Guest post by: Rachel O
Let me start off by saying that whenever I read about online and cell phone phenomenons such as “sexting”, I feel old. I was in high school only 10 years ago, but the current culture feels so far removed from what I grew up around. There were plenty of rumors about people’s behavior regarding sex, drugs, and relationships, but they were just words, nothing more. All teenagers in all periods of time have acted reckless, made stupid decisions, and made mistakes. Except now, those mistakes live online, on computers, in a digital chip forever. There’s no escaping – pictures meant for one person can be shown to hundreds of Facebook friends, and profiles and pages deleted are stored in Google cache, long after they’re gone. There seems to be these two parallels running at the same speed – risque and sexual behavior starting at younger ages, as technology makes communication easier and faster.
I started thinking “Have we learned nothing from the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world?” Of course it then occurred to me that mainstream media, and the treatment of these women is part of the problem. I’m not saying they should’ve been slut shamed or torn to shreds, but the way it was handled doesn’t exactly set a good example. Paris Hilton went from being an anonymous heiress to a household name (again hit television show, movie roles, spokesperson, etc.) What did Kim Kardashian get after her sex tape was “leaked?” A hit television show on E! and countless offers to be a spokesperson, cover model, etc. So far network heads, corporations, and publications have shown that you get rewarded for this kind of behavior.
Like I said, the answer isn’t slut-shaming, but maybe the answer is not rewarding these exploits or at the least not paying attention? I got annoyed the other week when I read the Huffington Post writing about Brandon Davis’ tweets about ex-girlfriend Mischa Barton. “Why is the media still giving this asshole a platform?” I wondered. The question isn’t just “Why were these women rewarded for their sex tapes?” But like Davis’ tweets, “Why were the sex tapes a top story in the news in the first place?” The media is our educator – they get to set the norms. So what is the norm the average 15 year old girl is growing up watching? Girls Next Door, Pretty Wild, and Keeping up with the Kardashians, just to name a few. I grew up watching Daria and Buffy. Quite a difference in the last decade, no? Not everyone is lucky or educated enough to be as media literate as us.
The pop culture landscape is flooded with endless streams of hypsersexualized images, with images targeting younger and younger audiences, and personal sexual exploits that would concern any parent resulting in reality TV careers. What’s a young person to do? The messages are conflicted and inconsistent. The news reports the latest story on sexting or a tween sexual exploit shared on Facebook and at the next turn a new celeb-wannabe gets rewarded with fame and fortune for the same behavior.
As parents are less able to keep up with all the new technological innovations that make this behavior easier and faster, teenagers expose every aspect of their lives through social networking, the two combined create a problem that just seems to be spreading instead of slowing down. Combine this with the contradictions of the media environment and one can become overwhelmed, searching for answers.
We need to be educated – in technology, in the long lasting effects of this behavior, and in having a critical eye when it comes to magazines, TV, movies, and music. It’s important not to forget about the influence the media can and does have on our society and culture.