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September 30 2003

'Seeing Red' criticised by UK TV watchdog. The BSC ruled that it had strayed from the expected fantasy element and 'had gone beyond acceptable boundaries for the time of transmission' (page 14 of the Adobe document).

If you can't open the Adobe document, the BBC News Site reports on the Broadcasting Standards Commission findings:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer once again came in for strong criticism for its depiction of violence and a attempted rape as well as its homosexual content screened at 1845.

BBC Two defended the screening by saying the violence was "cartoon-like" and that the homosexual storyline between characters Willow and Tara had been a long-running one.

But the BSC said the combination of the violent scenes, rape and homosexuality saw it stray from its fantasy element.

In 2001, an episode of Buffy was criticised by the BSC for showing sex scenes before the watershed.


What's ironic is that the BBC did edit that episode for transmission at 6.45pm and fair enough that they defended it but choosing to describe the violence as 'cartoon-like' is not a term I would have used.

Yeah, it is strange that the BBC would describe the violence in "Seeing Red" as 'cartoon-like'. What's equally as strange (though not unexpected) is that the BSC seems to think that the term fantasy and the fantasy genre imply that everything in the work of fiction will be light and airy. I dunno, I think of fantasy and the old "rape and pillage" phrase comes to mind...there was attempted rape and instead of sword violence we had gun violence...how didn't any of that fit into the fantasy genre?

Even more offensive (though again, not unexpected from one of these increasingly irrelevent watchdog organizations) is the idea that homosexuality has no place in fantasy. Hey, welcome to the year 2003, and by the way, have ya read any unedited Greek mythology lately?
Once again some watchdog group publishes something that's running the line of being offensive and being funny, surely neither of which are intended. I can't say much more than Kris above (I agree), except to wonder if people would have complained if there was heterosexual content at 6:45. Shriek! Surely that isn't suitable for that timeslot! Those seven people who complained really have to open their eyes, or as you say, read some Greek history - social norms were somewhat different then.

However, admittedly, showing Buffy at 6:45 because it is somehow still perceived as a kids show is probably not the smartest decision made by the BBC; showing it later, uncut, would be far preferable.
The BBC do show an uncut version late on a Friday night (can vary from 11.30 pm to 1am).
For those, like me, who were wondering, here's a description of the Watershed.

Amazingly, the BSC seems to be quasi-governmental. Anyone know if they have any actual power over the BBC, or if they just get to complain?
This article might help.

Relevant excerpt:

It publishes its findings in a Complaints Bulletin (which is widely reported in the press) and in serious cases may require the offending broadcaster to do so on air or in print as well

Presumably there is some sort of similar semi autonomous
government bodies in the US, Canada and Australia?
When Dawnie is in the hall and she sees that Will & Tara are back together, I took that to mean DeKnight, Gershman and Whedon were saying (either with intent or not) that this scene is perfectly alright for young people. It's only not alright for adults that can't discern between a mature, loving relationship among two people of the same gender and gross slimy regurgitated plop.

There was no nudity. There was only the indication that sexual activity had occurred. We were politely spared the intimate details. The only people who would want this censored, before or after 9pm, would be homophobics.

What offends me may not offend you, and what offends any group of people may not offend all, so the decision regarding what is not socially acceptable under various circumstances is abstract and malleable. Censorship of any kind is a subjective violation of individual rights.
There is a vast difference between defining appropriate times for mature themes and censorship.

I would not want my 7 year old exposed to the themes of that episode - or, frankly, to Buffy at all. The Watershed concept makes it easier for parents to not have to watch the kids like a hawk in front of the television.

As the adage goes, kids are raised by society as much as they are by their parents. This complaint was accurate, and really most of Buffy is not appropriate for younger kids.

Censorship is not the issue here.
Is it the violence, the attempted sexual abuse, or the homosexuality that you wouldn't want your 7 year old exposed to?

Two of those are valid.
I'd want my 7 year old to know about all three. What you know doesn't scare you.

But then I don't have a 7 year old, so what do I know?

My viewing wasn't restricted at that age and I turned out all right. I think.
Just as a point of fact, the U.S. has no quasi-governmental censorship groups for television other than the Federal Communications Commission, which never makes judgements, but does accept complaints from individuals.

