I was in an airport gift shop looking for a good leisure read for my travels. I stood some feet back from the magazine rack to survey a wide selection. As usual, an impressive population of physically flawless women stared back at me. And, as I honed in on the material tailored specifically for the 23-year-old male, the amount of fabric covering each cover girl dramatically lessened while the display of visual sensuality in each pose greatly increased. From Gear to Stuff to FHM to Maxim, backs were arched, legs were spread, and what little was left to peel from the skin was being peeled off eager models, actresses, musicians and porn stars. Headlines played off of the pictures. “Have the Sex You Deserve,” one screamed. “Sex at First Sight,” boasted another. There’s no breaking story here. Sex sells, and the sex industry in all of its forms is a high profit game.
C.S. Lewis wrote these lines more than 40 years ago for his book The Four Loves: “Nudity emphasizes common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are more ‘ourselves’ when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasized.” Perhaps these words seem dated and therefore less credible. We wonder how Lewis would rewrite them amidst today’s sexual climate, given that nudity is shared as intimately with strangers as it is with lovers, and that it is almost always stapled to messages of sex.
We now live in a culture in which the mainstream approval and popularity of porn and its mores are at their peak. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, the sex industry, from mild to hard-core, is riding an all-time high. What used to be a concentrated trickle of offense has been opened full tilt, influencing trends in entertainment, fashion, lifestyles and our values.
Porn’s on the web (where lack of regulation makes it the most dangerous). E-mail boxes are inundated daily with promises of nude celebrity photos and other X-rated trash, and the Internet must be searched cautiously due to the probability of retrieving smutty results.
It’s in popular film. Halle Berry’s Oscar winning performance in Monster’s Ball left nothing to the imagination as she and Billy Bob Thornton engaged in an onscreen sex romp that bested many of the soft-core performances available on late night Cinemax.
It’s on primetime television, from voyeuristic dating shows to the aforementioned pay channel tripe. And who recalls the episode of Friends when Joey and Chandler mistakenly receive the skin station and refuse to be the guys who turn off free porn?
It’s in print. The Playboy of yesteryear is the Stuff of today. At least eight pages of the local free alternative newspaper are dedicated to “adult only” advertising.
It’s in music. Rap has long been under fire for its explicit lyrics. Throw a dart at a list of rap’s major players (or playaz) and you’ve hit a culprit.
It’s in theater. In a premiere comedy troupe’s recent performance of a political satire, one performer quipped that porn is the “American way” to an amused and agreeable audience. The list goes on.
[AN EASY TARGET]
Men’s magazines target the highly coveted 18-34 year old male demographic. Inside and outside of scientific circles it’s been concluded that men are readily stimulated through visual perception. Whether an inherent or conditioned quality in male thinking, it is relentlessly exploited from cover to cover with no consideration of consequence. Visual snares abound, beckoning a guy to buy this and try that.
In other circumstances when vulnerability is exploited for another’s profit, it’s often considered a form of abuse. The sad difference is that in this land you’d have to strenuously search to find a man who feels violated by the flux of sex in media. We’re too busy indulging our simple fantasies. In fact, it was always, and continues to be, men behind the curtain pulling the levers that both manipulate and satisfy their own gender’s misguided sexual appetites (one more point for male integrity).
If the universal male’s thought life is well-aided by visual images and gestures, look at how many thoughts are being completed for us on one magazine cover: Women are one part flesh, two parts nothing else, and they are eager to be judged at this superficial depth. Flesh is a commodity. Sex is largely entertainment. Women are willing to seduce and serve, and they are as dispensable as this month’s issue.
[SEX AS POWER]
There’s a thread of feminist thought that supports the wielding of beauty and sexual liberty, believing that it can work toward a woman’s advantage and give her power. The point of sexuality in which women have historically been marginalized, dominated, pinned down and abused is seen as a place for empowerment. The dominated are now the domineering, the oppressed are now free. In my bias I find it difficult to believe this attitude is embraced or exerted by a majority of women. Nor do I buy that these are the truest motivations behind an entertainer’s will to bare all. More is lost than gained.
