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TV, Sexuality, and Christianity

By Gary F. Zeolla

“Little by little, changing hearts, changing minds”
(President Barrack Obama, October 2009, speaking to a gay rights rally in Washington, D.C.)

In my lifetime (I’m 48) I have witnessed a dramatic change in America’s attitude not just towards homosexuality but towards human sexuality in general. There has also been a major change in regards many people’s attitude towards the Christian faith in general and Christian leaders in particular. These changes did not come about at once, but little by little over the last 40 years. These changes are reflected in and very likely caused at least in part by television.

70s TV Shows

The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple, and Room 222. That was the ABC Friday night TV lineup when I was a kid, growing up in the early 70s. I remember that lineup as the best night ever of television. Needless to say, I cannot remember too many specific storylines from these shows, but I don’t remember sex being the major storyline during any of these shows.

By that I mean, I don’t remember any storylines about Marcia loosing her virginity on The Brady Bunch, or Greg getting a girl pregnant. As the younger kids got older, they might have begun “noticing” the opposite sex, but there were never any occasions when the parents catch them in “compromising situations” with a member of the opposite sex. And none of the children ever struggled over their “sexual orientation,”

With the popularity of The Partridge Family, David Cassidy might have become a “sex symbol” for many teenage girls in real life, but his character of Keith Partridge was not shown sleeping with a different girl in each town the family performed in, while Susan Partridge was not shown as having an active sex life. Meanwhile, their divorced mother barely dated let alone slept around. And again, there was not even a hint that any of the characters were homosexuals.

In The Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar dated and had girlfriends, but I don’t remember their girlfriends ever spending the night. And Felix and Oscar slept in different bedrooms; they most definitely were not more than “just friends.”

Room 222 might have gotten a little racier, but still, it was not assumed that all of the teenagers were “doing it.” I believe the attitude among the students was the same as the prevailing attitude in the culture, only “bad girls” were doing it; “nice girls” did not. And again, none of the students were shown as having homosexual tendencies.

On those rare occasions where I stayed up “late,” Love American Style was on next. Now that was definitely a racier show, with romantic relationships being the focus. But it presented a light-heated attitude towards romance more so than being focused on sexuality. And I don’t remember there being any homosexuality themed skits.

Dating = Sexual Intercourse

The only modern network sitcom I watch is The Big Bang Theory, but that is only because of having gotten to like Kelly Cuoco from when she played alongside John Ritter in 8 Simple Rules. But her character on Big Bang is a far cry from the one she played on Rules.

On the latter, as Bridget, she was kept in line by her father Paul Hennessy, and by that I mean, he made sure she was not sexually active. But on Big Bang, Kelly’s character Penny has been portrayed as having a very active sex life, sleeping with every guy she dates. And that leads to the biggest change seen in regards to sexuality on TV shows.

In older shows like the four Friday night shows mentioned above, couples would go on dates, maybe share a good night kiss, and that would be it. But somewhere along the way there has been a dramatic change.

Today on TV, the very instant a couple realizes they like each other, in the very next scene they are shown in bed together. To put it another way, when a couple has their first kiss, then immediately thereafter they engage in sexual intercourse. That scenario is always the case.

On Big Bang for instant, when Penny and Leonard finally admitted their feelings for each other, they kissed and then were immediately looking to get into bed together, although a few hijacks from their friends kept that from happening until the end of the episode. But since then, every episode has shown them in bed together.

This attitude pervades TV. Guy and girl meet, guy and girl admit they like each other, guy and girl kiss, guy and girl engage in sexual intercourse. You simply cannot get away from the attitude that if you like someone you “have to” have sex with them. In fact, it is not until two people are having sex together that they are considered to be a couple. The idea that you could be dating someone but not engaging in sexual intercourse with that person is now completely foreign to TV. Sex and dating, dating and sex, they are inseparable. According to TV, you simply cannot have a romantic relationship without sexual intercourse.

There is no concept waiting, of taking things slow, of putting limits on physical/ sexual activity. And there most definitely is not even a hint of the concept of waiting until you are married to engage in sexual intercourse.

Contrast that attitude with a sitcom of the 1990s, Full House. I never watched an episode of this series when it originally aired, but in a desperate attempt to find a show that does not disturb my moral sensibilities, I’ve been DVRing the series as it is being re-shown on ABC Family Channel.

