Friday, November 19, 2004

On Throwing in the Towel

The story (no, it's not John Kerry's abdication speech):

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday was still counting the phone calls, emails and other communiques from viewers over Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan's towel-dropping routine on Monday Night Football. Per FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball, more than 50,000 comments have been received.
The FCC can't yet say how many of those comments are complaints. Publicly, the chorus of critics is growing.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell wondered "if Walt Disney would be proud." (ABC, network home to both MNF and Desperate Housewives, is owned by Disney.) The Philadelphia Eagles, whose star wide receiver Terrell Owens costarred in the bit with Sheridan, said the team "wish[ed] it hadn't aired." Owens, who earlier joked he used the segment to showcase his acting skills, apologized--sort of.

The story in greater detail from ms. musings:

The lead-in to ABC's Monday Night Football featured Nicollette Sheridan of Desperate Housewives, a hit TV series for ABC on which Sheridan plays the hot neighborhood blonde who will stop at nothing to get a man. Here she appears wrapped in a towel in the Eagles' locker room with the team's wide receiver, Terrell Owens:
SHERIDAN: "Hey there, Terrell."
OWENS: "What are you doing here?"
SHERIDAN: "My house burned down, and I needed to take a long, hot shower. Where are you off to looking so pretty?"
OWENS: "Baby, it's 'Monday Night Football.' Game starts in 10 minutes."
Sheridan laughs and looks at Owen seductively: "You and your little game. I've got a game we can play."
Owens is about to head for the field as Sheridan says, "Terrell, wait," and drops the towel. Owens smiles and says, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me," and Sheridan jumps into his arms.
Cut to Desperate Housewives cast members Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman watching the scene on TV:
HATCHER: "Oh my God, who watches this trash? Sex, lies, betrayal."
HUFFMAN: "And that woman, she's just so ... desperate."
HATCHER: "I know what we should watch." Hatcher changes the channel, and they say in unison, "Are you ready for some football!?"

It's possible to see Sheridan's bare back in the ad. Anyone who has watched Monday night football on television knows that one can usually see much more sexual titillation in the commercials during the game: women with extraordinary large breasts barely contained by their skimpy outfits, bare legs swinging high in the air and so on.

What was it exactly that made so many people protest this particular ad and not the hundreds of others I see every night I turn the box on? It can't have been the nudity, though that's the excuse we have been given. I bet you that any child has seen worse on television. Was it the repartee between Owens and Sheridan? Would children understand what's going on there?

My guess is that the outrage is not about the nudity or the suggestive banter, but about something slightly different: the implication that this sexual encounter is not within a committed relationship, the fact that it is played by an interracial couple and the fact that it is the woman who takes the initiative.

All these are against the beliefs of many fundamentalists. If I'm correct, the outrage is not over "indecency" but over a different interpretation of "immorality".

I didn't find this ad especially insulting. As I mentioned, there are many such commercials on television, and they're totally accepted because all they do is treat women as sexual objects (I bet you were wondering when I got to the real grim feminist stuff!). This one does that, too, in the way the woman is naked and exposed and the man is clad in one of today's versions of male prestige uniforms, but in other ways the woman fails to be quiet and meek. She is a sexual subject who expresses her own desires. Now that's a no-no in the fundamentalist rulebook.