“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives. Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms.”
—Jessica Bennett, “The Pornification of a Generation”
There’s a strange irony to the fact that on the same week of the 93rd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a milestone achievement for the women’s suffrage movement which resulted in women finally being able to vote, the headlines are dominated by the antics of pop star Miley Cyrus, who used this year’s MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) as a forum for twerking, gyrating, stripping and other sexually defiant acts. Curiously enough, apart from concerns about Cyrus’ questionable taste in dance moves, no one else seems to find this convergence the least bit jarring or incongruent.
Welcome to the pornification of American culture, served up MTV-style.
It’s a sorry coming-of-age declaration from a girl who, for most of her life, has been America’s little darling, the star of Disney’s Hannah Montana and a self-avowed Christian who reportedly wore a purity ring as a testament to her virginity. Yet Cyrus’ VMA performance of her hit single “We Can’t Stop” was no less shocking than its companion music video which features the 20-year-old making out with a doll in a swimming pool, twerking, faking orgasm, and rough-housing with other women while men look on. Thirty-seven days after being released, “We Can’t Stop” became the fastest clip to reach 100 million views on a major music video website. One blogger actually praised the music video “as a highspirited celebration of the freedom that young women are blessed with today to fully explore and celebrate their sexuality.”
Frankly, in an age in which we routinely witness the pornification of American youth through popular music, film and culture, the outraged response by critics and fans alike to Cyrus’ performance seems like just so much hypocrisy. After all, these are many of the same people who made Lady Gaga a musical force to be reckoned with.
Yet for those wondering if Cyrus will be the next Lady Gaga, a better question to ask is what are the consequences of a whole generation of pornified Gagas coming of age, given that so many of our young women have been raised to think that Gaga and Cyrus and the many other gyrating, minimally clad celebrities and models who pass for “sex symbols” today are the pinnacle of womanhood.
As commentator Dixie Laite writes for Bust magazine:
“I can’t punish a young ambitious woman for noticing that sex sells. Madonna knew it when she crawled the VMA stage very much not ‘Like a Virgin.’ Rihanna, Beyonce, Britney and countless others have climbed that ladder to fame… Last time I looked, we as a nation absolutely adored this socalled slutty behavior. I see people voting with their dollars and their attention to Playboy’s Bunnies, Victoria’s Secrets, strippers, people who dress like strippers, and girls who’ve gone wild. Miley’s crime seems to be that she “went too far”… she took all the things we accept and take for granted as ok every day and threw them all together into one jiggling jambalaya… [H]ad lots of barely-clad models come out gyrating around Robin Thicke, I doubt anyone would have thrown a hissy. I believe the word people would have used is “hot”… Yes, Miley Cyrus is now, more than ever, America’s Sweetheart. Only this time, it’s no fantasy Disney America, it’s the real America.”
Real America, indeed. “Pop culture and porn culture have become part of the same seamless continuum,” explains theatre historian and University of Illinois professor Mardia Bishop. “As these images become pervasive in popular culture, they become normalized... and... accepted.”
How we got to this place in time, where children are sexualized at an early age and trotted out as easy targets for all manner of predators is not really all that hard to decipher, but it requires a certain amount of candor.
First, there is nothing sexually liberating about young women—young girls—reducing themselves to little more than sex objects and prancing about like prostitutes. Second, this is a dangerous game that can only end in tragic consequences: there are sexual predators out there only too eager to take advantage of any innuendo-laced sexual “invitations” being put out there, intentional or not. Third, if it looks like porn, sounds like porn and imitates porn, it is porn, and it is devastating on every front, turning women into objects for male aggression. Fourth, no matter what its champions might say about the First Amendment and women’s liberation, pornography in all its forms—whether overtly packaged as skin flicks and mags or more subtly disguised by pop culture as trendy music videos and precocious clothing—is about one thing only: money. Fifth, parents: turn off your cell phones for a change and tune into what your kids are watching, reading, listening to, and whom they are emulating. Your child is no different and no less vulnerable than any other.
And finally, none of these things happen in a vacuum. Those concerned about the emerging police state in America which I detail in my book “A Government of Wolves” should be equally concerned about the pornification of America: they are two sides of the same coin. As Aldous Huxley notes in his introduction to Brave New World:
As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator (unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories) will do well to encourage that freedom. In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.
Consider this: during a week in which news reports on NSA mass surveillance, militarized police forces, and a war brewing with Syria were vying for attention, CNN’s number one news story was Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance. Sounds like the death knell of an empire to me.