When I began watching the series, Jesse and Becky were dating, then they got engaged, and in a recent two-part episode they got married. Throughout the entire time they were dating and engaged there was not even a hint that they were sexually involved. It was only after their honeymoon, when Jesse commented that they had video-taped much of their honeymoon, that Becky chimed in with a sheepish grin “Well only the outdoor stuff, not the indoor stuff.” That is the closest the show has come to a joke about sex.

But on most sitcoms today, I would say that 90% of the jokes are about sex, at least based on my very limited exposure to most of today’s sitcoms. The most I know of most series is the tidbits I catch while channel surfing. Basically, I watch a show for a few minutes, maybe just a few seconds, until a raunchy joke or scene disgusts me, and I change the channel.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Many quality and high-rated sitcoms have occurred over the years that didn’t need sex to be funny. The Cosby Show and Home Improvement are two additional examples to add to the shows already mentioned.

And even today, it is possible to have a decent show without the characters all being sexually active. This summer for instance, ABC Family Channel aired a series titled 10 Things I Hate About You. This show is somewhat reminiscent of 8 Simple Rules in that you have a father who is very involved in his two teenage daughters’ lives, including being sure they are not sexually active (or using drugs or alcoholic). In this case, the father makes a living delivering babies, so he doesn’t want his own daughters as patients.

But this ABC Family show is a far cry from another show on the same station, Greek. Basically, Greek is about college students and seems to feature nothing but their sexual antics. I made it through the first episode and a half of that series before becoming too disgusted and giving up on it.

Kyle XY was another ABC Family show I watched for a while. I liked it for the “sci-fi” aspects to it, with Kyle being a genetically engineered super-genius with special powers. But along the way, the show became more about his adopted brother and sister’s sex lives than about his special abilities. There were episodes about them loosing their virginity, with their parents’ approval. But at least the writers kept Kyle’s relationship with Amanda, his love interest, very innocent.

But innocent relationships are the far exception to most any relationship presented on TV today. The writers will probably claim they are just reflecting life as it is today. And there is some truth to that, but it is also true that little by little TV has helped to shape those new attitudes towards sexuality. To say otherwise is just plain silly. There are those who claim that what kids watch on TV does not affect their behavior, but companies who spend millions advertising on television know better.

If a young girl sees on TV over and over and over again, hundreds of times while growing up, that when a girl realizes she likes a guy she is supposed to have sex with him, then the only way she will know to react when she first likes a guy is to sleep with him. Or again, if she kisses a guy, she has been “taught’ repeatedly that she must then engage in sexual intercourse with him.

Homosexuality

In older TV shows, homosexuality was almost never mentioned, hinted at, or alluded to. But today, you cannot watch any show on TV series without homosexuality being shoved in your face. Just in the past couple of weeks before writing this article, homosexuality was featured on three series I’ve been watching: Ghost Whisperer, FlashForward, and Heroes.

It should be noted that none of these drama series are really about sex. I say that as you would expect sexual storylines on say Desperate Housewives, but these three series have rather unique and nonsexual storylines, but all three managed to incorporate a promotion of homosexuality in them.

The most shocking was on FlashForward when one character whose “flash forward” six months into the future was of her being pregnant. When that vision was first revealed she was shocked as she “didn’t even have a boyfriend.” But it wasn’t until a couple episodes later that it was revealed she was a lesbian, making her future pregnancy even more shocking. That aspect of her life was revealed when they showed her on a date with another woman, and then spending the night with her. That is a common theme for both homosexual and heterosexual relationships on TV, sleeping with someone you just met.

The Heroes homosexual storyline was also brought in without prior warning. The former cheerleader Claire has been shown being interested in boys in the past, without any indication that she had any homosexual inclinations. But when her female college roommate kissed her, Claire stood somewhat nonchalant and basically just told the other girl that she wasn’t ready for a relationship.

40 years ago, if a girl were to be kissed by another girl, the girl being kissed would probably jump back, maybe slap the other girl, and shout “What are you doing!!??? Are you crazy!!??” If it was a guy kissing a guy, the guy being kissed would probably slug the other guy, or at least shove him away very strongly. But today, it seems that TV thinks being kissed by a member of the same sex is really no big deal.

And that is the point of all of this homosexuality being inserted into TV. It really was not necessary for any of these series to include it, but it is being done for just this reason, to little by little change peoples’ attitudes towards homosexuality.

