Sunday, May 04, 2008

The raruraru about things you see...

... on tv, in the printed media, even at the library.

It starts with what I think is one of the saddest posts I have ever read from TF Stern. Not because the topic is "sad" as such. It is sad because it shows a side of his character that I had not previously suspected.

His post is a commentary on the debate he was having at another site which debate includes the following comment...

Mr. Stern,

I am a highly moral, spiritual person. I am a husband, a father, and a stepfather. I pay my taxes and am law-abiding in every way. I try to live an honorable, spiritual, moral life, and I believe in this amazing nation and the wonderful freedoms this country has given me through the Constitution. I am not a Communist or a Socialist.

I am also not a Christian, never have been and never will be. If somehow you believe that makes you superior to me in any way, then, sir, you are nothing but a bigot...

I need add nothing more to that.

The subject is, and it is saddening to an extent, the "Miley Cyrus" affair, concerning a photograph that appeared on the cover of a wide circulation American magazine. It shows a (world famous in America) girl in very next to nothing. That is all that you are going to hear from me - no link, no further publicity...

Amongst all of the heat, smoke and mirrors todays Sunday Star Times includes an op-ed by Rosemary McLeod and - without her pernmission - I want to quote the opening few paragraphs.
What bollocks this Miley Cyrus controversy is - and what a sad signal for young women

Last week the great Vanity Fair photographer Annie Liebowitz actually had to apologise for taking a particularly lovely photograph of the girl, the girl had to publicly repent, Disney suffered a corporate heart attack, Vanity Fair became the Antichrist, and her parents had to beg the world’s forgiveness. All this because the 15-year-old was photographed with a bare back, suggesting that – God forbid! – she might not have had a bra on.

The photograph is a stunning portrait of a young woman on the vulnerable brink of adult life. Once, such an attractive subject and theme would have made for a much-admired painting. Today we take photographs. We even put them on magazine covers. Enjoy.

The trouble is not Miley, but adults’ attitude to the transition from childhood, through the perilous time – post puberty – that nobody remembers without pain and awkwardness.

Rosemary concludes -
So she represents innocence? Miley’s favourite TV programme is Sex and the City. She lives in a country where you can buy "trainer" bras for seven-year-olds, and where everyone who can pay for them has neon-white teeth. With minimal effort, this churchgoing girl can be exposed to as much pornography as she is Christianity.

We made the world she is entering, though we judge her. And we’ve made the climate in which a girl like her can rightly fear becoming what she is designed to be: that scary thing, a woman.

I have a now 30 year old daughter who went through the same process that Rosemary talks of and I accept her word for the self-conciousness and near embarrassment that girls of that age experience. I can recall my Kath getting extremely upset simply because I photographed her in her bathing suit (from behind and without her knowledge). Her major objection - I look fat...

Now, from the same newspaper, comes this article; a sad commentary on attitudes to women and the abuse of female sexuality indeed. Do you think that we will ever see nude male newsreaders? Or nude males on the cover of Vanity Fair?

No, for the simple reason that at least 50% of the population over the age of 25 would be laughing their heads off. And that, I submit, is something that the male psyche just could not bear.

Sorry, TF. You have got it wrong. What is just as sad is that some of the commenters to both your post and the one you take issue with have just got it so wrong or even wronger. Don't get me wrong here. I do not countenance pornography in any shape or form. There is a difference - and this is part of Mcleod's commentary - between that and true art. Like so many things, it is not a sharp delineation. That needs to be considered. But to blame Liebowitz for a pornographic image is wrong. That is in the eye of the beholder.

In the meantime, consider this example - tell me whether you think it is "pornographic" or not...

It centres on a 19 year old lass who came third in a national "beauty contest". She was interviewed (fully clothed) on tv on Friday night. You might catch it here if you want.

She is a student at Massey Uni, studying science. The uni interviewed her for their publicity magazine and asked for a portfolio of photographs. The one that was selected for the cover of the issue including the interview showed the lass in - horrors!! - a bikini!!


