SEX. It’s probably the most powerful word in today’s rather nymphomaniac-pop driven culture. It’s enough to get J Lo 27 million views on YouTube. Somehow, even as it has become a commonplace experience, whether visually, artistically, conversationally and etc. the subject is still the height of our intrigue and debate. And somehow, it still is a topic fresh enough to raise eyebrows. It seems we’ve gone through the stages: social non acknowledgement, denial, rebellion, and now, complications. Time for a serious discussion.
I find these days, that social media has a habit of unearthing the age old human sexual dilemma that still haunts us today:
Is it good or is it bad?
It’s easy to say one or the other (like we use to). But when you come to realize it’s not fully one or the other, things start getting hot. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern as well. We’ve been seeing a lot of trending and online arguments surfacing at the media forefront about things like “slut shaming”, gender equality, gay rights, and rape culture. Dozen’s of blogs champion one side or the other. They get so many hits and comments it’s sickening. Two things that keep popping up whenever I’m on the internet have been from both sides of the sex culture dichotomy: Emma Watson’s recent speech with the UN about feminism and the “HeforShe” movement, and Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty” music video. Obviously we want both (sexual objectification and sexual respect), because they are both getting a lot of media attention. And it is complicated, as any human dilemma shows itself to be.
But what is the dilemma? I’d say its sexual confusion inspired by a great many things, but significantly by the push for socially conscious progress away from gender inequality – you can see it permeating pop culture hot spots- while the driving force for societal mindset on these issues continues to stagnate that movement, ie. sexualizing/objectification in media and marketing. A lot of the conversations I’ve read in pop culture, and even politically, have looked at this social problem – and others – from a single facet. Often from the side of the plaintive, rather than approaching it holistically. Let’s discuss.
One of the biggest factors I see is based in the fact that pretty much all first world cultures have become extremely visual and media driven. Film, music and advertisement are huge influences of the collective human subconscious and consciousness. Gone are the days of books, pamphlets and press as kings of change, now we have music, movies, and visual marketing. How we view men and women, their relationship to sex and sexuality and that relationship to things, wants, and ideals are all interwoven into marketing, branding and economic media and art. The hard part is that it all perpetuates from the preexisting cultural ideas. It’s like fashion: the street fashion influences the runway fashion and the runway fashion influences the street fashion. Media reaches us based on what they think we want (or at this point, what they want us to keep wanting) and identify with, and the public wants and identifies based on what the media gives them.
Here’s an example. Miley Cyrus and the twerking blow-up. Twerking is not new (girls have been twerk’n them booties in clubs and music videos since the 80’s, let’s be real) it’s just been revamped. Since the twerk fever relapse we’ve been seeing female butts on a whole other level, and a whole lot more. With Youtube, the general public even got to give those stars a run for their money. We got Beyonce’s concert costume butt cutouts, Minaj’s booty (always), Iggy Azalea, and lest we forget, pretty much every performance at this year’s MTV Music Video awards were rife with butt focus. Miley saw, she did it; we saw Miley, many hated it, but the pop conscious public jumped on the band wagon. So who originated it? The public or Miley? Obviously this is only one type of example of the fad perpetuating cycle.
Most recently, in J LO’s “Booty” song, she and Iggy are work’n it twerk’n it and shaken all they’ve got, probably giving boners to everyone who’s watching, except Pitt Bull (aaaahhh… we’ve all seen that picture). But man, they’ve got over 27 MILLION views on Youtube right now. Why? Because, you guessed it, “Sex Sells”. And it always has. And why does it sell? Now that’s the question. Do these idealized people, musicians, actors, models, film makers, marketers etc, take advantage of us by cashing in on our need for sexual content? I think, in a way, they definitely do. But why do we still go out searching for sex in media based outlets? Why are we drawn in to buying products or watching videos and films that heighten sexual physicality to an idealized state? Can we not get enough of it in our own lives? Do we not talk about it enough, are we not liberated enough or do we still feel repressed? Or are we so damn over sexualized as a culture that we no longer know how to deal without it constantly. Many mainstream talkers would say we, Americans, are still very sexually repressed, yet our media would suggest otherwise. Or perhaps we are like that over protected adolescent going crazy at college, finally out from under the long suppressive wings of their parents and ignorant of sexual responsibility and purpose, abuses and injures themselves by it. I definitely think we are seeing a the backlash of eons of mislead, religious, doctrinal social order.
