Is that an obvious statement? Yes. Is it a concept that has been so industrialized that society does not even realize that they’re consuming it on the daily? Yes. Let’s elaborate.
Contemporary society’s relationship between sex and mainstream media is a paradox, at best. In a world where individuality is set on a high pedestal, there seems to be one common running theme in most movies, television shows and music lyrics and videos that we are exposed to today: the sexual exploitation of women.
Some people may disagree with that statement, and say it is driven by a recent wave of die-hard feminism and misandry. Some may agree with that statement, and say we live in a male-dominated world where women are sexualized as objects.
Others may remain neutral on the topic; either because they do not care, realize or think that showing a little skin in pop culture never hurt any one.
While it’s not hurting anyone per se, is it hurting our depiction of the role that women hold in our society and confusing self-empowerment with exploitation.
2013 was the year of the “twerk,” thanks to none other than the very—for lack of a better word—special, Miley Cyrus. (Tidbit fact: twerking actually started being recognized in the 1990s down south, while its roots originated in the Ivory Coast. So no, Hannah Montana’s doppelganger did not give birth to the twerk.)
Cyrus did, however, revitalize the dance after she published what seemed to be a fun video of her twerking in a unicorn onesie. That was, unfortunately, only the beginning of the twerk frenzy.
While all the rump-shaking became a mandatory part of every rap music video from there onward, Cyrus took the movement to a new league—literally. During her performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, the Nashville native came out singing her smash single “We Can’t Stop,” wearing what looked like the skinned exterior of the mouse from Chuck E. Cheese, to finally strip down to a flesh colored, rubber panty and shelf bra set. She should have stopped right there.
Cyrus twerked onstage into Robin Thicke’s crotch while rubbing a foam finger on her own. She later went on to call this “self-empowerment.” In various articles and on-camera interviews about her newfound provocativeness, Cyrus continuously calls herself a “true feminist” because she believes that she is the epitome of a woman who is not afraid to publicly embrace her sexuality, despite what others have to say.
Now, you can Google the pop star’s name and every other day, new photos are released from one of her topless but “tasteful” photo-shoots. Obviously, feminism has a new face.
Going back to Thicke, the R&B singer caused quite a sexual stir himself last year with his hit single, “Blurred Lines,” and in a sort of disturbing way, started the conversation that should occur more often pertaining to pop culture.
In the explicit music video, three women bare it all—literally—wearing only nude colored G-strings, while prancing around Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I., as the men monotonously melodize to some pretty shocking lyrics: “I know you want it.” One woman in the video is walked like a dog on a leash as one of the men pulls her by her long braid: “But you’re an animal, let me liberate you.”
Thicke would later go on to explain that he has respected women his entire life and “saw no problem” with the over-sexualized and provocative nature of his video. But what Paula Patton’s husband did not explain was why his lyrics were so erotic—almost violating to hear—and if the song would have sounded worse had the three women been clothed the entire time. At least it was catchy.
Thicke and Cyrus are far from the only pop stars in the news. Rutgers University recently made headlines, publicizing that the institution is now offering a class about none other than Beyoncé. The course is titled “Politicizing Beyoncé,” where students will examine American race, gender and sexuality through the singer’s music.
This might be a bold move on Rutgers’ part, but let’s face it—Beyoncé has a hold over the younger generations to the point where fans praise her as “Queen B,” and any album she belches out will instantaneously go platinum. And despite her recent costuming that has been more risqué than compared to the past, she is considered a “real lady,” who younger women aspire to be like.
It is funny, in a way, how mainstream media is able to bifurcate class from trash, (like Beyoncé versus Miley Cyrus.) Either way, pop culture today has desensitized the public’s ability to distinguish what is normal to what should really be considered a little too mature for television. The fact that bikini-clad women are used to sell things like hamburgers and hair products should speak for itself; the relationship between sex and the media has gone too far now. Maybe it’s those damn blurred lines.