Actually, the words "governmental" and "censorship" are -- in least in theory -- kept very far apart on account of our first amendment, which is, thankfully, quite specific about the government getting involved with any type of speech. (Even that prefix "quasi" makes us free speech types queasy.)

If someone complains to the FCC, then they can become involved, but they're pretty restricted. What they can and cannot do is really complicated, but, believe it or not, at least in theory our producers are pretty much completely free as long as they avoid the "seven dirty words" (which may not be down to six!) and something called "obsenity" (basically porn, soft or hard -- though the definition is frighteningly fluid)

Now, the reality differs a great deal, we have countless watchdog groups who can and do organize boycotts, etc. And there's all sorts of caterwhauling that goes on from politicians from time to time. In fact, most Americans don't even believe in the first amendment when they read it! So, de facto censorship is very real here, but de jure censorship, at least for the time being, doesn't exist.

The closest thing we have to a governmental, or quasi-governmental censorhip agency is the MPAA, the people who do our movie ratings. It's by Jack Valenti, a former toady...I mean speechwriter for...President Lyndon Johnson. However, the organization is purely private, at least on paper, though it was instigated to prevent government from getting involved.

A similar -- though far, far worse -- event happened in the U.S. with comic books and largely shaped the world of comics that helped shape Joss Whedon. After a lot of ruckus kicked up by horror and crime comics, the comics publishers created the truly draconian comics code, which made the old U.S. Hays Code, which forbade the word "damn" -- also technically non-governmental -- seem licentious by comparison. That was the world that Stan Lee operated in for most of his tenure, and thus is "Buffy", sort of.
Whether censorship is government controlled, deemed by the masses, corporate policed, or otherwise a byproduct of the civilized society, it stunts growth and restricts progress, but can never stop the inevitable. I mean, if some extremists had their way, young people would never hear any four letter words or worst of all that three letter S-E-X word *gasp!* However, somehow we keep populating the planet with more humans. I think it's absurd to try and hide sexuality from anyone. It's like telling them that breathing or sleep is bad for them.

It takes a village to raise a child perhaps, but not all of us in the village have the best interests of your child at heart. Even so, adolescents need to be exposed to differing opinions, so they can make mature and informed decisions. Protecting one's child can arguably stunt the child's growth. Sometimes important lessons come from the most unlikely places.

Censorship prevents that learning. There's an endless debate as to whether or not that's a good thing. I'm not suggesting all children need a field trip to the red light district, but there is a common ground where, either under controlled circumstances or randomly on their own, children will learn the truth that's out there. A parent has to either lead the charge in regards to their child, or hold on to the reins and pray to their god for a miracle that just won't come.

Seeing Red will not scar any child at any age. There is some stuff out there that's so bad it even makes me think well MAYBE sometimes in extreme circumstances censorship is tolerable, but Seeing Red is so far away from that extreme as to be laughable. A series that talks about black magic and vampires drawing blood from humans by biting them and a woman who uses violence to resolve problems is okay, but two mature young women having a mature and loving relationship - that's just going too far!

*rolls eyes* I'm living in Bizarro World really I am.
Well said, ZachsMind.

(oh my god, I just made a 'me too' post.)
Indeed very well said. I just find it amazing that it was written so simply and matter-of-factly that viewers complained of 'homosexuality' and that it was reviewed as a valid complaint.

To me that is the same as saying 'Oh viewers complaint because there were black people in the episode.' or something similar. There was nothing explicit about the Tara/Willow scenes in that ep, and if one of them had been a guy, no one would have complained. It takes eps like Smashed, Wrecked or Gone for people to start getting offended at the sexuality if it's heterosexual in nature.
So here the offense was basically the homosexuality itself, and the fact it was treated like it was 'gasp' normal.

This astounds me. That official organisations look into this seriously.

But then politicians in America say proudly how gays shouldn't be allowed to be married either. To me they may as well say black people shouldn't be allowed in the front of the bus.

