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Controversy vs. Taste
February 5, 2004
By Sebastian Wren, Ph.D

I'm a little confused by the meaning of the word "controversial." Really, anything that incites a discussion or argument can be described as "controversial," right? Let's take this year's Super Bowl as an example.

Prior to the airing of the Super Bowl, CBS announced that they were refusing to air a commercial from the organization that made what I think is a fairly non-controversial point: that our country is sinking deep in debt and if we don't do something about it, our children will have to pay it off.

It's hard to argue with that point - our federal budget deficit is larger than it has ever been, and it is growing rapidly - that's a fact of record. For some reason, however, CBS decided that point was too "controversial" for the Super Bowl, and they elected not to run the ad.

That's their prerogative, I suppose.

But it does make me wonder what CBS means by the word "controversial." For example, one of the commercials that did make the cut for the Super Bowl featured an explosion of horse flatulence setting a woman on fire. Maybe that's not "controversial." Maybe everybody agrees that burn victims (especially female burn victims) are just funny.

Similarly, the misogynistic commercial depicting a woman endlessly yelling at her husband as he blithely ignores her could be universally accepted as a fact of life - not an insulting, bigoted stereotype.

The spate of erectile dysfunction commercials is hardly "controversial," although having Mike Ditka yelling in excitement about the quality of his erection is a bit on the disturbing side. And apparently CBS didn't think that Janet Jackson's exposed breast would be "controversial," although they seem to be rethinking that one.

So on the one side - the side that CBS thinks is unacceptable - we have a subtle, tasteful commercial that quietly reminds us that the our deficit is irresponsible and that our children will suffer if we don't do something to stop the Red-Ink Republicans from driving our country ever deeper into debt.

And on the other side - the side that CBS thinks is acceptable - we have woman-hating flatulence commercials intermingled with aging men excited to be able to get an erection again, punctuated by a man violently ripping a woman's clothes off to reveal her breast to an international audience.

Last year, CBS bowed to Republican pressure and took the biographical mini-series "The Regans" off the air. It was too "controversial." Now they have refused to run this "controversial" commercial from (go to to see the commercial "Child's Play").

Speaking for myself, I would much rather CBS exercise better judgment in the "taste" department, and stop being so vigilant in the "controversy" department.


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