Friday, September 25, 2009

Rick Steves: European Nudes on American TV

Because of strict FCC regulations on nudity, my television program has to be careful about which art we show. Because I show art featuring naked bodies, my shows are flagged by the network and, in some more conservative markets, programmers play it safe by airing me after 10 p.m., when things are less restrictive. In recent years, programmers actually got a list of how many seconds of marble penis and canvas breast were showing in each episode. They couldn't inflict a Titian painting or a Bernini statue on their viewership in those more conservative communities without taking heat.

Bernini's Rape of Persephone

Compared to Europe, America has long been laughable in its modesty. Only American tourists are biking into trees as they explore city parks, which are littered with topless sunbathers. But things got serious during the last decade (with naughty Howard Stern, Bono, soldiers, and football players swearing on TV, and Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" all pushing the envelope).

"Decency proponents" complained that fines imposed by the FCC for these transgressions had been inconsequential. So, in 2004, Congress approved a tenfold increase, raising fines from $27,000 per incident to $275,000 (with many conservative Members of Congress pushing for even higher fines). Any station airing anything potentially offensive (between all the ads for erectile dysfunction medications) on the public airwaves can be made to pay dearly if some of its viewers complain.

The issue of classical art on TV ' a nude David, for instance ' seems okay for now. But these days, the power of America's moral guard should not be underestimated ' especially with politicians from conservative regions quick to do what they can to "shore up" their moralistic base. This has a chilling effect: to be safe, producers are more likely to avoid ideas, words, or images that some Americans could find offensive.

As public broadcasting stations lack the resources to survive a major fine, they are particularly careful in this regard. Many of us who produce broadcast material on a shoestring (like me and public broadcasting in general) have to ponder: Should we put a digital fig leaf on David's full-frontal nudity? Bleep Bocaccio's bawdy language? Can I film The Three Graces only from the waist up? Will Raphael's randy cupids be labeled "child pornography" and Bernini's Rape of Persephone as "S & M"? For now, my partners in public television and I will proceed gingerly ' not sure if we can show Venus's breasts. Can we risk the possibility of a $275,000 fine?and is that per nipple?

Related Posts with Thumbnails