Thursday, August 25, 2011

The PTC Hates The Playboy Club - Big Surprise, Right?

Playboy_club_promoMy summer has been filled with unfulfilled promise. I promised to recap Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip – unfulfilled. I bought a small notebook to take notes when I had thoughts on stuff to write when I’m not near the computer – unfulfilled. I haven’t had any real thoughts that desperately needed to record. But then the PTC came out with their latest campaign and suddenly I have something to sink my teeth into. You see, the PTC has – sight unseen of course, except for some promo clips – demanded that NBC affiliates follow the lead of KSL in Salt Lake City and refuse to air NBC’s new series The Playboy Club. Given the organizations’ attitude to anyone even peripherally associated with Playboy the magazine or Playboy the Corporation, this is about as surprising as the sun rising in the east. Of course this could have been a little bit more timely and would have been had it not been for my recent illness and the subsequent necessity to catch up with other things that I had let slip during that period.

The PTC’s letter to affiliates is a long and meandering one filled with the PTC’s usual mixture of hyperbole and not well veiled threats. Just to add to the mix they have statements from Shelley Lubben’s faith based Pink Cross Foundation, an organization dedicated to “helping victims of the pornography industry.” The statements have a particularly weird disconnect when you remember that the series is about the Playboy Club in Chicago in the 1960s and not Playboy Magazine in the 2010, or indeed in any era.

The letter begins with a number of statistics about the damage that porn addiction – defined as watching more than 11 hours or pornography per week – does to the addict and to society in general. While I won’t go into the actual percentages, I will say that the total number of “porn addicts” is less than two tenths of the American population. Which may explain why the rest of the paragraph refers to percentages rather than actual numbers. But the next paragraph is firmly tied to those figures.
I call these statistics to your attention because I assume you must be unaware of how damaging the pornography industry is to our society, to our families, and to individuals. Otherwise, how on earth could you, in good conscience, agree to broadcast in your community a program that glorifies and glamorizes this insidious industry?
I am referring, of course, to NBC's plans to air "The Playboy Club" this fall and am writing to urge you, on behalf of the Parents Television Council's 1.3 million members, to preempt the program in your community.

The PTC has received correspondence from NBC affiliates that describe the series is “a sophisticated series about the transitional times of the early 1960s and the complex lives of a group of working-class women.” These are dismissed as “canned responses,” which is laughable coming from an organization that provides its members with form letters to send to the FCC over every real or imagined violation of what it thinks is the broadcasting law. Nevertheless the PTC carries on with its assumption that The Playboy Club is about the pornography industry.

Putting a veneer of sophistication on an industry that exploits women and destroys families is not laudable, it is disgraceful. In what manner does such the airing of such material reconcile with your public interest obligations as a broadcast licensee? Whatever positive spin you may wish to put on the series, it is undeniably a betrayal of the trust you have built over the years with America 's families - the owners of the broadcast airwaves that you will be using to force this content into the living rooms of every family in your community.

Where the PTC letter really got “good” (in a strange definition of good it must be admitted) was when they introduced the statement from Shelley Lubben of the Pink Cross Foundation, an organization “dedicated to helping the victims of the pornography industry” (they don’t happen to mention that the organization is a “faith based initiative”). Lubben, a former actress in pornography stated:
"What's shown in The Playboy Club is not real...The series looks like it's all cute, taking place back in the old days. It seems harmless, but then they show a quick clip of three people going at it in the bathroom. NBC is breaking the law with this show. They're not meeting FCC standards."

Strong words, and they’re coming for someone who not only doesn’t understand the very basics about the show that she’s complaining about but also seems to have only such understanding of FCC standards as she has been fed by organizations like the PTC.

Much of the rest of the PTC letter is the same old stuff that the organization peddles. They promise that the organization will be “carefully reviewing every episode, and will urge its members to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about any content that may be in violation of broadcast decency laws.” Then they add this little threat to affiliates:
Please be mindful that it is the affiliate, not the network, that will ultimately bear the financial burden of an FCC fine should any of the content be found to violate broadcast decency laws.

