Dark Doctrine: “Sex, ‘Sons’ & Basic Cable”

There’s been some gruesome sights on TV in recent years. “Hannibal” sported Mason Verger feeding bits of his face to his dogs and then himself, that infamous exploding head scene from “Game of Thrones,” the violent murders on “The Following,” and the various decomposing bodies on shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Bones”.

Yet in terms of sheer brutality, nothing really comes close to FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”. Over seven seasons the biker drama has seen numerous violent and bloody deaths and, unlike many of those aforementioned examples, here we see the act itself taking place along with the aftermath.

Countless close quarter stabbings in necks and eyes, tongues being bitten off, vicious beatings of spouses, key characters being shot or brutally beaten to death, a nasty gang rape, a father being made to watch his daughter being burned alive in front of him and more. The show has gotten darker and darker with its violence and has pushed it to the limit on many occasions.

Yet now, with only a few episodes to go before the series finishes up for good, the network has come under fire from the Parents Television Council (PTC) who’ve gotten upset about the series. The complaints haven’t been about the graphic violence though, rather they are about a recent episode in which a two-and-a-half minute sex montage kickstarted the episode.

The sequence involves seven different couples having sex – most of it vigorous, some of it certainly not pleasurable. No breasts, pubes or genitals were on display, though there was plenty of thrusting as the asses of Charlie Hunnam, Jimmy Smits and Marilyn Manson got brief airtime, while Walton Goggins’ fan favorite transsexual character also engaged in some coitus (albeit clothed and angled so nothing was really seen).

Raunchy sure, but nothing this series hasn’t already done in the past. Yet the PTC, seemingly aware that its base reacts much more to sexual content than graphic violence, have used the scene to denounce FX for airing “the most sexually explicit content the PTC has ever documented on basic cable” in a just issued press release.

Where the group has an issue is that the show isn’t on a premium cable network but rather on the advertiser supported and often bundled FX channel which basic cable subscribers purchase. PTC President Tim Winter says that “In order to watch cable news, ESPN, Disney or the History Channel, every family in America must now also pay for pornography on FX.”

No mention is made of the flip side to that argument, that plenty of adults are being forced to pay for countless hours of “family friendly programming” and children’s shows on networks they have no need for. Nor the fact that people simply don’t have to watch the channels they disagree with the content of, or why their children would be allowed to watch a series clearly marked adults only.

FX runs a TV-MA advisory warning not only before each episode but after every commercial break. The Daily Mail says that FX has not responded to complaints and show creator Kurt Sutter had no immediate comment.

The PTC targeted the show last year over a sequence involving a school shooting. Sutter said at the time: “The PTC – I would imagine these are not evil people, but they’re just not very intelligent or intuitive people. The fact that these people want to be monitoring what my children watch is terrifying… whenever that stuff crosses the line into censorship, it’s just scary, not just on a creative level but on a personal level.”

To their credit though, the PTC is using the issue as a launchpad for an argument that even their detractors can get behind – the push for a la carte pricing and packages when it comes to cable. They ask that “Congress, the FCC and the Federal Courts to give cable consumers real choice when it comes to deciding which networks they actually want to purchase,” a sentiment many consumers will likely agree with even if they disagree with the “underwriting pornography” argument.

Still, the fact that the PTC doesn’t have issues with a scene later in which a man gets his eye gouged out and then four of his fingers chopped off speaks to the strange definition of “family values” that many of these types of groups have and how the sex vs. violence divide in popular media remains a decidedly lopsided affair. When semen starts being sprayed about as liberally as blood on cable series, maybe then an argument for toning both down might hold more weight.