PTC: With 'Fifty Shades' Trailer, 'Today' is 'Helping to Promote Mommy Porn'

2:19 PM PST 07/24/2014 by Hilary Lewis
Universal Pictures
A scene from the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trailer.

The watchdog group finds the morning show's promotion and airing of the trailer for a movie version of EL James' erotic novel "very troubling" and thinks an NC-17 rating would be warranted for the film.

The Parents Television Council is slamming NBC's Today for airing the first trailer for the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey during its 8 a.m. hour. The family-values watchdog group is also troubled by the show's "excessive" promotion of the clip, which began days ago and occurred from the start of Thursday morning's show at 7 a.m. ET.

"It just really seems kind of excessive," PTC director of grassroots education and advocacy Melissa Henson tells The Hollywood Reporter of Today's promotion of the first trailer for the highly anticipated erotic film. "We're talking about basically the equivalent of a dime-store trashy romance novel. Essentially, what Today's doing is they're promoting what people refer to as 'mommy porn.' That's what it boils down to. Today is helping to promote mommy porn. That's a pretty poor judgment on their part in terms of their attitude toward their audience."

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Henson said she was also "absolutely" concerned about the fact that the NBC morning show was talking about the movie and airing its edited version of the trailer during a show that parents are likely watching with their children in the room.

"The Today show and Good Morning America and shows of that ilk. They're on while you're getting your morning situated. They're on while you're getting your kids situated for school or for camp … trying to get breakfast before you go off to work," Henson explained. "You often have it on in the background as just background noise to get weather updates, find out what's happening in the news. So the fact that they're promoting this so aggressively during a program that we know parents are probably going to be watching while their kids are in the room is also very troubling. And … the fact that they're romanticizing sexual violence in this way is also very troubling."

Indeed, Henson thinks Today might have better served its audience if they ran a disclaimer prior to airing the trailer.

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"If they had couched it with very strong disclaimer language about how this is a movie that's romanticizing violence in relationships — sexual violence is basically what this movie is promoting — so if there had been very strong disclaimer language, that might have mitigated against [the impression that airing the clip without a disclaimer created]."

To be fair, the version of the trailer Today showed was edited to remove some of the clip's most suggestive scenes, with co-host Savannah Guthrie even noting that the full trailer could not be shown on TV, directing viewers to Today's website for the unedited version.

But Henson said that might have actually been misleading, because the version Today showed makes the film seem more innocuous than it is.

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"It seems like a very ordinary … romance story, so the fact that they cut off the last few seconds, if anything, might be a little suggestive, a little misleading because you don't truly understand what this movie is about unless you've read the articles or read the book. … Here's a book and a movie that are really normalizing and even romanticizing BDSM relationships, and I think that that's very troubling, especially the way that this romance is presented in the trailer. … It's all made to seem very romantic to a teenage girl who's watching that trailer. That's definitely going to be appealing and probably going to pique her interest and be something that she wants to see — and for parents that don't know what the book is about or what the movie is about, they may easily consent to letting their teenage daughter see this film."

Henson said PTC hadn't been in touch with Today prior to the morning show airing the trailer, as the organization was not even aware that a trailer was being circulated so far ahead of the film's February 2015 release date.

She assumes the organization will be monitoring ads and clips of the film that air on TV. And while she expects that Universal will push for an R rating, she thinks an NC-17 rating would be warranted. (The film has not yet been rated.)

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"Again, based on what I understand about the books, I think the NC-17 would be warranted," Henson says. "I'm not sure how they're going to be able to faithfully adhere to the subject matter without getting into NC-17 territory, and I think an R would be grossly inappropriate and underrated for the content that we're talking about."

In response to the PTC's concerns, an NBC spokesperson said, "We are always sensitive to the content we air on our program. The trailer that aired on Today this morning was a version edited with our audience in mind."

Fifty Shades' distributor Universal Pictures, NBC's sister company, declined to comment.

The Parents Television Council is not the only organization that's slamming the Fifty Shades trailer. Anti-porn education group Morality in Media released a statement condemning the clip for how it "romanticizes and normalizes sexual violence."

The group also expresses concern about the danger of a submissive relationship like the one portrayed in the film.

"The implications of such a relationship — abuse of power, female inequality, coercion, and sexual violence — glamorizes and legitimatizes violence against women," the organization's executive director, Dawn Hawkins, said in a statement. "The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey among women sends a message to men that this is what women really want. Even more dangerous, it also sends the message to women that they can 'fix' violent, controlling men by being obedient and loving. A warning to the women lining up to see this film: There is nothing empowering about whips and chains or humiliation and torture. Women as a group will not gain power by collaborating with violent men. Women would be serving only as an agent to further their own sexual degradation, handing themselves on a silver platter to exactly the sort of men who want to use and abuse them, and take away their power. … Is this really the kind of relationship we want our daughters, relatives and friends willingly entering into? With a stalker and a batterer? Do we really want our sons to become Christian Greys, practicing a violent masculinity that degrades men as well?"

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