November 2013 – Companies spend millions of dollars every year to influence the behavior of people watching their commercials. Whether it is an insurance commercial wanting viewers to make a 15-minute phone call for a new quote, or a cell phone company wanting people to feel dissatisfied with their current phone and buy a newer model that will be outdated in six months, they all have one goal: alter the viewers’ behavior. Commercial creators know that viewers see commericals through their own mental filters. But those filters come down when shows come back on screen.
Like commercials, entertaining shows and movies can alter behavior and change perspectives. They can make the disgusting seem funny. They can make the deplorable seem acceptable and even desirable. Parents Television Council (parentstv.org) knows television has that power and is using it in more dangerous ways than ever before.
PTC has conducted thorough research and released a study titled “Teen Sexual Exploitation: The Prevalence and Trivialization of Teen Sexual Exploitation on Primetime TV.” It is the third PTC report examining sexualization, objectification and sexual exploitation of young girls by entertainment media.
Sexual exploitation is a global pandemic. The United Nations began addressing the problem by developing a universal definition for it: “Sexual exploitation means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.”
Tim Winter, president of PTC, said researchers watched four weeks of prime time television with the U.N. definition as their standard. They watched to see if characters on popular shows, the ones that drive pop culture and hold so much power over the attitudes and behaviors of young adults, exemplified sexual exploitation. What they found isn’t shocking, but it is heartbreaking.
Winter said, “Out of the 238 scripted episodes which aired during the study periods, 63% of the episodes contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females, and 33% of the episodes contained sexual content that rose to a level of sexual exploitation. The likelihood that sexual exploitation would be considered humorous increased to 43% once sexual exploitation involved underage female characters.”
Specific instances of sexual exploitation include an animated show in which an underage female character is placed on an auction block. An announcer says, “This girl is perfect if you want to buy a sex slave, but don’t want to spend sex-slave money.” PTC cites another show from the same channel where underage male and female characters play strip poker. When the male character is down to his boxers and socks, he asks her to take it easy. She refuses.
PTC and those associated with it are not asking parents to throw their televisions out of the house. But the practice of children and teens watching what they want without input from or intervention by invested parents can lead to catastrophic consequences.
People love to be entertained, and people love to laugh. But what entertains a culture and what makes a culture laugh say quite a bit about what that culture sees as acceptable and desirable. Winter asks, “When is it appropriate to laugh at [and be entertained by] the sexual exploitation of a child?”
Complete study findings are available at parentstv.org.
Responding to the sexualization and objectification of young girls in the media, PTC has partnered with other organizations to create 4everygirl.com. The website encourages parents and girls to get involved in stopping the sexualization of girls by promoting a media environment in which young girls are honored, valued and represented by healthy, respectful images.