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Tuning out testosterone-laden TV

THERE'S almost no way to avoid it. A presence pervades the dial, lingering over every channel like the odor of dirty gym socks. It's testosterone -- lots of it. That's right, the newest trend in television is also the oldest. Men are back in charge of the airwaves -- if we ever lost our grip.

Many of the signs easily can be seen. Cable viewers have found their way to "The Man Show," with Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, a half-hour celebration of the crass, boorish beer-guzzler in all of us. If you only get the networks, you still can see UPN's "WWF Smackdown" every Thursday, a celebration of the crass, violent beer-guzzler in all of us. TBS has "Movies for Guys who like Movies," USA has "Superaction Nights" Tuesday through Friday, and even Sci-Fi is in on the act with shows like "Lexx" and "Farscape," where the ships and explosions are big, and the women, though alien, have great measurements.

Of course, the trend has a bit of balance. Lifetime channel offers somewhat of a respite from the grunting, sweaty maleness of today's programming, but usually at the cost of delving into the other extreme. And even USA deviated from the road walked via its "Superaction Nights" and "La Femme Nikita" to bring television the three-hour "Mary K. Letourneau Event." No less enjoyable trip into "relationship" programming ever has been attempted. Still, these few examples are hardly enough to outweigh the opposite trend.

It's tempting, and somewhat accurate, to say that the more testosterone-laden shows exist mainly as targeted programming. After all, your stereotypical science fiction geek dreams constantly about powerful spaceships and sexy women, the principal subjects of "Lexx." Certainly Sci-Fi bills the show in such a way as to maximize its appeal to its core audience -- male, aged 14-35. With ads citing the characters as "Assassin, love slave, idiot ... " the aim becomes obvious. Still, one must ask why the core audience so desires this programming.

After all, it's not like outlets for male hormones and aggression are rare. Despite years of advocacy and protest, violence and sex are rampant in the movies and video games. Though quieter films like "American Beauty" and "The Insider" flexed their box office muscle last year, the movie industry knows that films with big booms make big bucks. Sporting events receive more coverage than ever before, thanks to a proliferation of dedicated channels. If you want testosterone, you can find it without resorting to fictional programming.

The troubling implication of this trend and the degree to which sex and violence sell may be that they reflect an open-ended appetite for things that appeal to the darker side of our nature. Ideally, our culture would like our desire for these to be minimized -- society frowns on the abusive and the lascivious. Few forms of entertainment, however, completely avoid featuring or suggesting them. Given that we cannot avoid them entirely, our culture hopes that we at least can have enough decency to limit the amount we will watch.

The recent proliferation of programming that celebrates our lesser natures, however, may indicate that the desire for such entertainment may be division dumplings -- the more you eat, the more you want. If we are inundated with opportunities to blow up game characters, destroy virtual villages, and plunder computerized countries, we shouldn't need to further fill our need for violence by watching an eight-foot giant piledrive a woman wearing a black leather bikini. Nor should we, if given the chance to sit with a beer watching sports all day, feel a need to swig one down while an old man plays dirty songs on a piano to the sight of girls bouncing on trampolines. It's just not necessary.

Of course, television never has been about what's necessary. It's about what sells. Testosterone-drsiven programming exists because people are watching it, and buying the products advertised while it's on. As long as people enjoy watching shows strongly tied to sex and violence, channels will broadcast them.

Testosterone programming won't go away anytime in the near future. Even if the commercial success of such programs dies down in the short run, there will be a lingering effect from the run we're experiencing now. So avoiding the maleness overkill presently ruling television is almost impossible. Chances are you'll flip to a movie that feeds the trend if you turn the TV on.

So cut the cable.

(Sparky Clarkson's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)


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