The Parents Television Council Is Full Of Shit: The Playboy Club Edition

Last week, NBC cancelled The Playboy Club after only three episodes due to low ratings. The Parents Television Council celebrated the move as it resulted in the end of a show that they considered to be inappropriate for network television. Despite the fact that the show aired beyond the watershed at 10:00 PM and its content was reportedly mild compared to what you’d find on premium cable shows at the same time of day, the PTC claimed victory for their moral elite.

But what the PTC right to launch a campaign against The Playboy Club before even watching an episode? I watched all three episodes, read all the PTC’s press releases and looked up the history of the real Playboy Clubs to find out.

Before watching the first episode, I went over the PTC’s webpage about The Playboy Club. This is what they had to say about the first episode:

The show’s primary focus is sexual content.  The first episode includes:  women wearing the Playboy Bunny costume that reveals ample cleavage, sexual innuendo about one-night stands, a scene in which Max and Janie have sex in the club’s bathroom and references to body parts such as “kitty cat” or “penis.”  Violence was also depicted in the first episode, with Nick walking in on Maureen being assaulted by mob boss Bruno Bianchi in the supply room of the club.  A fight ensues until Maureen stabs Bruno in the neck with the heel of her shoe, killing him.  Language used in the pilot episode included “hell,” “ass” and “damn.”

Let’s go through these complaints in a more or less common sense approach. Cleavage is something you see every day. It’s not just on TV either. Sure, my teachers seldom showed off their cleavage but I can see it in almost every other place I go during the day except for fast-food restaurants. I grew up watching The Price Is Right and I saw the models is a lot of revealing outfits but there’s no PTC page for that. Hell, Robin Meade’s morning attire on HLN isn’t what I’d call PTC-safe for the morning news beat. (She doesn’t always show cleavage but her tops are always very form-fitting.)

Sexual innuendo and depictions of sex are next in the list. I’m also a fan of Seinfeld. This is a show that has alluded repeatedly to sex, penis size and masturbation. However, there aren’t any PTC warnings about that show. Hell, if the “primary focus” of Seinfeld wasn’t “sexual content,” be it relationships or casual sex, what was it?

I actually laughed at their complaint about Bruno being killed while attempting to sexually assault Maureen. A man tries to defend a woman from being raped and the rapist gets killed in the ensuing struggle and this inappropriate content? That sort of moral fibre to defend women from being assaulted should be lauded rather than criticized. You can make an argument that depicting rape would be beyond what a child should be exposed to but they should be teaching kids that no means no when it comes to sex. If this doesn’t get the point across, a paragraph in a sex ed textbook won’t get it across either. And isn’t murder, rape and death mentioned every day on the news? If depicting these on a drama is bad, wouldn’t news programming about murder and rape be equally damaging to impressionable children?

I’m a huge proponent of common sense when it comes to language. The only two words that are commonly considered profanities that I didn’t know at the end of Grade 1 (at roughly 7-years-old) were “cunt” and “cock.” I went to sleep at 9:00 PM every night which is before the Canadian watershed. So where did I pickup this language? It sure wasn’t off TV. Complaints about mild language which wouldn’t be bleeped out before the watershed is filler in the PTC complaint.

So it looks like The Playboy Club is no worse than any show that has ever aired in the history of American network television before or after the watershed. But I thought I should actually do something that the PTC seems unwilling to do when forming an opinion on a new show and actually watch it to see what happens in each episode to see if there is anything in there that would warrant a complaint to the FCC.

Episode One: Pilot

We don’t even get six minutes in before the attempted rape and the self-defense killing happen. The rape isn’t nearly as graphic or intense as anything I’ve seen on CSI or Law and Order. Same thing with the killing. Amber Heard’s character (Maureen) tries to kick the rapist (who happens to be an important member of the local mafia) off and he gets a heel in the neck which kills him. I’m already thinking that the PTC is going after The Playboy Club for the show’s name rather than the content which is easier to handle than any episode of CSI or L&O. Hell, Marg Helgenberger shows more cleavage than any of the bunnies did before the title card. The second half of the episode has a little more cleavage but it wasn’t like there wasn’t anything left to the imagination.

