A Writer's Journey

Selective censorship in U.S. irks sitcom fans

September 30, 2004

Last February, Janet Jackson caused a media storm with her “wardrobe malfunction” at the Superbowl halftime show. Due to this incident, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began a closer inspection of television shows, and cries of “censorship!” filled the air.

At the time, I did think it was a little unfair, but it didn’t affect me all that much. By then, I had long given up finding anything good on the major networks, and even some of the cable ones.

In my quest to find something good on television, I had stumbled across Nickelodeon’s sister channel, The N. On it, I found a Canadian show known as “Degrassi.”

The show dealt with topics the way no American television series ever has. I know that “7th Heaven” probably covered some of the serious issues of the Canadian show such as rape or drug use, but “Degrassi” never ended with a sugar coated resolution. In fact, sometimes you don’t even know the resolution by the end of the episode. In this respect, the show deals with life more realistically than other programs – after all, life doesn’t always have an answer within a convenient 25 to 55 minute time slot, right?

I thought I had hit the jackpot! What more could I ask for than a show about teenagers doing teenage things while dealing with the pressures of being an adolescent? I immersed myself into the struggles of the 20 or so teenagers the show followed.

Now, like any other faithful sitcom follower, I found myself surfing the web for “Degrassi” sites. Much to my chagrin, I began to notice some glaring discrepancies between the episode summaries on the website (naturally, based on the Canadian broadcast) and my own personal knowledge of the show. The episodes I saw on The N were being edited for “touchy” content. In fact, there were entire subjects in the original episodes that were completely taken out of the American broadcast. Specifically, the topic of abortion, addressed in a two-part episode filled with strong emotions and good points, was completely eliminated for the American version. Instead, The N only presented the story as one about the female character getting her first boyfriend. This was sweet and all, but I definitely would have preferred to see the unedited version that tackled the issue of casual dating from a much more realistic point of view.

Obviously, The N believes that Canadian teens are more mature than American teens when it comes to abortion. But there has to be a reason why this is the one topic that never got aired, right? The network showed the storyline about Paige’s rape, Ashley’s drug use, Sean’s drinking, Emma being trapped by an online predator and Marco’s coming out, but Manny’s abortion? No, we can’t show that!

Some people may argue that abortion is a particularly sensitive issue in the United States, and that’s true. However, gay marriage and homosexuality in general has also been a sensitive issue lately, and yet The N allowed the episode where Marco and Dylan shared their first kiss without hitting the edit button.

Others may say that some people would be offended by Manny choosing to end her pregnancy, but I’m a pro-lifer and I certainly would have liked to see the episode anyway, and I imagine that I’m not alone. Why not allow the reality of abortion to be addressed? Why are we so concerned with censorship in certain areas but not in others?

I’m not present in board meetings for the network and I don’t know their thought processes on this topic. I can only hope that they come to their senses and, for the upcoming season starting this Friday, lay off the edit button.



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