, , , , , , , , , , , ,


Fashion Week (Top) comparison with Abu Ghraib Pictures


There has been an overall turn for the worse with the Western World in regards to what is, or was, considered to be the standard of civilized morals and values. I submit that there has been an intentional push within our culture-industry to accept what would once repulse our sensibilities, to not only tolerating a new normal, but enjoy it. My argument is that the representation within media in modern society is increasingly sexualized. This is extremely disturbing as it creates the problem of our youth being desensitized and dehumanized. What this means, is that when this current matures and takes the reigns from the old, our society as a whole will be changed for the worse.

I will be breaking down my thesis by at first explaining how it is possible for the masses to be manipulated in accepting a perverse mindset. Secondly I give some historical context to this agenda and thirdly I willI will map this process across various forms of media, with examples from movies and video games and other these forms to highlight the messages which are being promoted to our youth.

1. Background Information

My argument can be at first seen to be an overreaction or even melodramatic, however it is possible to explain via the concept of the ‘Overton Window’, that is, the political theory of manipulating public opinion within the spectrum of going from unthinkable, to acceptable, to being popular to becoming the new normal. It’s achieved by bombarding the mass-public with propaganda techniques, achieving ‘creeping normalcy’[1]. This has been implemented by the use of propaganda, to the extent of being so affective that the recent concepts of entertainment can be shown in examples such as outrageous comedy to outright acceptance. Further information and examples will be discussed later on when in-depth analysis is discussed below. 

The father of what is recognized as modern day propaganda or ‘public relations’ is Edward Bernays. Educated in journalism and the nephew of Sigmund Freud, he had merged Crowd Psychology with Psychoanalysis. In his 1928 book Propaganda Bernays created the concept of ‘the engineering of consent’: ‘If we control the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it?’[2] He then goes further to say that although his techniques are not an exact science this is indeed possible and that ‘but at least the theory and practice have combined with sufficient success to permit us to know that in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as a motorist can regulate the speed of his car.[3]’He worked for the commercial interests which saw him work on commercial campaigns which eventually created a consumer-culture. One example of his work can be found in the ‘Torches of Freedom’ advertizing campaign, which essentially co-opted the women’s rights movement by the Tobacco Industry to promote smoking by making people associate smoking with gender-equality[4]. His techniques are discussed in the documentary ‘The Corporation’, as Jonathan Ressler CEO of Big Fat Inc, Undercover Marketing Specialist points out, a person is subjected to intense propaganda every day. He equates this technique of manipulation to product placement where branded goods, services or even ideas are placed in a context of movies, music videos, the story line of television shows, or news programs – but it is not in a movie but real life[5]. Essentially an idea can be ‘downloaded’ into your mind through media, particularly in high-drama crisis fiction; it can familiarize, normalize and even justify a concept no matter how unbelievable it may be.

This technique is in some sense an ancient one. Plato talks about the culture-industry which existed in his own lifetime, how the establishment used culture to not only maintain control over the masses but also demanded what type of culture the mass population should enjoy[6]. As disturbing as this was, upon further analysis not only will it become clear that it can happen in the modern world, in my opinion it already is.

2. Modern Day Trends

I first define the difference is between a normal healthy sex life and what is sexual perversion. According to Dr. Papadopoulos, a healthy sexuality is based on mutual respect between consenting adults, which through sex, increases the bond and intimacy. In contrast to this definition, sexualization imposes sexual activity onto children and young people before they are physically, mentally and emotionally mature enough to make a non- decision to engage into such behavior and practices[7]. As Rosalind Gill indicated, the sexualization of culture creates a legitimate concern with standards, taste and ‘public decency’.  This industry has produced a ‘dumbed down’ sexualculture that panders to and celebrates the basest instincts of humankind[8]. Because of this, the Western World has become sexualized. Pornstars are now accepted as legitimate mainstream celebrities and what is called ‘Porn Chic’ is now in all forms of media. Sex is either promoted, or there is a sexual undercurrent in order to promote a product.[9]  Also the volume of sexualized images and the extent to which they impinge on everyday life has drastically increased compared to two decades ago. This is also done more in public view, where all including children can see, which further blurs the line between pornography industry and mainstream media. Another trend which is that bombarding the public is children are being depicted in an ‘adultified’ way, while adults, females in particular are conversely being depicted in an ‘infantised’ way. This tactic is incredibly dangerous as it blurs the line between sexual immaturity and maturity. This also legitimizes the notion that children are sexual objects. I find myself in agreement with Emma Rush which was that the sexualization of children through the marketplace will desensitize and prepare them for sexual interaction with adults[10]. This is achieved by encouraging sexual initiation at an early age, as they will not be intellectually mature enough to truly comprehend and process the complications.

