when editing the hundreds of hours of raw footage into each episode and have repeatedly chosen to include explicit language or graphic sexual content, bleeped out or pixilated whenever absolutely necessary. But make no mistake: They want those final restraints removed. It's the logical next step in Hollywood's race to the gutter, and absent a national outrage, is precisely what will happen.