Simply astounding. And no, I'm not gay. Nor black. And I used to live in Holland and now I live in the US. And it's great here but sometimes I have to swallow a little at stuff I hear. And that the UK can still be on par on this stuff is disappointing at the very least.
My general feeling is that British TV programmes are pretty liberal and open minded. We are, after all, the nation that gave the rest of the world award winning and thought provoking dramas such as "Queer as Folk", "The Second Coming", "Bloody Sunday", "Messiah", "Clocking Off" and "Spooks" to name but a few.

Here in the UK, terresterial networks show gay relationships in prime time soap operas and dramas (and don't sensationalise them) which seems fairly progressive to me and the majority of viewers accept it for what it is. Two people in a normal adult relationship. Apart from Buffy the Vampire Slayer I have yet to see the same sort of theme in any drama by the big 5 networks in the States.

And since we have a system (set up by the government) in place where a viewer can complain about a TV programme and they know something can be done about it (if their complaint is valid), is on the whole a damn sight more reliable and open than letting pressure groups (who usually have their own hidden agenda) or do nothing self regulatory bodies deal with it. It enforces the idea that networks are accountable to the viewers and not to the advertisers and such like. The BSC may have rulings that I personally disagree with but I accept that they are there for a good reason.

And quite frankly I disagree with the idea that 'Seeing Red' would not scar a child of any age. Children around the ages of 7-10 do not have the emotional maturity to deal with the attempted rape of a lead character (who also gets shot at the end of the episode) and the death of a much loved character.

BtVS from around season 4 became a more adult show with the development of themes that were appropriate for the characters who became adults. Personally, I wouldn't have made the decision to show season 6 in 6.45pm timeslot. I would have had it on later in the evening. And if I had a young child, they would not be watching the show until they reached a certain age where I felt they could understand the issues that show dealt with.
I do have a 7-year-old son. He was my Buffy buddy until Hush. I put a stop to his viewing with that one. Way too scary. However, just because I won't let my child watch something I feel he's not ready for, doesn't mean I myself won't lap it up with a spoon. Yes everything got darker. Who doesn't know this? The quality of the television program didn't suffer from it. Not one bit. As the show went on, it "grew up" right along with its characters. It got sexier, took on a boatload of bigger problems, and it also got scarier.

Joss even said in one of the commentaries on the DVDs, "Buffy's a young woman now kiddos, time to leave the room..." or something very close to that. And Willow and Tara? Please! What a sweet, darling, loving relationship they had! What mortal being could possibly take offense? Buncha narrow-minded philistines.

All this claptrap about whats "appropriate" from these watchdog groups really peeves me. Personal choice, anyone? And if you don't want your child seeing something he's unprepared for, gee, I don't know... turn it OFF?
Just a couple more thoughts (my very long statement being more or less factual and just tinged with my own opinions).

I do think it's ironic that this episode in particular gained such attention. My suspicion is that it probably is mostly from the overall dark tone rather than anything else. There was pretty explicit stuff about Willow and Tara's sexuality -- expressed in song, no less -- in "Once More with Feeling."

Of course, given the pretty explicit heterosexuality by TV standards in various episodes of seasons 4-6, there is probably some hypocracy on that score -- and you can probably treble that over here in the U.S. where our "Bible Belt" still rules a great deal of the politics. (And imagine how much louder the caterwhauling if, instead of Willow, it had been Zander who'd realized his gayness in season 4 and he got to express those feelings in a forbidden relationship with Riley! Imagine what that song from "OMWF" would have been like and the public reaction!)

All that aside, I think it was the attempted rape and the shocking murder that did it. You can tell from the way the comments were written that their reaction was "my goodness, there is too much reality in this fantasy."

This is sort of similar to the reaction here to comic books for grown-ups, which have been subjected to far stronger censorship that any other media because it's a wrongly deemed to be a medium strictly for kids. (As far as I know, comics are the only field in recent times in which people have actually been convicted of the "crime" of "obscenity." The not-infamous-enough Mike Diana case being the worst example.)

I'm also reminded of an incident that's happened here with our rating's board when a film (I think it was Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover") receieved an "X" (no one under 18 admitted) rating.

The filmmakers asked if anything could be removed to make the film an "R" (no one under 17 without parent or guardian). They were told "nothing."

The film was being rated X not for anything it showed, just for its theme and story.

Now THAT's censorship, and it stinks.

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