Remakes

This change in TV can be seen most dramatically when a TV network today remakes an older TV series. For instance, Knight Rider was a 80s TV series that I really liked, mainly again for its sci-fi elements. It featured David Hassellhoff as Michael Knight and K.I.T.T., his high-tech talking car with artificial intelligence.

In the series, Michael was presented as somewhat of a “ladies man” but as far as I remember, the furthest they ever showed him going with the many women he met was kissing them. But in the film pilot for the 2008 remake, the opening scenes showed the new Knight Rider in bed with two women and his new female handler engaging in a one-night stand with another woman.

I almost shut the movie off right there. But again, I really liked the original series and wanted to see what this new one would be like. The interesting part was, after those opening scenes, there was no more sex in the movie. But that made those opening scenes even more revealing.

If the sex lives of the two main characters were not to be a part of the show, then why show them at all? Was it just to introduce people to the idea that threesomes and homosexual one-night stands were perfectly “normal” behavior engaged in even by “heroes?”

The Bionic Woman is another good example. First, I must say, it disturbed me that they turned Jamie Somers from a blond into a brunette. But more importantly, in the original series, I think I can remember once when there was a “romantic” storyline where Jamie fell in love with a guy, who was later killed. And much later in the series she and “The Six-million Dollar Man” become romantically involved. But in both of those relationships, the most that was shown was her kissing the men.

But in the remake, the series started out with Jamie engaged in a sexual relationship with a guy. He was shortly thereafter killed, but then she became romantically involved with another guy, which in today’s TV terms, meant she “had” to be shown being sexual involved with him. The show was canceled after just a few episodes. No wonder since they had completely changed the main character.

Then there is the sci-fi classic Battlestar Galactica. In the original, Starbuck and Apollo were best friends, and both men. They were womanizers, but again, little was presented as far as any actual sexual activity they were engaging in. In fact, sexual relationships simply were not an important part of the series. It was solely about fleeing from the robotic Cylons.

But for the Sci-Fi Chanel remake, Starbuck was turned into a woman. The main reason to do so seemed to be so there could be “sexual tension” between her and Apollo and so she could be shown engaging in sex with male crew members. And sexual relations among much of the other crew, and even between human-looking Cylons and humans became a central focus of the series. Much different from the original.

Christian Leaders and TV

Another changing trend on TV has been its attitude towards Christianity and especially Christian leaders. In the past, when a minister or priest was shown it was always with some kind of respect for their positions. But today, every time a minister or priest is featured it is always to show them as being a self-righteous hypocrite.

For instance, on a recent episode of Cold Case, the son of a minister had been killed many years before. The minister was shown back then as being opposed to his son using his musical abilities to play anything other that gospel music, so the son had to go behind his father’s back to play “Philly soul.”

But in one of the flashbacks, the son caught his minster father in bed with a woman who was not his wife. He was then accused by the Cold Case crew of murdering his son to cover up the affair. But as it turned out, the minster was not the killer, the female choir director was, who had had a crush on the son. So the minster was an adulteress while the choir director was a murderer.

Meanwhile, you never see a character on any TV show going to church, praying, or reading the Bible, unless again, it is to eventually expose the person as being a self-righteous hypocrite. The only recent exception I can think of is on TLC’s reality TV show Police Women of Broward County where one of the female cops was shown going to church with her family. She then commented that her Christian faith and church attendance helped her to cope all with all the problems she encountered in her police work.

That was a heart-warming moment to see on TV and reflects the attitude of millions of Americans. But you would never know that many Americans relay on their Christian faith to get them through each day by watching TV today.

Now there was one TV series that featured a Christian minister in a good light, Seventh Heaven. Initially, it was a heart-warming series, with basically good kids and a minister whose life’s work was helping people. But as the kids grew older, the show became about sex, sex, and sex. Some of the kids became sexually active out of marriage, while other sexually active teenagers were brought into the series, with more than one out of wedlock pregnancy being featured. It was at that point that I stopped watching the series.

Conclusion

President Obama is right; little by little Americans’ attitudes towards sexuality and the Christian faith have been changing. There are many who welcome this change, but as a Christian I find it all very disturbing.

It’s disturbing that so many Americans get their sexual morals from TV and have their opinions of the Christian faith and Christen leaders shaped by TV. It is also disturbing that it is becoming almost impossible to watch a TV series without these elements infiltrating it at some point.

TV, Sexuality, and Christianity. Copyright 2009 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).


For comments on the above article, see Comments on Previous Sex Issues.

The above article was first published in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site November 1, 2009.

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