The name Disney used to conjure up the image of family entertainment: a hint of magic, as a twinkling Tinkerbell lit up on the TV screen. But in the past two weeks, the name Disney has come to mean something else: a tawdry corporation stocked with lawyers making ridiculous arguments suggesting that nudity and obscenity on television are to be lauded, not protested.
In December, the Federal Communications Commission announced it would fine ABC affiliates in the Central and Mountain time zones $27,500 each -- for a total of $1.4 million -- for airing nudity before 10 p.m., in violation of broadcast decency standards. The ruling was more than a little slow -- it concerned a 2003 episode of ABC's "NYPD Blue" -- but the reasoning was obvious.
It was a shower scene. A woman who'd stayed in a strange house for a one-night stand dropped her robe and was feeling for the water temperature, with a clear view of her naked from the side and from behind. Then a little boy that lived there woke up and walked in. The camera shot between her legs to show shock on the little boy's face. Only after the shock registered did she attempt to cover herself poorly with her hands.
Was this scene necessary to the story line? No. Was it there to titillate? Absolutely. ABC claimed it was "nonsexual nudity" and therefore OK.
When it was finally rapped on the knuckles, Disney-owned ABC was petulant. It responded first by joining the crowd in Tinseltown now asserting in federal court the "right" to drop the F-bomb on millions of children. Then the lawyers insisted to the FCC that there's nothing inappropriate in an ABC show lovingly fixating the viewer on the young woman's bare behind several times. It was only seven seconds, they protested.
But lawyers are often paid to assert the ridiculous in the face of common sense, and the lawyers for ABC affiliates were earning their keep. The FCC has sought to prevent plots that depict or describe, in an offensive manner measured by community standards, "sexual or excretory organs or activities." So the station lawyers claimed what was shown was merely two spheres of muscle. "The buttocks are neither a sexual nor an excretory organ," they submitted, an argument that would get laughed out of any high-school debating class.