We go 11 minutes before any depiction of sex. It was no worse than I’ve seen on NCIS. Again, it looks like the PTC is grasping at straws with some their complaints. But the show then led us to the girls trying to handle deal with balancing well-paying jobs where they’re ogled constantly with steady relationships with men who’d rather they work anywhere else. They even talk about penis size at one point around the 15:00 mark. God forbid that women want men who are better hung than average. (Though having to hear about that sorta stuff at work makes me think I’d like to hear women talk about something other than sex and reality TV at some point during my day.) From here, the rest of the episode sort of plays out without much in the way of plot or character development.

Are the characters exploited? Well, they are hit on fairly regularly in the Club. However, there are moments where typical exploitational clichés are avoided. For example, when Maureen needs to be unzipped to shower after killing the rapist, the male lawyer helping her doesn’t immediately start making out with or fucking her. I expected that but it didn’t. Maureen even uses her looks to her advantage and essentially flirts her way out of a tight spot with a mobster. I don’t think I’d call it empowerment but I wouldn’t call it exploitation. By the end of the episode, she does kiss and start to fall for her new lawyer friend which pisses away most of the empowerment progress. Well, I suppose they had to put a romantic angle in there because it’s network television.

Episode Two: The Scarlet Bunny

Four things jump out at me right away with this episode. First, it seems as though the main characters show more cleavage than the ones just filling out the background. Second, they’re showing more cleavage this time around. In the first episode, they seemed to be equal opportunity in the great battle of tits versus ass. In the second episode, it appears that Sir Mix-A-Lot would not get his preference. Third, the show actually has a title sequence rather than just a title card. And from that comes number four which is that Eddie Cibrian, the lawyer from the pilot, gets top billing. If this is a show about empowerment, shouldn’t the bunnies get feature billing.

Anyway, the PTC will probably have a problem with the main bunny storyline of the girls wanting to be the featured Chicago Playboy Club bunny to make the cover of Playboy magazine. I know they’re anti-Playboy so women voluntarily taking nude photos to make money is the root of society’s ills. Of course, when Maureen poses for her pictures she doesn’t do anything special or wear anything else or different so there’s no real objectionable content there.

On the empowerment side of things, Carol-Lynne takes the lawyer dude back only after he and Maureen convince her that he wasn’t two-timing her. He wanted her back but Carol-Lynne held to her one strike and you’re out policy. There was a little makeup making out but there weren’t any clothes flying off so it’s better than some TV shows, I’m sure. (I’m not good at episode recaps. I’m just hitting key points. If you need more details watch the episodes yourself.) Although, Carol-Lynne gets a little catty with Maureen anytime she feels Maureen is angling at the lawyer (whose name is, for the sake of my sanity, Nick Dalton).

On an absolutely inconsequential note, there was an amazing pop culture reference in this episode. Bunny Alice and her husband Sean are both in the closet but neither of their parents know. Sean’s parents, who don’t know Alice is a bunny, turn up for dinner and even take the couple out to The Playboy Club using an admission key from one Abe Froman. Ferris Bueller for the win.

Episode Three: An Act of Simple Duplicity

An interesting point in the exploitation versus empowerment debate comes up early in this episode. It’s pointed out that the bunnies flirt with the clientele as a means of getting bigger tips out of them. I’m willing to bet that your perspective would skew what you think of this. I don’t think this is either empowering or exploitative but I’m sure a lot of people would think it’s exploitational. I think of it this way, though: The bunnies are exploiting their customers thinking with their small head by exploiting their misguided thought process that a bigger tip will get them in with the bunnies. I know from personal experience that bigger tips won’t get you anything. So who’s exploiting who?

Elsewhere, Janie is pissed off with her boyfriend Max for submitting photos of her in the Playboy cover contest in the last episode and is giving him the silent treatment. Dalton is pretending to date an heiress in order to further his political ambitions. And the heiress is using Dalton  Carol-Lynne isn’t a fan of being involved with Nick involved with someone else, even if it’s just for show. And there’s an undercover reporter who gets inside the Club as a bunny and does an expose on the Club (which gets stopped before the second part thanks to the legal double-talk of Nick Dalton). I wouldn’t call any of these moment exceptionally empowering but I wouldn’t say they’re exploitative either.

