Monday, June 18, 2007

No Responsible Sex, Please--We're American TeeVee

The hypocrisy--it burns. American network television has the ability to enlighten and educate countless millions through PSA's (public service announcements) and commercial advertising promoting condoms. Yet sanctimonious, look-the-other-way attitudes prevail over here, and condom advertising remains one of those experiences you're more likely to have in foreign lands. I wish this was a function of our country's blissful freedom from serious problems like HIV and other STD's. Hardly. I wish this meant that America was not, in fact, a country besieged with so many unwanted pregnancies that it held the dubious honor of having one of the highest abortion rates in the developed world.

What it is, however, is yet more evidence of a different serious problem--one that ironically seems more prevalent in America than elsewhere these days, which is to say, powerful right-wing religious groups controlling what the masses can and cannot see. To wit: another condom commercial--one that sounds rather funny in an eye-rolling kind of way--has been rejected by two of America's largest TV networks (my emphasis).

In a commercial for Trojan condoms that has its premiere tonight, women in a bar are surrounded by anthropomorphized, cellphone-toting pigs. One shuffles to the men’s room, where, after procuring a condom from a vending machine, he is transformed into a head-turner in his 20s. When he returns to the bar, a fetching blond who had been indifferent now smiles at him invitingly.

Directed by Phil Joanou (“State of Grace”), with special effects by the Stan Winston Studio (“Jurassic Park”), the commercial is entertaining. But it also has a message, spelled out at the end: “Evolve. Use a condom every time.”

“We have to change the perception that carrying a condom for women or men is a sign they’re on the prowl and just want to have sex,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive of the Kaplan Thaler Group, the New York advertising agency that created the “Evolve” campaign. “It’s a sign of somebody being prepared — if the opportunity arises — to think about their own health and the health and safety of their partner.”

But the pigs did not fly at two of the four networks where Trojan tried to place the ad.


Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further.

In a written response to Trojan, though, Fox said that it had rejected the spot because, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.”

In its rejection, CBS wrote, “while we understand and appreciate the humor of this creative, we do not find it appropriate for our network even with late-night-only restrictions.”

“It’s so hypocritical for any network in this culture to go all puritanical on the subject of condom use when their programming is so salacious,” said Mark Crispin Miller, a media critic who teaches at New York University. “I mean, let’s get real here. Fox and CBS and all of them are in the business of nonstop soft porn, but God forbid we should use a condom in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.” ads depicting middle-aged white guys dragging their wives into lingerie stores because they've suddenly grown a pair of big V-for-Viagra horns are appropriate for network television.

Ads showing pharmaceutically-enhanced middle-aged white guys abandoning their car-washing activities mid-stream, fiddling with the hose so it can spray on its own, and nipping indoors with their female partners for a hand-rubbed finish are also appropriate for network television.

But ads that promote the use of condoms during the very act such medicines purport to support? Banned!

I'm especially irritated that these think-tank people (and the networks who love them) seemingly frown upon using condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancy and allow enjoyable, non-procreative sex--and reject that sort of ad--while giving the odd pass to efforts that stress disease-prevention, which is clearly the more noble purpose of condoms in their opinion. Both purposes are important, of course, but admitting this is tantamount to accepting that people might actually be engaging in the whole messy act with something other than family-makin' on the mind. For purposes that have to do with, oh, enjoyment and escape and pleasure, for starters. And they can't have that, you know.

Not until they can figure out a way to tax it.

Contraceptive advertising is meant for grownups, yes, and any group of network suits possessed of a collective brain-cell count in the double-digits would want to aim such commercials at adults and air them at the appropriate times (as in, not on Saturday morning). Other countries--even Latin American ones with large Catholic populations--have been able to get this, and the results are entertaining and memorable (two very good things to be if you're a commercial that wants to be, ah, effective). A few of litbrit's picks:

This funny French one hits uncomfortably close to home:

And from Argentina, bless them, comes this awesome ad:

Another French ad (and another too-close-to-home scenario for me!):

Finally, for pure belly laughs (or else howls and shrieks of the better-you-than-me variety) nothing beats this one (the actor is American or Canadian, but I've never seen this aired in the States--have any readers?):

(H/T Lisa in Baltimore)

Also at Shakesville.

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