Of all the potentially objectionable things shown in last week’s episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” the sexual montage that opened the show – while extended, graphic and no doubt racy even by FX’s permissive standards – shouldn’t have cracked the top five.
Yet that was, not surprisingly, the sequence that the Parents Television Council seized upon in its latest broadside at the TV industry, using the show’s content to push for a la carte cable, which would spare subscribers who object to such fare from having to help subsidize it.
Wherever one falls on the notion of a la carte versus bundling, the fact the program’s sexual content triggered the PTC’s response says a lot about the ongoing disconnect between sex and violence when it comes to what’s deemed permissible on TV.
Admittedly, series creator Kurt Sutter’s opening salvo felt somewhat jarring – an exercise in creative muscle flexing, on a series that has earned a degree of latitude in its seventh and final season. At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone consciously tuning in to “Sons” and being surprised by what they see, and the parental advisory and timeslot make clear it’s not intended for kids.
That said, the episode in question, along with those preceding it, have contained several truly disturbing scenes of violence, involving torture and dismemberment. That included (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) two separate characters having an eye gouged out – the latter, graphically, in what amounted to an unusually literal case of biblical retribution.
All told, complaining about the sex in “Sons of Anarchy” brings to mind that old joke about the difference between the R and PG-13 movie ratings – namely, that the first involves showing a bare breast, and in the latter the breast must be covered, but its owner can be hacked to pieces with a chainsaw.
Perhaps foremost, the PTC’s criticism of FX reflects the group’s understanding that sexual content, not violence, is perceived to be the best way to rally its family-values base – a strategy that’s been borne out through the years. (The press release also accused FX of distributing “HBO-caliber pornography,” which depending on one’s point of view, is an insult to both HBO and actual pornography.)
One needn’t be a prude or professional content scold to find “Sons of Anarchy” objectionable at times, and as he acknowledged in the recent documentary “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show,” Sutter relishes testing the limits of those boundaries.
Frankly, though, there’s a certain “dog bites man” quality, at this stage, to writing “Family values group blasts TV show for sex scene,” which, given the size and passion of the audience for “Sons of Anarchy,” nevertheless makes for an attractive Web headline. (The PTC’s belated reaction cited a MediaPost piece that labeled the scene “jaw-dropping.”)
Taking TV to task for violence wouldn’t rise to the “man bites dog” level either, but by comparison, that would at least be, pardon the expression, eye-opening.