Some would say that part of progressive sexual thought is the acknowledgement that sex is a human necessity and they’ll qualify it with the scientific studies saying recreational sex is good for human health, or with a reference to Freudian theory. But Freud never said it was a necessity, he only said it was good for us. In fact, what he did say was that what was bad, as it takes away from our actual freedom as humans with thought and intellect, is to allow sexual impulse to become a necessity. Allowing it to gain control over our reasoning and higher functions.
Let’s stop for a moment and get back to one of, what I think is the more comically inconsistent examples of sex culture in America. And this goes for other hot button topic, such as gun control, gay rights, racism or abortion. Forgive me, but I have to make up a word: Celebrity ambassador–ship. This is the habit of a celebrity to inconsistently speak to support one agenda, while disassociating from that very agenda at professional convenience. This is an example of compartmentalizing your beliefs and actions. And it doesn’t stop at the entertainment level. We all do it, and we hypocritically complain about others when they do it too. But I’ll cite this compartmentalization at the celebrity level because it is the most visible.
I think one of the biggest problems is that things have gotten so complicated that we don’t even know how to socially engage with the topic anymore. We are still trying to blame one side or the other, and it doesn’t work. It really never has. In a culture focused on self-happiness (for whatever happiness actually is) and personal freedom we forget that that freedom still attaches us to other people. No one is free from human interaction, and even a lack of human interaction for one’s happiness may be a loss to another. To speak about the self so fully as a solitary individual has allowed our view on what is good and right to become an aggrandizement of selfishness. And that, so far as I’ve thought it out, is what all this mindless sex talk boils down to. There is always a blaming factor. Either that or it’s just not a problem we are conscious of.
Women hate to be objectified by men, but they’ll volunteer to do it to themselves in videos like “Booty” or “Blurred Lines”, perhaps so long as they can cash out on it. And that’s just unhelpful. It’s like neo feminism. Treat me like an equal, plus some. Buy my dinner, but don’t you dare hold open the door for me. I can be objectified, as long as I’m the one doing it. In fact, in some cases, it seems that people are arguing that personal objectification is a form of sexual liberation. It’s confusing.
And then there’s feminism. Man that’s a big pot of anger and illogical back and forth, these days. Many people speak about feminism as man hating, and while there is a decent amount of that in many cases of neo-feminism, the origins of feminism were much more humble. And that leads us to Emma Watson’s recent address to the UN:
I think Watson does a pretty decent job on this one. And I think it’s great that she’s speaking about something with a both gender mindset, bringing up the problems men deal with because of the gender inequality that still lingers today. That’s a part of the conversation that doesn’t get much attention. How does misogyny and female suppression and objectification affect or harm the male psyche? That’s a holistic discussion.
But while you have some advocates reaching out for an intelligent interface with their audience, you also have an equal, if not larger percentage of media role models masquerading body objectification as sexual liberation and freedom of expression. Taking advantage of the situation and helping keep this progress at a standstill. One of my friends had a great Facebook post that read something like “You have the freedom to choose, but you are not free from the consequences.” It’s easy to talk about ideals, change and the problems we have as women and men, but if we aren’t willing to be consistent enough to take responsibility for our actions, because it might cost us some Youtube views and sales, we have no right to step into the conversation about gender equality, because we instigate and maintain the problem as it is. It is one thing to be a hypocrite (as we all are) but it is another to be a willing one.
And that leads us to the final discussion point: Objectification and its influence on our ability to be emotionally intimate. This has gotten long winded, as I knew it would, so I’ll make it quick and let you chew on some disjointed thoughts:
The question is: Do you control your sexuality or do you let it control you? (As Freud warned [see above]). What then do you become? How are you identified by your culture and those who interact with you? Are you a self or a visual thing pandering to the fancies of a culturally conceived ideal? Do you perpetuate a problem that you claim to support overcoming? It is easy to speak about feminism, gender equality and human respect, but when you treat your body, present your body, and talk about your body like an object, separate out a part- your butt, your boobs, your legs, your dick, or separate your body from your “self”- it becomes much easier for people to view you in part and not as a whole human being, with a mind as well. You no longer are a self, but become a thing, something uninspiring to identify with or care about at a deeper level.
By taking and using human sexuality as a tool for materialism we run some major risks. It seems we have made sex into a commodity, twisting it and turning it how we please. Taking advantage of customers, audience, and lovers alike. It’s no wonder we don’t know how to talk about rape culture, gender orientation, and equality in any intelligent voice, because every facet of the discussion, although linked, seems to oppose the other. Any “objective” mind has already been subconsciously swayed by the subtle indoctrination of a media culture. If you’ve ever read Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World“, this is it. We are on the cusp.