February, 2015

Pop Culture’s Unintended Irony

I am not one who typically watches televised awards shows. I didn’t even know the Grammys were on last week until I saw a tweet from a friend commenting on the performance by Brooke Axtell and Katy Perry about domestic violence. Ms. Axtell delivered a spoken word performance in which she shared her experience of being sexually trafficked by her nanny as a child and how she survived an abusive relationship as an adult. It was followed by an emotional performance by pop music star, Katy Perry. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are heinous sins for which there is no excuse, and yet it silently happens in every community around us. Statistics argue that domestic abuse and sex trafficking occur even in quaint little towns like Millburn, Summit, Union, and Springfield, under our very noses. So, on the one hand, it is a good thing to see awareness of this issue being raised. It is good to see those with extensive platforms using their voice to call that which is truly evil, evil.

On the other hand, however, there is a sad irony in seeing those in pop culture and the entertainment industry advocating against the treatment of women as sexual objects to be controlled and conquered. The entertainment industry has long pushed at the boundaries of acceptable or normal sexual behaviors. One should assume that a performer like Katy Perry genuinely wants to see an end to domestic violence and sex trafficking, while at the same time it must be acknowledged that her success is tied to her sex appeal.

Ms. Perry and her handlers understand the law of diminishing returns. The continued application of a stimulus over time will produce decreasing effects on the audience. The audience is desensitized to what was once considered shocking, titillating, or scandalous. Fans will only continue to watch and listen to a performer if she continues to push the envelope and satisfy their desires. The pop performer today faces the dilemma of either fading into obscurity or doing something more shocking, titillating, or scandalous than the last person. Even Katy Perry’s videos, which are considered fairly tame by today’s standards, would have been scandalous a few decades ago. The end result is a society which is hyper-sexualized. Women used as objects to satisfy sexual desires and urges. And the entertainment industry stands to reap the greatest profit from it.

One might counter this argument by saying, “Who are you to judge?” What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. Don’t be naïve, mutual consent does not make something morally acceptable. Besides, the normalization of this behavior never remains in the bedroom. Fanning the embers of sexual desire without the guardrails of godly discipline will always result in an uncontrolled fire. Take the blockbuster success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series for example. Sexual behavior that was once unspeakable and seen as deviant is now considered good date night material. What will happen when society becomes completely desensitized to sexual behavior that includes bondage, bodily harm, and abuse? What happens when sexual gratification is not met through these means? The door has been blown open by the entertainment industry to indulge in whatever the next step is. In fact, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, EL James, said that her goal was to change morality, “What I wanted to demonstrate is that I do not look at the world in terms of black and white – and I find people who do rather scary. I think it’s all shades of grey…[Right and wrong] are for the readers to decide for themselves – how they feel about everything.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marlo-thomas/fifty-shades-of-success_b_1923039.html, accessed 2/11/2015). What argument against domestic violence and sex trafficking can be made when so many concessions have already been made?

This is the sad irony of pop stars using their platforms to advocate against domestic violence and sex trafficking while profiting from and fostering the impulses that lead to domestic violence and sex trafficking. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they are part of the system that has begun to mass produce these heinous sins in our society. While I appreciate their earnest desire to help, the best help they could offer is to acknowledge their role in the problem.

So what is the Christian to do? I think the Christian response should be two-fold. Christians should Turn and Entice. First, Christians should turn away from the blatant sexualization of society. Do not consume the products that are being foisted upon us. Don’t read or watch Fifty Shade of Grey. Peer pressure, curiosity, and just sinful desire might tempt the Christian to watch something like this. Don’t. There is no grey area here, don’t do it. God’s Word is clear. “But among you must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Eph 5:3 NIV).

Secondly, we should entice others to something better. Bruce Marshall wrote in his novel The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith that “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” The dysfunction and abuse of God’s good gift of sex is because people are looking for something greater. They are looking for joy, contentment, satisfaction, and hope. They are looking for God. We should seek to entice those enthralled by the sexualization of society with something better. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things are above, not on things that are one earth” (Col 3:1,2).