There was an episode of Blue Heelers on a couple of years ago which received a lot of media coverage for its envelope-pushing sex scenes, which, in all fairness, were pretty risque for free-to-air prime-time television.
The storyline in questioned focused around Ben Stewart, a man who just cannot get his personal shit together, and his anonymous fling with a woman. They meet in the pub at the same time every week before going off to do the deed and going their separate ways until the next week. Ben explains to one of his copper colleagues that he doesn’t know her last name, or how to contact her. If she didn’t show up one night, he wouldn’t have a clue where to find her.
The woman ends up dying as a result of her connections to organised crime, and it serves as something of a wake-up call to Ben; he didn’t even know this woman’s last name until she was shot dead and identified by her family. I’m all for sexual liberty and sleeping with whoever you want so long as its fun, safe and consensual – but this was more the case of two people using sex to obliterate, for a hour or so at least, their emotional emptiness.
And that’s what I found interesting about the episode. Free-to-air prime time television is pretty tame in terms of sexual content allowed; shows like Sex and the City and Nip/Tuck are both on pay-TV in the US, although they broadcast on free-to-air over here, albeit in late timeslots. Despite the fact that plenty of violence is allowed (and are any other Australian viewers noticing that All Saints is getting increasingly graphic in its surgeries?), sex beyond the standard two-people-kissing-cut-to-them-in-bed-afterwards is a no-no.
Except, dare I suggest, when the sex in question is shown as the action of two self-destructive people? Basically, if sex is presented as unhealthy, then it’s OK to show graphically. But present it as something healthy, happy, consenting adults can enjoy: oh, no, we can’t have that.
I think this is a throwback to the Hays code, where sex could not be “˜presented attractively’. The upshot of this was that the hooker and the villain could be getting it on from sundown to sunrise, and so long as they both met nasty ends. But the hero and damsel in distress couldn’t be seen doing something so vulgar, because, well, people might get ideas that you could be a good person and, God forbid, enjoy sex.
To break it down; in all the other relationships in the show’s thirteen-year run, either long-term relationships or flings where the two people were adult enough to realise it wasn’t working and go back to being friends, you saw nothing more then the couple kissing, then a cut to them in bed after (with those custom-made V-shaped sheet that reach the man’s waist but the woman’s chest). When they finally do a graphic storyline, it’s in part to facilitate a main character’s destructive cycle. Healthy sex = tame and conservative. Unhealthy sex = raunchy and risquÃ©.
To top it all off, there was no reason the woman had to die. She could have enjoyed the same wake-up call Ben did; what the hell am I doing, having sex with strangers? I think I’ll go to a shrink instead of going to bed with someone I don’t know. Or maybe it was that she needed to die in order for Ben to have his wake-up call. I can just see the writers saying (and here my tongue is planted firmly in cheek) who can we sacrifice in order to make Ben realise how low he stooped? I know, we’ll make it some random woman he has anonymous sex with.
Blue Heelers generally has decent character developments and portrayals. The reasoning (or what I perceive to be the reasoning) behind that storyline was so entrenched that it’s second nature to most people, I think; sex has to be polite, off-screen, unless it’s meant to be destructive, then you can amp up the raunchiness. Despite the fact the Hays code disintegrated fifty years ago, we are still feeling its effects when it comes to themes like sex and gender roles.