The degradation of women in popular culture is a concept almost as old as “popular culture” itself, and actress Rashida Jones‘ Glamour essay on the topic rightfully drew a good bit of attention this weekend.
It’s easy, as a casual observer, to see society’s endless march forward as a gradual descent into (as Jones puts it) “the pornification of everything.”
That’s not to say that brands and public personalities haven’t been using sex to sell things for time immemorial; it’s just that the act of doing so is more brazen now than ever before, especially when the product on offer is the individual him/herself. Jones writes:
“Stripper poles, G-strings, boobs, and a lot of tongue action were all now normal accessories for mainstream pop stars.
Across the board the Instamessage seemed to be: ‘You know you want to have sex with me. Here, take a look at lots of parts of my body.'”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Her prime example, of course, is the NC-17 video for Robin Thicke‘s mega-hit “Blurred Lines”, which Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield recently called “the worst song of this or any other year” for its ubiquity, brainless message and shameless imitation of the infinitely greater Marvin Gaye.
Jones clarifies that she is hardly “a prude” but that she finds this sex-in-your-face version of marketing “boring” with its bare skin and wagging tongues. Her point? Sex is great—and it’s a natural way to entice an audience. But women in the media might want to “leave something to the imagination” rather than feeding the market’s irrepressible need to tell men what they want. At this point many young women would be shocked to learn that quite a few members of the male gender find such attitudes and displays every bit as tastelessly over-the-top as Jones does.
The Twitter crowd predictably overreacted to her sentiments by accusing her of “slut-shaming” and questioning her feminist credentials. Surprised?
Here’s our take: we can’t imagine that too many female pop stars will take Jones’ advice and tone it down a notch OR that men will rise up to tell marketers that no, they don’t find the cartoonish gyrations of the latest auto-tuned “singer” attractive. But this trend, unpleasant as it may be, creates a larger opening for brands and media personalities to define themselves as anti-“pornification” spokespeople.
Some like GoldieBlox have already adopted that angle, and we expect more to follow as the backlash against Kim/Miley/whoever continues to grow.
Are we being too optimistic here?