CITY-DT re The Long Weekend

ontario regional Panel
CBSC Decision 13/14-0046
2014 CBSC 1
C. Cowie (ad hoc), D.-Y. Leu (ad hoc), J. Pungente, A. Wylie

The facts

The Long Weekend is a comedy feature film starring Chris Klein and Brendan Fehr.  It is a US/Canada/UK co-production and was released in 2005.  The plot of the film follows brothers Cooper and Ed Waxman, both of whom appear to be in their mid-twenties.  Cooper is a fun-loving playboy and aspiring actor who does not take life too seriously.  In contrast, Ed is more serious, successful and has achieved a stable career in advertising.  When Ed loses both his long-time girlfriend and his job, Cooper decides that Ed should have a wild weekend with the goal of having sex with multiple women.  The movie follows their antics; none of Cooper’s schemes go as planned.

The film contains numerous instances of coarse language including the word “fuck”.  It also features numerous scenes of sexual activity, as well as frequent discussions about sex and comments about women and their appearances.

For example, early on in the movie, there is a flashback to Ed’s college days in which he walks in on his dormitory roommate having sex with a young blonde woman.  The woman’s breasts are clearly visible as she bounces up and down while straddling the roommate.

In the scene in which Ed discovers his girlfriend, Cathy, cheating on him, he walks into the bedroom of their home and finds her in bed with his former college roommate.  Cathy lifts her head out from under the covers with her mouth full, the implication being that her mouth is full of semen.  She swallows it loudly before speaking to Ed.

In another scene, Cooper is showing Ed photographs that young Japanese women have sent him as their fan mail to him, since he is now a spokesmodel for a Japanese whisky.  These women are shown in provocative poses and Cooper comments, “How’d you like to have that wrapped around your cock, huh?  Oh, dirty, dirty.  But I’d do her.”

In yet another scene, Cooper and Ed are at the apartment of two young women whom Cooper knows.  Cooper and one of the women go into a bedroom, while Ed and the other woman remain in the living room.  When Cooper and the woman emerge, Ed notices semen dripping down the woman’s leg.  She wipes it up with her finger; the camera is then focussed on the other characters’ faces as they listen to the woman’s slurping and gurgling noise, which implies that she is ingesting the semen.

Other scenes of the movie continue in much the same vein (more detailed descriptions and transcriptions of the relevant scenes can be found in Appendix A).  Throughout the film, Ed is a reluctant participant in Cooper’s debauchery and insists that he would rather spend time at his office trying to salvage his job.  In one scene, Ed explains to Cooper that the relationship he had with Cathy was special because “it was about so much more than sex” and that they had genuinely cared for each other.  Ed eventually strikes up a conversation with a woman, Ellen, who lives in his apartment building.  She is genuinely kind to him, helping him with a cut on his forehead and making him a sandwich.  Ed learns she is an accomplished photographer.  They do end up having sex, but it is clear that they have a more substantial connection than the women with whom Cooper tried to set Ed up.  The ending of the movie suggests that Ed and Ellen are starting a committed relationship.

CITY-DT broadcast The Long Weekend on September 7, 2013 from 9:00 to 11:00 pm.  A 14+ classification appeared for 15 seconds at the beginning of the broadcast.  The icon was not rebroadcast at the beginning of the second hour.  CITY-DT also broadcast the following viewer advisory in audio and video format at the beginning of the movie and coming out of every commercial break:

This program contains scenes of violence, coarse language, nudity and mature themes.  Viewer discretion is advised.

The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast dated September 7.  A viewer was concerned that the depiction of women in the film was sexist and misogynist because it presented women purely as sex objects and gave the impression that all women are willing to participate in any type of sexual behaviour.  CITY wrote to the complainant on November 1, pointing out that it aired the film at 9:00 pm, the hour at which it is acceptable to broadcast more adult fare, and included detailed viewer advisories.  The station acknowledged that the broadcast should have been rated 18+ rather than 14+, but disagreed that it promoted women as sex objects because the scenes were between consenting adults and were relevant to the plot development.  The complainant filed her Ruling Request on November 7, noting that she did not accept CITY’s arguments and providing detailed examples of what she considered problematic content.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

 

The Decision

The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code, Violence Code and Code of Ethics:

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 3 – Negative Portrayal

In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.  Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 4 – Stereotyping

