Upon arriving in my UK hotel on a Monday at 9:00 p.m., I flipped to a BBC show featuring a male reporter drinking glass after glass of water. He was conducting an experiment where he was to urinate on a metal plate attached to an electric fence to see if his urine would conduct the electricity (duh!). Naturally, I wondered how the producer was going to carry off the camera angles on this one.
You can imagine my surprise when the camera showed the reporter whipping out his penis and urinating on the metal plate. I sat in immobile disbelief, staring at his penis, thinking, “There’s his penis. There’s his penis peeing, and it is on primetime British TV.”
I had a good laugh thinking how this would never make it on North American television.
When I came home to North America, I felt the nudity suppression cloak cover me. Janet Jackson’s one-second breast exposure at the Super Bowl was still making headlines months after the fact.
There was not a hint of nudity on network television—a lot of revealing clothes where the person might as well have been nude, but no nudity. If female breasts were shown on a cable station, a warning was given after each commercial break. And interestingly, but not surprisingly, male nudity was a rarity if non-existent.
I wondered what would happen if North America started showing full frontal nudity on prime time TV? Would it create a nation full of sex-starved creatures? People did not seem sex-starved in Britain. In fact, I would say in general that the Europeans have a much healthier attitude towards nudity and sexuality.
Advocates against nudity on North American television believe that nudity reflects a decline in standards not only on TV, but also in society as a whole.
I believe Rex Murphy best paraphrased how the average person feel when he wrote, “Every pulse of pop culture is sexual. Every square inch of public space breathes sex. Television, movies, music, advertisements, lifestyle—sex drives every atom of western culture in the modern world.”
I agree with Rex Murphy and also know North Americans have shot themselves in the foot with this one. The paradox is: the bigger deal we make hiding nudity and making it taboo, the more obsessed we become with it. Our obsession turns us into a post-Victorian nation of people who always talk around sex but never directly about it. One result of our anti-nudity ways is that we are more titillated, stimulated and potentially obsessive about the topic of sexuality.
The theory goes something like this. When humans are exposed daily to body parts like eyes, feet, neck, it is not a big deal. When these body parts are hidden, like breasts and groin areas, the person only gets to see them once in a while, and it becomes a novelty. Nudity on TV becomes a peep show where if you get to see a flash of “forbidden” skin, it is exciting and newsworthy. (e.g., Janet Jackson’s breast)
For example, how turned-on do you get when there is a close-up shot of an elbow? For most of us, elbows are not very erotic because we see elbows in our daily goings-on.
However, what if elbows became censored? The CRTC would have to enforce on TV shows that elbows must be covered up, hidden by censor bars, and have warnings before being exposed. In response, television shows would go out of their way to give a suggestive flash of elbow skin just to get ratings. We would become a nation fixated on elbows. Seemingly ridiculous and, sadly, absolutely true.
Being able to see men and women of all shapes and sizes nude, like on British television, makes sexuality less sensational. We have created a lot of unnecessary sexual sensationalism around breasts and genitals because we keep them hidden.
Case in point: I was transfixed by the reporter’s penis instead of concentrating on the experiment of him being electrocuted. I was mesmerized by the taboo factor. Making the sight of naked genitals normal makes them as erotic as looking at a person’s elbow or knee cap. It is simply not a big deal.
I understand the Molson Beer company is presently running an advertising campaign showing naked female breasts and butts (and the male nakedness is where?). I wonder how much controversy, if any, this campaign will create. And will this campaign start a trend to normalize nudity on television? I guess only time will tell.