[Viewpoint] Sensuality on TV goes way too far

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[Viewpoint] Sensuality on TV goes way too far

I was overwhelmed with “culture shock” while watching a TV program on a nationwide network during a recent business trip to Seoul. Teenage members of a girl idol group were showing off their sexy dance moves, with many parts of their bodies exposed.

I related my shock to one of my colleagues. He shrugged it off, saying they were all like that these days. I checked out other channels. It was rampant - the indecent dress, sexual undertones and often explicit moves were horrifying.

The trend reminded me of Japan in the 1980s. At the time, vulgarity in Japanese broadcasting was at its peak. Female guests on TV programs both day and night bared their breasts without any shame or restriction.

Various types of even more lewd and profane programs came after that. I remember a program called “11 P.M.” which recruited strippers and had them compete over who could dance in the sexiest and most provocative way.

Another program had a bogus hypnotist who put a “spell” on guests to feign love-making moves. Japanese society was obsessed with sensuality and vulgarity in its broadcasting. Sex shops sprung up around the country and Japan earned a notorious reputation as a sexual paradise.

When I set foot in the country two decades later, I was surprised to find Japan was entirely changed. Vulgarity has been removed from TV screens. While some late-night programs are still provocative, none of the past indecencies could be found in prime time or in programming before midnight. What was the cause of the return of decency in Japanese culture?

A Japanese broadcasting network executive said the country had adopted laws in 2001 to prevent a social environment that was dangerous for youth and to ban indecent broadcasting. Broadcasters at first had resisted the changes. They feared that prohibiting provocative TV programs, which had guaranteed strong ratings, would lead to fewer viewers.

Many male viewers joined the chorus, carrying banners that decried government censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression. But they were quieted by a government campaign that asked: Do we want to see your sons and daughters exploited as sex toys on TV?

Japan is not alone in taking a strong stand against lax broadcasting standards. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission slapped a record $550,000 fine against CBS after singer Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during a halftime show of a live telecast of the Super Bowl in 2004.

The incident also led the trade commission to increase fines for violations of broadcasting decency. Americans, apparently, are equally protective of their viewers.

In light of this, a recent statistic reported by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is noteworthy and relevant. More than 33 sex crime cases occurred for every 100,000 Koreans in 2008, outnumbering 29.3 cases in America and 6.8 cases in Japan.

What’s more worrisome is the growth trend. Sex crimes have increased in Korea while they have decreased in the U.S. and in Japan. The staggering 69 percent jump in Korea over the last four years shows that we have a serious problem on our hands.

I believe the vulgarity and obscenity in TV broadcasting have had a direct impact on the proliferation of sex crimes.

We need to change. We are burying our heads in the sand in believing that the lame labels that appear in the corner of the TV screen - saying certain shows are inappropriate for young people - will stop young viewers from watching those programs.

We also need to establish regulations to clean up disrespectful and vulgar shows. Overly sexual presentations of female bodies and exploitative dancing of young boys and girls for the benefit of adult viewers must also be ended. It is time to ask ourselves: Do we want to see your sons and daughters exploited as sex toys on TV?

We must stop this before our children become victims of a culture overflowing with social vulgarity and the wanton behavior of adults.

*The writer is Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Kim Hyun-ki
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