Recognizing that stereotyping is a form of generalization that is frequently simplistic, belittling, hurtful or prejudicial, while being unreflective of the complexity of the group being stereotyped, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no unduly negative stereotypical material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 8 – Exploitation

a)         Broadcasters shall refrain from the airing of programming that exploits women, men or children.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations

Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:

CAB Violence Code, Article 4.0 – Classification

[As provided in P.N. CRTC 1997-80, “classifications should be applied, at a minimum, to children’s programming (programs intended for children under 12 years of age), drama, ‘reality-shows’ (reality-based dramatic programs), feature films, promotions for any of these programs and advertisements for theatrical releases”.  They must be selected in accordance with the following levels and be applied in accordance with the Icon Use Protocols and Technical Specifications approved by the CRTC in June 1997 and implemented by the broadcasters in September 1997.]

Icon Use Protocols

Frequency

The rating icon is to be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the program.  It is expected the Americans will have their ratings up for 15 seconds.  For programs which run longer than one hour, the icon is to be repeated at the beginning of the second hour.  These are minimal use standards; stations may wish to use the icons more frequently on programs with particularly sensitive content.

Classifications for English-language Broadcasters

14+ – Over 14 Years

Programming with this classification contains themes or content elements which might not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14.  Parents are strongly cautioned to exercise discretion in permitting viewing by pre-teens and early teens without parent/guardian supervision, as programming with this classification could deal with mature themes and societal issues in a realistic fashion.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

 

18 + – Adults

Intended for viewers 18 years and older.

This classification applies to programming which could contain any or all of the following content elements which would make the program unsuitable for viewers under the age of 18.

Violence Guidelines

Other Content Guidelines

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 11 – Viewer Advisories

To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other material susceptible of offending viewers, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory

Suggested language for suitable viewer advisories is outlined in Appendix A [of the code].  The suggestions are meant as possible illustrations; broadcasters are encouraged to adopt wording which is likeliest to provide viewers with the most relevant and useful information regarding the programming to which it applies.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the broadcast of the challenged film.  The Panel concludes that CITY-DT did not violate any of the provisions of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, but it did violate Article 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

 

The complainant’s primary concern was the representation of women.  She characterized the film as “misogynistic” and argued that it stereotyped women as readily willing to participate in a variety of sex acts.  She also argued that the film objectified women and constituted “sex-ploitation”.  She did not consider that the fact there was one “normal” woman towards the end of the movie excused all the other negative representation.

The Panel considers that the portrayal of females in this film was to be expected of this genre of vulgar, sexually-focused comedy.  Despite the complainant’s contentions to the contrary, the women involved in the sexual acts were consenting adults and they merely represented some, but not all, women.  Their characters were exaggerated as were most of the characters and scenarios depicted in the film.

The Panel also observes that many of the male characters did not come off much better.  Cooper, in particular, is portrayed as unsuccessful, immature and superficial.  Some of the other, secondary male characters, such as Ed’s friend at the bar and his co-worker, are depicted as losers or jerks. 1

In contrast, and perhaps most importantly, Ed is clearly presented as the “hero” of the movie and he is the one who continually demonstrates respect for women and disdain for Cooper’s playboy lifestyle.  It is repeatedly made clear that Ed is seeking a serious, committed relationship rather than the meaningless one-night-stands preferred by his brother.  Moreover, he only re-achieves success in his career once he has found such a relationship.  The woman with whom he finds this relationship, Ellen, is intelligent and successful herself, and obviously has considerably more substance than the women with whom Cooper cavorts.  Both the character of Ellen and Ed’s view of women in general serve to counter any negative portrayals or stereotypes shown in other aspects of the film.

 

Broadcasters are required to display classification icons in the upper left-hand corner of the screen in order to inform viewers of the intended audience age group for the program.  The Icon Use Protocols are perfectly clear with respect to when and how often the icon must appear:  “For programs which run longer than one hour, the icon is to be repeated at the beginning of the second hour.”  Failure to do so constitutes a breach of the Classification requirements set out in relation to Article 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code. 2  CITY-DT did not rebroadcast the icon at the top of the second hour and, as a result, violated that code provision.

 

The icon that did appear at the beginning of the broadcast was 14+.  CITY itself acknowledged that that level appeared in error and the film should have been rated 18+.  The Panel agrees that the higher classification was more appropriate.  While the 14+ descriptor allows for “strong or frequent use of profanity” and “scenes of nudity and/or sexual activity”, 18+ contains stronger language, namely, “graphic language” and “explicit portrayals of sex and/or nudity”.