These concepts are supported by anti-pornography activist, Gail Dines in her most recent work, Pornland, where she brings the fact that the media has embraced the pornography industry as simply another legitimate form of entertainment. I found Dines book to not only be extremely informative, but it also provided confirmation of my initial beliefs. According to her conclusions, this creeping normalization was done by design.  It was achieved by completely stripping away the ‘dirt factor’ and reconstructing the porn as fun, chic, sexy and hot. Due to this rebranding, pop culture can now embrace this form of entertainment guilt free, therefore normalize it intoour collective consciousness[11]. I would submit that this is a perfect modern-day example of Bernays techniques along the Overton Window at work. To further expose this trend, I will discuss examples of normalized perversion from a range of media outlets.

First I discuss two television shows Family Guy and Law and Order: SVU. The animated television show Family Guy is about a nuclear family consisting of the parents Peter and Lois Griffin, their teenage children Meg and Chris along with their youngest Stewie and their pet dog Brain. Notable supporting cast members are Quagmire and Herbert. The show depicts frequent jokes indicating incest, bestiality and pedophilia. Lois is shown to have a strong sex drive to the point of enjoying more ‘hardcore’ activities. She is an aggressive proponent of sadomasochism, she has cheated on her husband on multiple times, participated in pornography and seen to be seduces her teenage daughter’s boyfriends. Writer Alex Borstein has said in an interview that Lois represents a modern self-confident woman and is breaking the rules as how women are portrayed on TV, ‘those sitcom rules that a woman is supposed to be a total wet blanket and not like sex and is no fun’[12]. What he is actually saying is that a girl who does not have a tolerance for this new normal of sexual fetishes are now to be ‘no fun’ and a ‘wet blanket’. 

Brian is a dog with human characteristics including speech and personality. A running gag throughout the series is bestiality as he is revealed to have a crush on Lois and has sexual-active relationships with different human females. Examples can be found in episode ‘Play It Again, Brian’, he tries to kiss her. He also had a drunken one-night-stand with Meg in ‘Barely Legal’. His long-term girlfriend Jillian Russell is a stereotypical blonde, which he stays with her purely for sex.

The more well known character of Family Guy isGlen Quagmire, who is known for his hypersexuality. He enjoys nearly every kind of sexual activity including frotteurism, erotic asphyxiation, bestiality, incest, necrophilia including to the point of being heavily implied to be rapist. An example of this can be found in the episode ‘And the Wiener Is…’ in which Meg attempts to become a cheerleader but when she is rejected and teased, Lois gets revenge by manipulating Quagmire to find the head cheerlead tied and gagged in a Mens Bathroom stall. Quagmire who stumbles onto the discovery simple smiles and says “Dear diary…”, closing the door behind him. Not only do his friends refuse to condemn him for his actions, they simply laugh it off, completely undermining the seriousness of the crime.

Then there is Stewie, the most off-putting of them all. Stewie is a one-year-old who has the language skills and mentality of a highly intelligent adult. This adult-behavior includes sexuality. His sexual orientation is left ambiguous, but it is obviously homosexual and it also includes bestiality. My problem is not that he could be homosexual, but the fact that a toddler is depicted with a sex-drive. The creators could have easily have kept these jokes, but on an older teenage or young adult, but the fact that they decided on a one-year-old does make me question the message being sent. Throughout the entire series he is shown enjoying cross-dressing, implied sexual activity with other toddlers and being aroused by female cheerleaders and muscular men. He is also depicted as having a crush on the family humanoid dog, Brian. Examples can be found in ‘The Former Life of Brian’ he goes along to be Brian’s assistant in a magic show,  he instead of saying ‘saw me in half’, he say ‘you can split me in half’. In ‘McStroke’ when making a bet Stewie says in order to seal the deal, he say they should ‘kiss on it’. And finally in the episode ‘Movin Out(Brain’s Song)’, when Brain is left to brew in a dark room after his girlfriend left him, in order to cheer him up, Stewie says in order to cheer him up, “Just to get back at her, you should have sex with the first person you see. No matter who it is”. He then proceeds to switch on the light, implying that theyshould sleep together.

And finally there is the elderly next-door neighbor Herbert. He is obviously a pedophile, which the cast are oblivious to. He also has an unrequited lust for the oldest teenage son, Chris.  Examples can be found in ‘To Love and Die in Dixie’, where Herbert tries to lure Chris inside the house by offering him a popsicle. And in ‘No Chris Left Behind’, Chris is invited by his grandfather to join the Skull and Bones Secret Society and the initiation process implies being sexually abused by Herbert.

Law & Order SVU is a detective drama series, where episodes are loosely based on real events and the emphasis is on sexual based offenses. Although the show does not promote any positive spin on sex-crimes, and although it could educate the audience on what is happening in the world of policing, I think the fact that it constantly shows these crimes in detail, could actually give ideas into people head. This is not being paranoid as a real-life example of this happening can be found in Canada, where a serial killer said that he was inspired by watching the TV Series ‘Dexter’[13]. Season 4, episode 15 called ‘Pandora’ has a chilling end scene where Detective Stabler is questioning a criminal of not just a pedophile ring, but a movement. This movement was based on the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), which is a pedophile and pederasty advocacy organization which seeks to abolish age of consent laws criminalizing adult sexual involvement with minors. When questioned and condemned by Stabler, the perpetrator responds by saying “Society says I’m wrong, but not long ago society said interracial marriage was wrong. Go ahead. Arrest us. Persecute us. We’re not going away. We’re not going to play by your rules, and nothing you can do will ever change that.” Obviously the show did not support or portray a positive spin to this ideology, but the message was still send to the audience, which could later pacify their reactions to this concept as they were already shown this message through their entertainment.

