This Morning’s Bondage Backfire

 

Ever wanted to watch Philip Schofield test a nipple clamp? No? Well you’re not alone.

In February ITV’s staple show This Morning aired a segment entitled ‘Bondage for Beginners’. Between the bemused discomfort of Schofield and co-presenter Christine Bleakely and the cringe-worthy demonstrations from two smiley, underwear-clad models, it was a feature unlikely to incite much sexual allure and far more likely to provoke laughter. However the segment, shown at 10.30am with advice from ‘sexpert’ Annabelle Knight, resulted in over 120 complaints to media watchdog.

The complaints were in objection to the ‘gratuitous’ nature of the segment and for containing imagery and discussion unsuitable for younger viewers. Ofcom now aim to investigate the suitability of the BDSM tutorial. Yet, while the Twitter cries of ‘Dear God, won’t somebody think of the children’ may be identifying the obvious unsuitability of the feature, is there not an element of irony to this backlash of moral disapproval?

The first flaw in the cry of objection lies in the fact that, by 10.30am, children old enough to have any form of comprehension of the nature of the segment should be in school (unless of course the complaints came solely from the parents of children absent from the classroom due to illness – in which case, they were surely watching Frozen).

Putting aside the unlikelihood of the feature reaching the ears of many children, the concern for the corruption of childhood innocence is a sentiment applied inconsistently. When music videos and song lyrics ooze with the glorification of misogynistic values or newspapers explicitly marketed as ‘family orientated’ persist with the tiresome trope of sexually objectifying women (nipple or no nipple), the call for the consideration of children is infrequent or, if suggested, ignored.

Yet, when a programme almost farcical in its stereotypical marketing towards women airs a segment about sex, anxiety over the subsequent impact on younger viewers is suddenly of principal concern.

This Morning has never been, or, to my knowledge, claimed to be a programme for children. From their regular sex advice feature to interviewing a pole dancer with the ‘world’s largest breasts’ (stay classy ITV), a thread of adult content has always run through the daytime show.

Indeed, Schofield has himself jumped to the programme’s defence with almost comical outrage: “As far as I’m concerned” he bemoaned, “This Morning has always pushed the boundaries, Richard and Judy did it when they launched Viagra for the first time, the first time we did a testicular examination, the first time we did an examination to hopefully safeguard yourself against breast cancer, people were outraged, up in arms. This was shocking, shocking television. Since the first day This Morning did that, we’ve saved countless lives…”

It may be debatable whether This Morning is truly as innovative as Schofield claims. But, he has a point. While critical derision towards the programme may not be new, these campaigns provide evidence of the adult demographic ITV aim to reach. Should concern for the sexualisation of childhood not be targeted at the media actively targeting and aiming towards children?

While Schofield may have been referring to the programme’s more health conscious segments, he went on to discuss the details of the controversial feature in question: “ Everyone went to see the movie [Fifty Shades of Grey, to which the segment related – and further proof of the adult-intended audience of ITV] and if you look at the stuff we had on there, it was very innocent stuff and also spectacularly when the item had finished the things we had were all sold out in moments. So behind those closed, outraged doors of middle England, what they were secretly doing was going to buy this stuff online.”

Yet, however Schofield may wish to protest, This Morning is very ‘middle-England’. It’s a programme designed to engage with the soap-watching, centre-right, reality TV invested sentiments of the mainstream consciousness. The brightly-coloured, living-room decor of their studio symbolises this image of charming inoffensiveness –it’s the nightmare of the cultural cynic.

Whether genuine concern for the corruption of childhood was really the crux of the objection for those complaining is hard to say. Yet what this ludicrous controversy does symbolise is the convoluted relationship we, as a public – or at least the ‘middle-Englanders’, have with sex.

Copies of the gratuitous Daily Star ‘newspaper’ are left open on public transport while women are shamed for breast feeding in public; the campaign for more truthful, detailed sex education rages on against tiresome objection as The Sun offer Disney toys next to images of naked women; across the country mothers took their newborns to the parent and baby screenings of Fifty Shades of Grey while This Morning was attacked for discussing the intricacies of consensual relationships before the watershed – confused? Me too.

Ofcom will deliver a verdict on ‘Bondage for Beginners’ soon, yet I doubt it will be the last instance of its kind.

 

This article was originally published in Qmunicate magazine

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