2013 was a landmark year for television; the opus of Breaking Bad came to its much-lauded conclusion, Netflix triumphed with web-streamed series House of Cards, Orange is The New Black and Arrested Development, prompting Cards star Kevin Spacey to speak out in favour of ‘binge-watching’ and echo these sentiments about the so-called ‘watercooler moment’. Beyond this, many actors and actresses famed for movies gravitated towards television and even naysayers couldn’t fight the popular opinion that we had now entered the ‘third golden age of television‘. Finally it is not only acceptable but encouraged to consider television a hobby or interest without sounding like a brainless zombie.
Beyond that however, it was also the most controversial year to date: The Red Wedding aired on HBO and became officially the most shocking moment of the year, Orange is The New Black showed explicit representations of sexual identity and gender roles as well as putting women front and centre, and True Blood showed its first male full-frontal nudity. However, fan reactions to these, such as this and this, indicated that the result of what we were seeing was more important than what we were seeing. Take the True Blood example: for six solid years everyone has got used to regularly seeing female full-frontal nudity from both extras and the main cast members in the vampire-centric show, but the internet went into shock mode the second a main male cast member showed us his wooden stake (ahem.) This video perfectly illustrates the ‘dumb double standard’ that audience reaction backs up:
Beyond this, it is (somewhat cynically) arguable that rather than eschew previous standards of censorship to actually advance equality or promote discussion around tricky or unexplored issues, the TV companies showing us this unprecedented level of violence and sex are in fact doing it for their own gain. Of course, television is an industry just like any other, to assume that decisions would be made without profit in mind would be horribly naive, but to present shocking and thought-provoking content purely to garner a reaction, therefore buzz, therefore increased viewership, seems somewhat problematic.
Rather than furthering any discussion it does in fact simply shine a light on how prudish viewers actually are; indeed, violence has become somewhat passé, so Game of Thrones had to show an ugly, appalling and incredibly shocking act of violence to get people talking. Even that, however, didn’t seem to get people talking quite as much as a black transgender woman being a main character in Orange is The New Black. Now of course, any promotion of discussion and furthered understanding around previously unexplored issues is positive, particularly in such an accessible medium, but the question remains: are networks doing it for the right reasons? Or are they simply trying to generate more tweets?
Sadly it seems censorship still has a long way to go before it’s broken down for the greater good, as opposed to greater profit.