I can't quite put my finger on what bothers me so much about cable TV's newest channel for women, Oxygen. Portraying depravity in women is nothing new – the E! Channel seems to excel in it. But this is a channel that is, according to their website, offering "edgy, intelligent entertainment for women and the men who love them." "Edgy" seems to be the closest to true but "intelligent" is definitely an overstatement.
While cable abounds in channels geared to either sex, they generally aim at what is lowest in men or women. And Oxygen is no exception. But there seems to be something particularly perverse about their fare. Consider their shows:
"Campus Ladies" about two middle-aged housewives who decided they missed out on the raucous days of college and so are taking the campus by storm. During this week's episode the pair decide that they are lesbians and try out their new personas to the amusement of no one.
"Talk Sex" with Grandma Sue. I swear, I am not making this up. She is the Dr. Ruth of the new millennium.
"Bliss" – self described as "Turn-on TV." When I accidentally happened upon this one night I thought, for a moment, that we were inadvertently getting a porn channel.
"Girls Behaving Badly" and "Kids Behaving Badly" – because it isn't bad enough to just feature girls being nasty – we need to get kids in on it.
"Snapped" – "True crime tales that reveal the dark side of the fair sex." (I think they are trying to put the rest the "myth" that men are more aggressive than women.)
Each of these shows is certainly "edgy" in that they are portraying women in roles we usually don't see them in: middle-aged women doing keg stands, stay-at-home moms murdering their families, grandmas giving sex advice. But I wonder to what degree this qualifies as "intelligent." Is simply pushing the envelope synonymous with intellectual sophistication? If so, then Howard Stern must be the Arthur Miller of our era. Or are the same shock tactics on which Stern relies to be considered intelligent simply because it is women who are doing it? Granted, Stern's antics are blatantly lewd while Oxygen is cleverer in veiling its degradations. But a considerable amount of the cable channel's edginess no doubt consists in its unflattering depictions of women for women. Howard Stern does it and it is sexist; Oxygen does it and it is "intelligent." You'd have to be breathing some pretty thin air to buy that.