For example, on a recent cover of Maxim musician Pink is sitting on a chair with knees in opposite time zones, her hands shielding her crotch because what little she’s wearing below the waist isn’t up to the task. The icon assumes the common pose of a stripper or porn star. Yes, even a stripper has a temporary form of power when dancing for a barely blinking audience of simple and tempted men. But thankfully most women are unsatisfied with this philosophy because the standard of gender inequality persists.
As for men, we too must recognize the grave discrepancies between the portrayal of women versus men. Often resting near Maxim is Details, a men’s magazine that after filing bankruptcy took the time to overhaul its look and style. In the process Details traded its risqué cover shots of scantily clad actresses and models for pictures of something completely revolutionary for a men’s magazine…men. This month a spry Matt Damon is bouncing on the cover. And though Details should be applauded for no longer taking the route of its competitors, we should notice that Damon is fully clothed and even sporting layers.
Among the great injustices suffered by Afghani women during Taliban rule was the indignity of shrouding their entire body as they were reduced to anonymous, second class shadows. If we agree with Lewis, an argument might be made that the opposite treatment of American women with respect to their dress and the stripping of their clothes, works toward the same detriment here. Faces, personalities, souls and spirits are in danger of becoming inconsequential to the entire essence of a woman.
Studies and statistics about the victims are yielded by the work of thousands of college graduates, feminist and women’s rights activists, health activists and the morally charged. I don’t even have to point out the worst of behavioral damage to get someone to understand. Acknowledgment of common victims may be enough: the female readers who are playing into the amassing lies and who are willing to pay whatever the cost, including their own health, to appease an exaggerated standard of sexiness; the male readers who have fallen into the enticing trap of two-dimensional beauty and corrupted sexual idolatry; the woman whose search for love and acceptance has led her to believe her only chance to receive it comes from the approval for, and free use of her body; the man who cannot keep his eyes on his own date because he is all too gifted at the art of “checking a girl out”; every man or woman whose sexual conquests are cheered on by a sideline coaching team of writers, advertisers, entertainers, photographers, filmmakers and producers who in their own lives have adopted distorted views of sex that are estranged from all notions of purity. These examples are minor and may be without serious long term effects compared to more horrific examples of addiction, rape, abuse and infidelity that have resulted in lost jobs, permanent emotional scars, contracted diseases, broken marriages and more.
Last night at the bookstore, I faced another magazine rack and noticed the cover story in this week’s U.S. News and World Report. “Teens and Sex” was the topic and the article explores an increase in teenage promiscuity even as the average age of the sexually active grows younger. Several agencies contributed to the report including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose findings confirm that transmission of STDs among teens and preteens has reached epidemic proportions. That’s no shock considering entertainers and media have irresponsibly assumed roles as sex educators.
[OUR POWER TO ACT]
How many cases of lung cancer were diagnosed before the truth was accepted about the effects of smoking? How many cases of pollution, environmental decimation and skin cancer are a result of not heeding environmentalist warnings regarding the stewardship of this earth? How far will we go with our attitudes on sex in the media until we truly admit to the damage?
Waiting for legislation or hoping for a sudden turn in media trends are dead ends for hope. Pointing fingers at behavior and crying out for censorship will prove equally ineffective.
Deborah Rhode hints at a better approach in her book, In Speaking of Sex; The Denial Of Gender Inequality: “Suppression generally increases the appeal of sexually arousing materials.” She goes on to say, “If much of the sexually explicit material now available degrades women, the most promising long-term strategy is not repression. Rather, it is to offer alternative images and to encourage discussion of what is wrong with existing ones.”
What appears to be a desperate situation actually affords us many opportunities. For those scorned by the sex lies of the world we are able to cry out, as well as point to the Source of divine healing. Conscious individuals from all spectrums recognize the mounting case against the existing misdeeds in the matters of sex and gender portrayal. The time to seek, as well as offer the world competing ideals based on God’s standards for love, justice and purity is perfect. I stop short of recommendations for a comprehensive campaign against the deep seeded deceptions. I just know the world is waiting. Why are we?
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