Blurred Images: Nudity, ‘Dating Naked’ and the Need for More Censorship

Dating NakedWhich is worse: racism or treating a woman as a sex object?

I pondered this question recently after catching a snippet of Dating Naked (2014-present) — the ridiculous new show on VH1 featuring would-be romantic partners appearing au naturel — on TV. This silly program dares to blur any offending genitalia or breasts out, so those seeking a sexy time with the boob tube are apt to be disappointed. But something interesting occurred to me as I was watching. I remembered that on a recent episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (2006-present), the eponymous host shared some screen time in Africa with an elderly, nearly nude woman whose pendulous bosoms were not blurred out. I believe this was preceded with some kind of disclaimer warning of the nudity. The idea was that this was a native woman whose concept of modesty was different from Western ones, and that if it offends, well, it’s just a lifestyle issue.

OK. What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re a Western or “civilised” woman, your offending parts are blurred out on TV. If you’re a “native” female, they get shown.

I don’t know whether to rant and rail at the double standard of it all or the fact that this seems like an utterly racist perspective.

We’ve encountered this problem in the past, on those “nature” or anthropological shows that showed indigenous, supposedly “primitive” individuals in their birthday suits. Why? Because they’re people to be studied, not ogled or lusted after. They’re not attractive to Western eyes, right? They’re the wrong colour? Their breasts look funny? They’re not sexy?

Dating Naked Bizarre Foods with Andrew ZimmernOn the other hand, showing a Caucasian woman fully naked on TV could bring up all sorts of problems. Kids might be watching (they’re not watching the nature programs, right?). Exposure to the body parts half the world’s population was born with might lead to licentiousness and depravity. Women might be treated as sex objects. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the small screen.

Well, what I want to know is: What is appropriate for the small screen?

In America, sex is all over the telly and absent from it at the same time. We live in an era when a glimpse of stocking is no longer something shocking, but the image of a woman’s nipple on live TV causes feathers to ruffle and eyebrows to rise. Adding to the problem is a movie ratings system that seems arbitrary and prone to the whims of the times. How else would you explain the American “PG” ratings given to the Movies Airplane! (1980) and Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), both of which featured shots of women’s breasts in all their glory? Others featuring nudity and also getting “PG” ratings in the U.S. were foreign films Small Change (1976) and Gregory’s Girl (1981), as well as the fraught-with-nakedness picture Yellowbeard (1983). Consider the latter film’s bevy of bare beauties when compared to the ones in the Cheech and Chong vehicle from the same year, Still Smokin, which garnered an “R” rating. Sure, SS was replete with sexual situations, while Yellowbeard took a more innocent tack. Yet breasts are breasts, right? Shouldn’t there be one cinematic standard regarding them?

It used to be that dropping an “f-bomb” in a picture would be cause for ratings alarm, though the presence of one didn’t seem to affect the “PG” label stamped on Big (1988). Strong language, however, did lead to “R” ratings for Stand By Me (1986) and The King’s Speech (2010). It seems absurd in this day and age that a little profanity that almost everyone knows could lead to such categories, but there you have it. I wonder what conceivable rating would be given to a film made of Ben Jonson’s 17th-century play Epicoene or The Silent Woman, which has the olde word “windfucker” in it.

Dating Naked Stand By MeMeanwhile, back to TV. There’s another show called Naked and Afraid (2013-present), which appears on the Discovery Channel and purports to show nude men and women surviving mostly on what they find in the wilderness, forest or jungle. Of course, genitals and breasts are blurred out on TV in the States, but buttocks aren’t. This is a peculiar decision, isn’t it? The latter body parts are hardly an obscure object of no desire to many, and although the purpose of the program assumedly is not to encourage any kind of salacious behaviour, the rumps on display can’t be discounted when it comes to the lewdness spectrum. Nevertheless, the “civilised” individuals on this program are not actually natives of the regions they’re staying in, so showing any more of their bodies would be imprudent. They would be too sexy for their show.

The bodies of primitives, of course, can be shown at any time, though, it seems, as they’re on display for “educational” purposes.

So here’s my dilemma. Which do I advocate: the continued blurring out of genitals and breasts applied to all who appear on TV, as a form of censorship in an effort to provide a more egalitarian option to audiences and the shows’ subjects; or the removal of any censorship on TV whatsoever, leading to potential ogling of women’s (and men’s) bodies, as well as dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria?

I’m gonna go for the former. Remove the racist factor. Add more censorship.

The blurring should be across the board. It should’ve been applied to Bizarre Foods. It should be applied to any other nature or anthropological program. It should be applied to any place where women are regarded as educational tools rather than objects of attraction. Because in seeking to educate the public about certain cultures, these individuals are being regarded as objects, too – or animals without shame or modesty. They’re not looked at the same way as we look at Western people. They’re viewed through the glasses of “civilisation.”

Censorship is never an ideal tool, and it’s not a popular one, either. It’s an effective stimulus, however, when you want to get a point across. My point is that there’s a double standard when it comes to nudity, and that it should be addressed to be consistent. Someone should fix it. Otherwise, it looks like the powers that be are running around with their pants down, and we just can’t have any of that.

Can we?

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and operates a restaurant-focused blog called Critical Mousse (criticalmousse.com) that showcases his opinions on the culinary arena. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

10 thoughts on “Blurred Images: Nudity, ‘Dating Naked’ and the Need for More Censorship

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Racisms: ‘Jud Süß’ and Stepin Fetchit - CURNBLOG

  2. I say we ban censorship! 😉 In case the sarcastic irony of that is somehow unclear, I am in favor of no blurring of images on the television screen. It’s insulting. The idea that the human body should be covered for reasons of modesty is insulting to me. (For health and sanitary reasons, not to mention warmth, maybe… but modesty? No!)

  3. I’m posting my response to satanicpanic’s intriguing thoughts here because I can’t see the comment on my browser, for some reason. I’m not familiar with that comedic routine, but I think it’s very telling … and it’s in line with the racist outlook when it comes to nudity on TV. BTW: I love the Shaka Zulu series — great stuff!

    • OK, now I can see the comments. Thanks for your comment, satanicpanic. That’s very telling … and it’s in line with the racist outlook when it comes to nudity on TV. I’m a big fan of the Shaka Zulu series, BTW.

  4. Without commenting on the censorship issue (I am sure many others will) I will just say that;
    1) I count myself lucky not to live in America, if this is what TV offers.
    2) I am glad not to have bothered with satellite TV in England, as this rubbish will eventually migrate here.
    Happy viewing Simon!
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

    • Ha, ha, Pete! The funny thing is, junk is not necessarily relegated to American TV, though it does get promoted as if it’s the only thing out there. It is a sad state of affairs that we do get nonsense like Dating Naked in a country that has also given us more honest examinations of sex such as Masters of Sex. Interesting dichotomy, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to make of it all. 😀

      • I was being a little tongue in cheek, as I am sure you know.
        I am well-aware that the industry there has also given us ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Breaking Bad’, and countless other amazingly good TV series. I would put ‘The Sopranos’ near the top of my all-time best list, if I did lists!
        Best wishes as always, Pete.

  5. I applaud the effort, Simon. Tackling America’s dissociative identity disorder when it comes to sex is like tilting at windmills. I’m not up to that challenge. We remain the freest Puritans around.

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