In the Panel’s view, there is no question that the language was “graphic” and the sex scenes “explicit” in The Long Weekend.  Moreover, virtually every scene in the movie contained either a depiction of actual sexual activity or a vulgar, detailed description of a sexual act.  The sheer quantity of sexually explicit material, along with the overall tone of the movie, pushes The Long Weekend into the 18+ category.  CITY-DT therefore breached Article 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code for displaying the incorrect rating on this broadcast.  The Panel notes, however, that the station made the entirely correct choice to broadcast the film at 9:00 pm, the time at which broadcasters are allowed to broadcast sexually explicit material.

 

The CBSC has consistently found that broadcasters must provide detailed information in their viewer advisories about the potentially offensive content in any program. 3   Vague terms such as “mature themes” or “adult content”, while applicable in some cases, should not be used as “catch-all” phrases to cover all types of potentially objectionable material.  Instead, broadcasters must specify whether the program contains nudity, violence, coarse language or sexual content.  Such detail is required in order to be of the most assistance to viewers; some viewers may be troubled, for example, by violence but not coarse language, while others may have concerns about sexual activity, but not violence.  Indicating the precise nature of the content allows viewers to make informed choices for their households.  The indiscriminate use of advisories without careful regard to whether they are called for and, if so, what specific program content makes them necessary, does not meet this objective.

In this case, CITY’s advisories appropriately alerted viewers to the “violence, coarse language, nudity and mature themes”.  The Panel recognizes that all of those elements were present in the film, but CITY failed to mention also the sexual activity.  The Panel considers that “nudity” and “mature themes” do not adequately cover “sexual activity” because there can be scenes with nudity but no sexual activity (such as the scene in this movie where Cooper and Ed visit a strip club), and scenes with sexual activity but no nudity (such as the scene where Ed and Ellen have sex; they are under covers, but their movements, noises and words make it very clear that they are having sex and reach climax).  The Panel notes that any of the phrases “sexual content”, “sexual activity” or “sexual material” would have been acceptable.  It also reminds broadcasters to ensure that the advisories they put on any broadcast do in fact adequately address the content of any particular program.  CITY’s failure to include “sexual activity” in its advisories in this case constitutes a breach of Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant.  The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, CITY-DT provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast.  That the complainant continued to disagree on the point about representation of women does not diminish in any way CITY’s efforts to be responsive to the complainant.  The Panel also notes that CITY acknowledged its error with respect to the classification level.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

Announcement Of The Decision

CITY-DT is required to:  1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which The Long Weekend was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CITY-DT.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CITY breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code and Code of Ethics in its broadcast of the film The Long Weekend on September 7, 2013.  CITY failed to display a classification icon at the beginning of the second hour of the broadcast.  The 14+ rating should have been 18+.  CITY breached Article 4 of the Violence Code on those accounts.  It also failed to mention “sexual content” in its viewer advisories contrary to Clause 11 of the Code of Ethics.

 

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

 

1 See the following previous decisions in which the CBSC has found that certain types of depictions of women do not violate any codes, particularly if they are justified by the plot/context, or balanced by alternative portrayals or equally negative portrayals of men:  CHCH-TV re an episode of Baywatch (CBSC Decision 94/95-0045, August 23, 1995); CKX-TV re National Lampoon’s Animal House (CBSC Decision 96/97-0104, December 16, 1997); CTV re The Sopranos (CBSC Decision 00/01-0130+, March 8, 2001); TQS re the movie Film de peur (CBSC Decision 02/03-0940, April 22, 2004); SRC re Bye Bye 2008 (CBSC Decision 08/09-0620+, March 17, 2009).

 

2 Showcase re the movie Rats (CBSC Decision 99/00-0772, August 23, 2001); CTV re The Sopranos (Season 2) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0104+, May 9, 2002); OUTtv re the film L.I.E. (CBSC Decision 09/10-1703, January 7, 2011).

 

3 Teletoon re Team America: World Police (CBSC Decision 07/08-1011, August 7, 2008); G4 Tech TV re Superjail! (CBSC Decision 09/10-0078, April 1, 2010); The Comedy Network re South Park (CBSC Decision 09/10-1432 & -1562, October 5, 2010); BITE TV re The Conventioneers (CBSC Decision 10/11-0627, July 12, 2011); TV5 re Le sexe autour du monde (“Japan”) (CBSC Decision 11/12-1648, October 24, 2012).