T. F. Stern said...

Chalk this one up to human nature, I was out of line.

This past week I forgot to be pleasant; I was downright ugly, for that I hope you will accept my apology. I considered removing the article since it really is not how I want folks to think of me; then recognized that it might serve better as a reminder, not to repeat such a mistake.

Dave Justus said...

The whole Miley thing doesn't get me in any sort of uproar. However, I think that their is a difference between 19 and 15. Where I live, that difference can get you a lot of jail time.

I also think that the popular culture focus on beuty and sexuality, often at very young ages, is an interesting topic, albeit one that I don't have a lot of incites into. I do believe that pressure to conform to certain expectations does quite a bit of damage, especially to young girls, and it isn't beyond the pale to realize that and question popular figures who help feed those expecatations.

This is especially true, as in the case of Miley and Disney, if they are trying to sell themselves as something differently, in particular 'wholesome' entertainment.

The probligo said...

Dave, the inconsistency of societal response is certainly the distinction that I tried to draw with the final example that I gave.

The point, so far as I am concerned - and I am repeating here what I said in the origional post - is that to large extent (i.e. mostly) the lewdity of a picture exists not in the image itself but in the mind of the observer.

Take as a totally different instance of the same paradigm - a billboard displays the message "Want Longer Lasting Sex?" with reference to a freephone line to get more information on the product being promoted.

To me, the billboard is not "obscene" or even titillating. It is, given the product being promoted, quite a logical and proper question.

However, over the past four weeks those billboards have been removed. There have been complaints from the public that the billboards are (in some way) offensive.

So, to return to the original image of Cyrus, I admire the image. Had it been of any other girl, irrespective of age, it would not have created the raruraru it has. It would probably have hung on the wall of her parents' lounge, regarded with love and understanding as a beautiful picture of their daughter at a time (as Rosemary Mcleod so prettily put it) "... of a young woman on the vulnerable brink of adult life. Once, such an attractive subject and theme would have made for a much-admired painting."

I don't know, but I would propose that perhaps the Mona Lisa might well have been greeted with the same approbrium - when Da Vinci gave it to the person who commissioned the work - had the image been given the kind of publicity that Cyrus has.

Dave Justus said...

I have no idea of the billboard in question. I don't have any beef with billboards that use sex to sell, but billboards that use sex with an underage girl to promote sales would be a quite different thing in my opinion.

Of course part of the issue is that Miley is famous. If no one had ever heard of her, or seen the picture it is clear that it wouldn't be in the news. I don't know that that says anything about the taste of the photo however. I would find it odd, at least, if I went to the house of any of the friends I have who have teenage girls and they displayed a picture of their daughter in a similar state of undress.

As far as I know, the Mona Lisa has never been considered either sexually charged or that she is an underage girl, so I am not sure where that example is going.

The probligo said...

"...billboards that use sex with an underage girl to promote sales..."

OK, I agree with the sentiment here but how does the Cyrus photo "use sex with an underage girl" any more than, say, beauty pageants for seven year old girls. Particularly when the parents of those participants seal-train their daughters to act like and imitate such sirens as Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassett, and likely Spears and the rest of that scurvy crowd.

The Mona Lisa? Who can say what debate that portrait might have engendered in the different mores of da Vinci's time. He was artist to the Pope among many others. We consider the portrait (as you yourself have said) to be quite proper and beyond any moral reproach. But look at the moral climate in which we are making the comparison. Would the prospect of a naked female newsreader have prompted comment in the moral world of da Vinci's time?

America has made itself a problem. It stems from the combination of personal freedoms - both moral and legal - and the potential to make money; lots and lots of money. In 99.5% of instances the outcomes are good to excellent. This is an instance where - by most measures - it has come horribly unstuck.

The solution to that problem?

In my mind that does not include the imposition of standards or prohibitions - that is public or even government censorship - any more than it requires legal sanction.

It does require people - very many people - to recognise that the making of money is not the final objective in this world. There have to be some limits and they should be applied by the individual voluntarily.

And there lies the problem - whose limits, whose values?