Sex, Television and Society
In the last 50 years we have noticed a massive leap with the way people receive information. First there was the telegraph, then the radio, the newspaper, magazines, television and now the Internet. It seems the most influential has become the television.
According to time magazine, “The average American reports watching between 12-14 hours of television a week, in fact it’s known that a child is exposed to about 40,000 ads a year. The University of California at Santa Barbra has conducted a study about, how much sexual content is shown on television? Their study finds:
About 66% of prime time shows contain some sexual content.
In one study, a solid majority (62%) of scenes in television shows were coded as including some sexual behavior, and 28% of these scenes placed the primary emphasis on sex.
Two thirds of the 1999-2000 television season contained some sexual content (up from one half the previous season).
The sexual content of sitcom scenes shot up from 56% in 1999 to 84% in 2000.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (2001) has reported that 80% of the content presented on soap operas is sexual in nature, and Greenberg and Woods (1999:253) reported an average of 6.6 sex acts in each soap hour.
The television programs that are most popular with adolescents have been found to be the most sexual in nature.
Commercials also have an ever increasing level of sexual content. Why is that? Are we trying to sell sex? According to Marketing Consultation, Richard Cassaro, “Advertising's job is "to command public attention for the purpose of selling something." Not to entertain and not even to inform. The most important job of advertising is…to sell”. Obviously the media exists to make money. Without money the business would go bankrupt. According to Gallup & Robinson (an advertising and marketing research firm) they report that in more than 50 years of testing advertising effectiveness, it has found the use of the erotic to be a significantly above-average technique in communicating with the marketplace, "...although one of the more dangerous for the advertiser. Weighted down with taboos and volatile attitudes, sex is a Code Red advertising technique ... handle with care ... seller beware; all of which makes it even more intriguing." This research has led to the popular idea that "sex sells". Increasingly, this argument has been the growing awareness of sexual themes used in marketing. Calvin Klein has been at the forefront of this movement, having himself declared, "Jeans are about sex. The abundance of bare flesh is the last gasp of advertisers trying to give redundant products a new identity." In recent years ads for products have featured provocative images that were designed to elicit sexual responses, to appeal to repressed sexual desires, which are thought to carry a stronger emotional load. Increased tolerance, and increasing buying power targets groups in rich markets (mainly in the USA) and have led to a marked increase in the share of attractive flesh 'on display'.
It is obvious that the television is using sex appeal to promote TV programs and products in commercials. The question is does society as a whole accept or want this content to be on the television screen.
Time magazine reports that network and cable news broadcasts (75%) are among the most widely watched television programming, about one-third (35%) watch reality programming such as The Apprentice and Fear Factor. Age is a factor in the kind of programming that is watched. So the marketing and advertising have to target specific age groups in order to increase ratings and revenue. Only about one-in-five (18%) age 55 or older watch reality TV compared to half (55%) of those age 18-34”. I did a limited amount of research by investigating the reality show fear factor. I noticed every contestant especially the females were extremely fit, lean and trim, and it seemed there was no attempt to cover their obvious physical beauty as they took advantage of every opportunity to have the contestants to wear bikinis. One of the questions that I raised was is this “Reality TV” or “Staged “Reality” TV”. Whatever the case, there was an attempt to attract attention toward the beauty of the contestants as well as the fearful physical challenges. If the viewers of reality television is between the ages of 18-34, then that would have to play a “factor” (no pun intended) in how you would want to target your viewers. The contestants are young and attractive.
VirginMedia.com did a survey where they asked if there was too much sexual content on Television. The numbers came back an astonishing YES where 70 % of people believed so. In addition according to columnist Tara Regan from SRBI research, “More than half of Americans say that there is too much violence (66%), cursing/sexual language (58%), sexual content (50%) and reality programming (65%) on broadcast television. However, most Americans would not ban this content.” This survey could tell us that Americans have a moral conscience however it tells us that they are somewhat unwilling to eliminate the material for some reason. And What About Advertising? SRBI research says, “More than 1 in 4 Americans, 27%, say that they've been offended by television advertising, such as the ads for sexual potency drugs. About 1 in 3 Americans (34%) want these ads totally banned. However, most Americans would be satisfied if the ads were banned just from prime time television.” This survey could tell us that the moral conscience of society would like to limit sexual material, but never the less they still want the material to be accessed.
The pornography industry is a good indicator of just how much society wants to view sexual material. The pornography industry has restricted televised access in America and is mostly viewed by people who intentionally peruse or purchase the material. So let us find out how much the general public intentionally wants to view sexually explicit material.
Good Magazine shows a number of stats about the Internet pornography industry. It is staggering how much actual money flows through porn and how many people are involved in the industry:
89% of porn is created in the U.S.
$2.84 billion in revenue was generated from U.S. porn sites in 2006
72% of porn viewers are men
260 new porn sites go online daily
CNetworks reports, “Porn is being downloaded, ordered, rented and tuned in at startling rates across America. And, with millions of customers spending billions of dollars on pornography, corporate America is starting to compete for a piece of that pie”. In 1999 pornography sales in the United States exceeded $10 billion -- a market so lucrative that even blue-chip companies such as General Motors Corp. (GM) and AT&T Corp. have jumped into the dirty game. These two Fortune 500 companies are piping pornography by cable and satellite. The old saying, “Money talks” seems to be the deciding factor as our capitalistic society recognizes what is popular. Fox news reports that the porn industry is profiting more than Hollywood. “Although the vagaries of entertainment accounting have become legendary, it is universally acknowledged that the U.S. adult-film industry, at around $12 billion in annual sales, rentals, and cable charges in 2006, is an even grander and more efficient moneymaking machine than legitimate mainstream American cinema”. Here are a few more telling statistics which prove that society craves viewing sexual content. Every second - $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography. Every second - 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography. Every second - 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines.
What does all this appear to mean? What we have is the entertainment industry trying to profit. We have a society that is progressively seeking out to view sexual activity. Often times we hear individuals blaming the media for corrupting society with the surplus of perverted material. Data will show that society seems to have created the phenomenon by their relentless pursuit of nudity. Sure there are people who have become unwillingly affected by the media industry’s display of material, however blaming the media and insisting they cease the production of such material is a naive approach to thwart there activity. In order to change the media market there first must be a fundamental change in the behavior of the consumer. Yes television has developed into a seemingly more distasteful industry, but all to appease society’s appetite.