Rein in raunchiness

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

Teens and tunes have been codependent for decades.

And while a 14-year-old girl or boy is still very much the same creature biologically and mentally as she or he was generations ago, that is not the case with the songs that flood their culture.

Given the average age of newspaper readers, it’s likely that while many of you may have heard of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, you probably haven’t actually ever listened to their lyrics or watched their music videos.

Until this week, neither had I, even though my world is populated with teen-aged offspring. It was only after a friend clued me in to the “Raunch Revolution” that I sat down and stripped the ignorance from my bliss.

First I read the lyrics of the recent song “S & M” by R&B star Rihanna. With a title like that, I was braced for the worst—and good thing.

Parental Warning: don’t worry about your child reading some of the following admittedly raunchy phrases in a family newspaper; they are already saturating the radio airwaves and the Internet with the limitless repetition afforded by digital media.

The chorus of “S & M” mixes a Mother Goose rhyme with a hardcore fetish: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.”

The preceding line is more than provocative; it’s unabashedly explicit: “Sex is in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it.”

Lest her fans lack sufficient imagination, Rihanna’s music video visually fills in any gaps. It’s four minutes of quick changing images cut to match the fast paced beat, beginning with a writhing Rihanna beneath cellophane.

Before it’s over she’s also wearing garters and wielding a whip, bouncing hogtied on the floor, flaunting a tube top with “Censored” across it and simulating sex with a blow-up doll.

Surrounding her in each shot are scenes from every bondage cliché known to porn. YouTube’s counter rated mine as the 26th million and something viewing of the video.

Next I ventured into the lyrics for the song “LoveGame” by Lady Gaga, where the chorus is a recurring chant of “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick.”

Again, whatever urge might have existed to favor allusion over outright licentiousness was summarily squelched. As Lady Gaga sings, “I’m on a mission and it involves some heavy touching,” a man runs his hands over her bosom.

Later, shortly after singing “I’m educated in sex, yes, and I want it bad,” she essentially gives a lap dance to a car hood. Throughout the three-and-a-half minute video, airtime is given to every sexual relationship except traditional monogamy, from lesbians to threesomes to outright orgies.

That video had been seen on YouTube more than 74 million times before I watched it.

It’s one thing for adults to choose to patronize musical artists who go beyond raunchy. It’s quite another for it be marketed to underage teens.

These songs play on the radio during the day, and the videos play on TV during family hours. Advertisers that target young teens flock to support the artists. Rihanna is on the cover of July’s Cosmopolitan magazine.

What mature audiences can understand is that these songs, and their glammed-up videos, paint a picture of false reality. Irresponsible promiscuity may entice youngsters; adults know the statistics stemming from such behavior, almost all of which are devastatingly negative-especially for girls.

Underage, unwed pregnancies all too often lead to lives littered with trouble, from poverty and health problems to relationship and education difficulties. Once burdened, many unwed teenage mothers struggle to find work and avoid crime victimization.

Those statistics do not disparage the great many women who wound-up young single moms and defied the odds to raise their children to be successful citizens. But they do demonstrate a situation in which the statistics favor failure.

The moneyed interests in the music industry make the same protest against any form of “censorship” as the tobacco companies did back in the 1960s. It’s laughable now, comparing the two situations, because tobacco ads were never overtly directed at youngsters the way raunchy music is.

Nevertheless, youth were ultimately considered too impressionable to only be shown the rugged cowboy taking a drag, and not the cancer or emphysema patient struggling to breathe. Even the use of cartoon characters, without any accompanying advertising sound or visual effects, was eventually deemed to unduly influence children to smoke.

The same argument applies to clamping down on pop artists who are constantly racing to see who can be the raunchiest. It’s irresponsible to deluge teens, with their invincible worldviews, with images of amoral sexual behavior as merely fun and exciting, only because it generates more profits.

Sex sells, and raunchiness seems to sell even better with teens. Prostitution could be a booming business, except for a legislative moral compass. It’s time to put raunchy music stars that market to teens in the crosshairs.

If they’re smart, they’ll regulate themselves, as they have in the past. If not, they should be reminded how many tobacco ads are seen on TV.

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