Yesterday on the treadmill, my daily dose of cable TV leads me to Episode 5 of Dr. 90210: "If It Ain't Fixed, Don't Break It." For Taryn, a young transsexual, it's about that time; time to trade in the hand she was dealt and pick up a pair. Taryn has probably been on a hormone regimen for some time; she is a wisp of thing, more feminine even than I, with porcelain skin and -- I only mention this because Dr. Alter made such a issue out of it -- very small nipples. Apparently this, coupled with a lack of breast tissue, will make it difficult to shimmy Taryn's implants inside and fill 'er up, as the medical types say. While she has no breasts, her body is reedy and smooth and (save for a few hanging bits concealed beneath her skirt) she looks every bit a girl. So it's a bit jarring at first to see her standing there nude from the waist up. An uncensored topless woman is not a sight to which you're typically treated on American TV -- especially at 5:30 in the afternoon. But I suppose, as far as the censors are concerned, Taryn is still a man, and so we're permitted to see her, itty bitty nipples and all.
But then -- a change! Halfway through the surgery, suddenly we don't view Taryn the same way. Which is perhaps the whole point, but still -- I'm more than a little put off when, the moment that deflated breast implant pokes through Taryn's chest wall, suddenly her nipples are off limits to the viewing public and the blurry patches of censorship appear. "Here lies a woman," they seem to cry, their fuzzy fingers shielding our eyes. "Thou shalt not peek!"
Later in the episode we meet a young mother who visits Dr. Alter to repair a torn labia. (I tuned in after the part that presumably explained how her poor vagina came to be that way. Sort of glad I missed it.) What they revealed: A crude (as in 'undetailed,' not 'vulgar') illustration of the state of affairs between the young lady's legs. What they concealed: The tiny strips of flesh excised and laid unceremoniously on the surgical table. It was hard to tell through the pixelation but I gathered they looked like dehydrated earthworms, the kind you see shriveling like so many sun-dried tomatoes on the sidewalk in summer. Hardly recognizable as female genitalia. Not at all censor-worthy, if you ask me.
Now, maybe I'm missing something here, but the message I took away from all this was: "Caution! Female Flesh: Not Safe for Public Viewing!" Why can we look at an illustrated vagina but not at the quarter ounce of unidentifiable skin that once surrounded it? Why is it acceptable to see the nipples of an individual who is, for all intents and purposes, a female being, but not kosher to view said nipples an hour later with a water balloon inside? We see the rest of the breast. They display the unconscious patient propped up on the operating table, newly minted rack gleaming like two scoops of vanilla Haagen Dazs on a banana split. But the cherries -- the cherries are what make the sundae whole. And they've been wholly obscured. Yes, we know they're there... but only because we're not allowed to see them.
American censors: big boobs, and plenty of 'em.
(Related: Check out this little piece in Salon, "What Happens When Your Country Isn't Weird About Sex?" And then fire up your passport.)