At the end of this episode, there was a great moment between the reporter and Carol-Lynne. The reporter said she went to The Playboy Club expecting this place where all sorts of illicit things happened so she could write a big story. Instead, as Carol-Lynne prompted, she found a place where hard-working girls tried to make a life for themselves. But, as the reporter said, that kind of story doesn’t sell papers. If that doesn’t sound like direct, yet logically sound response to the PTC, I don’t know what is. Of course, even though it’s a thinly veiled shot at the PTC, that doesn’t make it any less true. The Playboy Club is just a show where a lot of not-so-well known actresses are trying to make a name for themselves. But the PTC can’t make a splash by framing the show as one about women trying to make a few bucks and having a life and dreams outside of wearing skimpy outfits. And I’m sure that line kinda works in the context of the show too.

A number of times, the PTC referred to Playboy as pornography in its press releases and connected The Playboy Club television show to Playboy magazine which in turn causes people to implicitly connect it with pornography. While The Playboy Club show was never explicitly referred to as pornography, enough dots were put in place that the PTC encouraged people to think of The Playboy Club as pornographic or promoting pornography. The only thing remotely pornographic about this show is the connection to Playboy magazine. The show itself has no nudity at all. There’s cleavage but no asses or breasts exposed. I wouldn’t call that pornography. That would make their complaints about The Playboy Club actors signing a nudity cause redundant. If there was no nudity (and there is no nudity allowed on network television after the ass that made it on NYPD Blue), then why would they complain about that?

The PTC also complained that the women on this show were exploited rather than empowered like the studio and network said they would be. There never seemed to be anything exceptionally exploitational about the way the bunnies were portrayed. Unless, of course, the PTC’s definition of exploitation of women is to give them awful characters. But they shouldn’t feel bad about that. The male characters don’t exactly have fully formed characters either so it’s even.

But the lack of characterization is probably the most offensive thing about this show. The producers talked about empowerment and the like but we get very generic, two-dimensional female characters. The male characters are only slightly more deep. Of course, three episodes isn’t a big sample size to determine what the writers were attempting with any of the characters.

So where was all this sexual content which would poison our poor children? I watched more of The Playboy Club than the PTC did in making a judgment on this show. They probably watched a 30-second promo for the show rather than a whole episode before determining that this show was eroding the moral fibre of America with gratuitous sexual content. Who am I kidding? They probably saw the name before passing judgment. There really isn’t anything in this show that you can’t see anywhere else on network television. This show just has the Playboy name attached which causes a different set of expectations for its contents. If this show was called The Gaslight Club, which the Playboy Clubs were originally based on by Hef, would the PTC even bat an eyelash at this show?

Perhaps the slight irony of the PTC’s complaints is that there is more drinking and smoking in this show than objectifying of women. I would’ve thought that they would complain just as much about alcohol and tobacco use as they did about sex. However, drinking and smoking isn’t nearly as polarizing as sex on TV. They exploited an easy issue from overprotective yet lazy parents who would rather someone else protect their children rather than have to do it themselves.

In the end, the problem with the PTC is that its mission is directed to the wrong place. Their motto is “because our children are watching” but maybe the point is that maybe there are somethings that children shouldn’t be watching. The PTC is targeting broadcasters and attacking them for what they broadcast. They blame the broadcasters for corrupting children with adult content. However, the responsibility does not lie solely with broadcasters or regulators. At the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the parents themselves to monitor what their children watch and take steps to ensure that their children watch only that which they are comfortable with them watching.

The PTC’s mission is not protecting children from adult content. At its heart, the PTC’s mission is to impose their views and their morals on society as a whole. They’ll never frame it as such but that is essentially the desired end of their efforts – A society whose available television and movie entertainment conforms with what they believe is appropriate for viewers of all ages. Parents should be ultimately be responsible for what their children watch. The PTC should not punish everyone and dictate what everyone watches because of the failings of parents who don’t control what their kids watch. At the end of the day, parents have to be more responsible for what their children watch than TV.

3 thoughts on “The Parents Television Council Is Full Of Shit: The Playboy Club Edition

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