First of all let’s address the specific claim of “three people going at it in the bathroom.” I actually found this scene in the promo clip provided by NBC (which I’m including below) – it happens around 1:58 – and beyond the fact that it is apparent that Ms. Lubben needs glasses (I see a man and a woman and a reflection in a mirror, not three people), it is also clear that this scene is little more than something that you could see in a soap opera most days…when there were soap operas. There is nothing here that the FCC could possibly object to: no bare breasts, no exposed excretory organs, no visible genitalia. The scene is benign, and shows far less than what can be seen on TV in most countries of the world, including Canada. Now that by no means guarantees that the PTC would not rise in righteous indignation over this scene, but there’s no there there.

Here’s the real issue. The PTC has had – dare I say it – a hard-on about anything even peripherally connected to the Playboy organization. When they were attacking the show My Name Is Earl, they inevitably mentioned the presence of Jamie Pressly (who played Earl’s ex-wife Joy), but every time they mentioned her, they took pains to mention that she had appeared nude in Playboy –I seem to recall that they referred to her as a Playmate, though she never was. What they rarely if ever mentioned was her work as an actress. It was a strategy designed to diminish and denigrate her as an actress and by extension the show, creating the impression that the only reason she was hired was because she had appeared in Playboy and was only on the show to titillate younger viewers.

Now here are the facts about The Playboy Club; not the tales that the PTC and its fellow travellers want you to believe about the show and not the salacious impressions that Shelley Lubben wants to see that aren’t really there. The show deals with the Playboy Club in Chicago in the early 1960s. It does not appear to deal with the magazine except peripherally (in the preview clip one Bunny says she’s going to be the first “chocolate” Playmate), or with photos of some Playmates from the 1950s that often didn’t show actual nudity. While there is more than a little criticism about the Clubs from a feminist point of view – notably the Gloria Steinhem article when she went undercover as a Bunny – the fact is that the aspects that the PTC claims will be seen on the show were never a part of what happened at the Playboy Clubs. There was no nudity at the clubs, and the rules about contact in the clubs between clients and Bunnies were quite explicit. Indeed a certain amount of what is shown in the clip – the two people making out in a bathroom, and the clients groping one of the Bunnies – would never have happened in the actual Playboy Club. The truth is that the real Playboy Clubs were high class private night clubs (the private nature being assured by the $25.00 annual membership fee – apparently only about 21% of the people who had memberships actually visited one of the clubs), that offered some of the biggest names in jazz and other entertainment.

Were the Bunnies sex objects? Undoubtedly, even if they were chaste “look but don’t touch” sex objects. Was it demeaning? Certainly Steinhem thought so. The question that Steinhem didn’t address was whether she would have found working another night club that didn’t bear the name Playboy equally demeaning. Was the association with the name “Playboy” the reason why she wrote her critical article? I have to think that the fact that the link with Playboy Magazine was a motivator in her decision to go undercover as a Bunny. She might well have found conditions at other nightclubs of the period equally demeaning (if not more so in many cases), but without the name recognition that the Playboy Clubs had.

And this of course is equally the point in the current situation in which the PTC is threatening NBC affiliates to try to get them to drop the TV show The Playboy Club from their stations. If the show was called something else and was about waitresses in a different nightclub, but maintained the storylines and the scenes shown in the preview clip, would the PTC be as outraged as it is by the show? The most likely answer is, no they would not. They might regard it as salacious after they saw an episode but I sincerely doubt that they had the same “pre-debut” fixation on the show. In this particular case, “a Rose by any other name” would not get nearly the attention, either from the PTC or for the PTC

I have no idea of whether or not The Playboy Club is a good show or not. I’m not privy to any more information than most of you are, and in fact because I’m Canadian it might even be less information, depending on whether or not NBC will allow Canadians to view clips of the show. I fully expect it to be a poor knock-off of Mad Men, lacking the qualities that make Mad Men first rate TV, like good writing, compelling characters and a vision that is more than just skin deep (an expression that undoubtedly fits in more than the obvious way). However I am willing to give the show a chance to at least present itself before I judge it, and I refuse to pass judgement based entirely on the name, and then look for proof wherever I can find it… or manufacture it. This is more than the PTC, with its vendetta against anything that is associated – even at second or third hand – with the word “Playboy” is able to say.


Roger Owen Green said...

I just saw Gloria Steinem on Tv in the past couple weeks. That Playboy undercover gig both helped her career and was a bit of an albatross.

Todd Mason said...

I suspect THE PLAYBOY CLUB and PAN AM will both tank, and both, and not in a good way, suck. But I suppose I should seek out the screeners.