Friday, March 24, 2006

TV Show Review: Top Chef on Bravo: I’m surprised by the Sexual Content and a Few Comments on Disney’s Buzz Lightyear

Top Chef is a new reality-based cooking themed television show airing on the Bravo channel. The gist is a competition in which chefs make individual dishes and the worst performer (in the judge’s eyes) is eliminated each week.

My children watch some reality-based television shows with my husband and I. My children also enjoy watching cooking instruction shows, mostly from the Food Network channel. I thought this might be a fun show to watch as a family, so I set the TiVo to record it. We have many discussions about behavior and how people treat each other after watching some of what goes on, on reality shows. We don't watch shows whose content is overall more inappropriate than beneficial for children to see.

Last night after everyone else was asleep I was looking at the programs which TiVo recorded which were waiting to be viewed. (I was wide awake from having drunk a cup of coffee while a guest at another homeschoolers house for a playdate that afternoon.) The description of the second Top Chef show contained a phrase stating it was about an erotic food competition. I was confused and surprised to see the word erotic in the description of a food cooking show and I wondered if the show was appropriate for my children to watch. Before we get into watching the series, if a later episode was to contain inappropriate content, I wanted to know about it. (Last week’s show was also recorded and waiting to be viewed.)

The rating system on the television did not indicate anything problematic. The show itself did not have a rating system so as a parent I don’t know if it contains language, sexual content, mature themes, etc. It was categorized as a reality-based show about cooking instruction. Period.

The main part of the show was the competition to custom creates a dessert which was erotic and sensual. The desserts would be served at a cocktail reception at fetish shop which specialized in latex and leather clothing. The main judge of the show was the owner of the fetish shop. She arrived on the scene to help announce the challenge in a tight red latex dress with a corset on the outside, an unusual hair style and dramatic makeup. Her appearance was atypical and I am sure my children would have wondered why she was dressing that way.

The contestants then created their dishes.

The contestants had to attend the cocktail party held inside the fetish shop and serve their food. The scenes depicting that portion of the show had various fetish clothing in the background. The contestants were encouraged to dress either in sexy clothing or in fetish clothing. There were 50 guests who were outfitted in fetish clothes. There were also transvestite men dressed in fetish clothing or in sexy women’s clothing. There were plenty of sexual terms being used and also sexual innuendo. One dessert was a necklace that was put onto one person, that had a cookie pendant hanging down, and the other had to eat if off of the other person’s neck.

We saw each food item being described. I found some of the names of the desserts offensive such as the ‘t’ word that means a woman’s breast. Some of the desserts visually depicted sexy items such as a cake shaped as a woman’s torso with colorful, skimpy lingerie bra and panties. Some foods were meant to illicit sensual or erotic sensations in the mouth or to be aphrodisiacs. Some of the contestants dressed in what they thought was sexy clothing while most dressed ‘normally’ but looked attractive in flattering, typical cocktail party clothing. During the judging there were comments made about what the contestants wore such as who was sexy and who was sexually attractive to the others.

There was also a mention by one of the contestants that she was happy that one of the judges of this show knew her because they had both been featured in a magazine article about ‘queer women chefs’. It seems that homosexuality is everywhere now, which is very different than even ten years ago.

This is definitely not a show I wanted my children to watch. I cannot imagine how I would explain what a fetish is. I think that at ages 5 and 8 they do not have a need to know of such things. There was way too much sexual content in the show for my children to see the show. Since we have more than enough television shows or movies to watch I deleted the TiVo’s season pass, gave the show a “one thumbs down” and nixed it off of our family’s ‘now playing’ list.

I went to bed wondering why and how it is that sex seems to be infiltrating into everything in the media? How and why is it that a cooking show was linked with sexual fetishes and that the dessert had to be erotic in nature?

Maybe I’ll take a few minutes to write the Bravo channel and the show’s producers.

I just saw on their website that a Food & Wine magazine employee is one of the judges and that Food & Wine magazine is being promoted on the Bravo website. I think I’ll let them know what I think, as well. I used to subscribe to that magazine.

The bigger picture here is that this is yet another example of how parents are challenged to figure out if certain television programs are appropriate for children. Some people feel that the present TV rating system is good enough as is to inform parents of the content of a television show, to make an informed choice. However this is an example of a failing of that system. There was nothing to help me as a parent know that this show was not appropriate for my children, I had to watch the whole show before I could determine that this episode would feature so many sexual references not just words spoken, but with images of people and also very obvious things that a child would notice, such as the different looking fetish clothing, men with masculine voices dressed as women, etc. The fact is that not all parents can sit and watch an entire show while they are alone to figure this out before their child sees the show. There is plenty of opportunity for children or teens to watch that show on their own. The parental controls I had set up on my system did not keep this show out, apparently due to the show failing to describe accurately what the content was.

I have been speaking to some friends about the current rating system and we are all in agreement that it is not working. The lines of what qualifies a show or movie for a certain rating are unknown to us as parents. More and more movies are being released with PG ratings, movies which are targeted to children as young as two (Shrek, Shrek 2 and more). I think that the powers that be in the media is blurring the ideas about what is acceptable to expose children to and we parents are in the dark.

I don’t see the point of over-sexualizing our children and teenagers. I continue to be surprised at what is discussed and shown on television, even in cartoons. Last week my children were watching the “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” cartoon on the Disney channel (the only show they watch on that channel) and I overheard this phrase “let’s go cruising for some hot chicks”. Huh? If you talk a stroll down the toddler and preschool toy aisle at your nearby big name toy store chain you will see that the target market for that show is toddlers and preschoolers. I gave the show a three thumbs down rating on my TiVo and made a new policy that Buzz Lightyear is banned in our home now. It is a shame that the original movie “Toy Story” was such a good story, and it was universally appealing to watch for children and adults alike. However with the spin-off cartoon they have morphed the content to what I had already considered twaddle, but I now realize is twaddle that has undesirable content. One of my goals in raising my two boys is that they grow into men who speak about and treat women in a respectful manner. This does not include exposing my young children to derogatory language which is commonly used by young single men when they are looking to get laid.

I could go on and on but I will stop here.

As I see shows with problematic content I will review them on my blog. My purpose for doing this is to alert my readers of shows that are displaying the ‘trickle down effect’ of sex and crude language, to children. I want to open the discussion about when ‘enough is enough’. It is one thing for adult shows to contain adult material and for consenting adults to choose to watch them, but is it really necessary to take something like a cooking show and infuse it with sex and fetishes? Is it necessary to infuse cartoons for very young children with sexual references? Are the adults who produce these shows so used to sexual content being everywhere that they think it is appropriate for all ages? And is the media really doing enough to alert unknowing parents as to the full content of what is in their shows? I don’t want my children growing up in a vacuum but I refuse to sexualize them before they are developmentally ready for it.

Addendum 3/26/06: If you want another recap of this episode which includes a listing of the dessert names, descriptions of each, and links to photos of them, go to this blog.

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1 comment:

christinemm said...

I received this comment via email from M. in Connecticut who is a homeschooling mother, who limits television viewing in their home.

I have to agree that I would consider "Top Chef" a family show, especially since it is about cooking and it was not rated in any way as a TV show with 'mature' themes. "Top Chef" is not a 'kids show', though. Note that other reality shows such as The Amazing Race are given a 'PG' rating for language.

"That was gross. It's a good thing you could review it before sitting down with the kids to watch it. It aggravates me no end when sexual content and innuendo and jokes are put into family/kids shows and programs. It is so innappropriate!!!!"