Published on Tuesday, February 3, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Protecting the Purity of American Children or What Exactly is Obscene?
by Brigitte Schön
Last night, February 2, the German (public) TV channel ZDF ended its prime time news program at 7.15pm with a report about the Super Bowl game the night before.
At first, viewers were treated to the display of nationalist fervor - flags flying, American virtues extolled - which is not only highly unusual in today's Europe but also leaves Europeans rather uncomfortable.
It reminds them of the times when such exhibitions of jingoism were common in Europe as well and it equally reminds them of what followed from that. In short, it reminds them of a lot of dictatorships in Europe during the last century, and they often find such pictures obscene.
Then ZDF treated the audience to the sequence where Janet Jackson's breast is briefly exposed. The commentator added that "in Puritan America", this was considered a scandal. We can assume that many Americans felt rather uncomfortable about it and considered such pictures obscene.
As American friends assure me, the going argument is "there were CHILDREN watching this!"
Ever since then, I've been pondering about the innocence and purity of American children.
One thing that struck me was that a naked female breast is considered obscene in America while it is at the same time considered an outrage that Muslem men view the entire female body as something indecent and don't want it exposed in public. I'm not quite sure why the fact that a naked breast is obscene in one culture is okay while it is considered ridiculous and a sign of oppression if other cultures find the entire body of a women from hair to toes obscene if viewed *naked".
Or, the other way round: Why is ANY part of a female body so obscene that it's not to be seen by children?
On the other hand, it is obviously not considered obscene if American children can watch the bombing of towns by their own people on prime time television and actually can watch people die "live from CNN".
It is not considered obscene if American children watch other children without limbs, amidst rubble, without any relatives in Middle East or Central Asian countries.
It is not considered obscene to watch children on TV who are starving.
It is not considered obscene to be showered with violence on TV or to play violent computer games.
It is not considered obscene to hear about minors on death row in certain US states.
None of the above seems to be viewed as something that might deeply disturb American children.
But if American children can get a glimpse of a naked breast, they are bound to be damaged for the rest of their lives, to judge from the reactions in America.
European children do after birth see a lot of naked female breasts for quite a while. Apart from that, they see a lot of naked female breasts in films, on TV, on billboards and on public beaches while they grow up. So seeing naked breasts is no big deal. Are European children as a result more violent than American children? Are they more prone to become criminals for that reason? Are they more disturbed?
Not that I know of.
Many European parents think on the other hand that their children might get damaged by violence on TV or in computer games, they might get damaged growing up in a world full of aggression and injustice, they might get damaged in a world where the poor are left to die.
So right now a lot of us are somewhat bewildered: What do American adults expect t happen when a child sees a naked breast? What kind of terrible damage are they afraid of? What incredible unspeakable trauma will occur which surely must outdo everything else an American child is subjected to in his or her life?
That they might one day find a female breast more interesting than waving their flag maybe?
Brigitte Schön (email@example.com) is an international conference interpreter of Austrian nationality and lives in Vienna, Austria.