In terms of video games there is a push to normalize and make children and young adults find torture acceptable and even ‘sexy’. According to Dr. Linda Papadopoulos many games feature highly sexualized content and there is a notable lack of strong female characters. In a recent content analysis, 83% male characters were found to be portrayed as sexually aggressive, 60% female characters were portrayed in a sexualized way and 39% were scantily dressed. The actual content of violence against women is often trivialized[14]. One particular video game ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ which is an online role-playing game has courted attention. The game allows players to torture and abuse a female ‘slave’ character with punches and an electric shock collar. As reported by a gamer “She comes complete with a convenient high voltage shock collar, allowing me to administer harsh punishment should she speak or act in a manner unbefitting her station. I torture her. I tease her. I belittle her in front of others. On one occasion I even make her watch as I have sexual relations with the wife of a slain enemy.” The dehumanization on the players’ outlook can be further seen on the forums, where they boasted of how low their slave opinion is of them and the negative numbers on the game’s companion friendship scale.[15]

What is also notable in recent times is the huge leap forward in realistic computer graphics. This can be seen in the recent ‘L.A Noir’ and ‘Heavy Rain’ games, where new facial software and motion capture technology, can blur the lines between real-life and computer graphics even to a greater extent[16]. Dr Papadopoulos argues the several studies have suggested that violent content have an impact on behavior increasing aggression in children and young people. The same learning processes that underline these effects are also likely to work with sexualization content affecting sex-role beliefs, emotions and behavior.[17]

Even in our fashion we can see an attempt to pervert what would once have been disturbing into an everyday occurrence. For example, an advertisement depicting a 10 year old wearing a chocker around their neck, with the ends dangling where her cleavage would be if she were older. She was also wearing a hot-pink tank top, loose black pants, and pink lipstick[18]. According to Australian body-language expert Allen Pease, it is believed that female lips evolved as a mirror of her genitals[19] because they are the same size and thickness and in an aroused state, both expand as they fill with blood. Lipstick was invented as an artificial permanent display of sexual readiness. Therefore wearing red or hot-pink lipstick is one of the most sexual signals a woman can use and is always the color of choice when posing as a sex symbol[20]. It only when the symbolism is understood that society can pick on the true messages being sent to our subconscious, and the fact that the product being advertized was eau de toilette which targeted primary school demographic is very disturbing indeed.

Another example of perversion can be found in the 2006 Milan Fashion Week exhibition entitled ‘State of Emergency’, the clothes which were promoted to the theme of police-brutality[21]. Once again, through therepetitive bombardment of images of women being beaten and sexual assaulted by militarized police. There is an attempt to normalize and sexualize violence. I am particularly disturbed at these graphics as I can see immediate parallels to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and even the infamous photos of Abu Ghraib. Both depicted human rights violations in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of prisoners(see attached pictures).Once again this is to makes violence ‘sexy’ and dulls our senses to abuse.

A good indicator to gauge the current state of society can be found by following social media such as Twitter and Facebook and a noticeable increase of pedophilia, rape and misogynistic jokes and the overall undermining of the seriousness of crimes itself. Former Police Officer and current UFC fighter Forrest Griffin got into trouble when he tweeted ‘Rape isthe new Missionary’.[22]Another incident by concerned former UFC veteran Miguel Torres tweeting a joke about ‘rape vans’: ‘If a windowless van was called a surprise van more people wouldn’t mind going for rides in them. Everyone like surprises.’[23] During a episode of WWE, professional wrestler ‘manager’ Abraham Washington, describing how well his ‘client’ was performing in a match, A.W. said “He’s like Kobe Bryant at a hotel in Colorado! He’s unstoppable!” [24] The comment referred to the 2003 sexual assault case, in where NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

3. Outcomes

The affects on our youth cannot be ignored, as the symptoms of a declining society are present in the now altered psychological makeup of our younger generation will inherit the positions of power. It has been noted by psychological professionals that precocious sexuality is used to get attention and therefore can escalate to the level of sexual encounters by the young. If this occurs, the development of a child development becomes neglected as their concentration will be focused the superficial. Dr Linda Papadopoulos has brought to light problems such as body Disorders where the mainstream media promotes and reinforces an idealized notion of beauty for both men and women presenting standards, of thinness for women and muscularity for men. These idealized images also influence boys ‘attitudes to girls bodies’[25]. Eating disorders are also becoming more prevalent as there are a link between depiction of women and sexualization. Television has repeatedly shown a ‘fat character’ as sloppy, untrustworthy and gluttonous while thin/fit people are seen as beautiful and overall ‘good’. Exposure to what is considered to be perfection has unsurprisingly led mental health to low-self-esteem, negative moods and depression in young people, especially girls. These risks are further supported by Emma Rush, as she has indicated how sexualization of children is morally reprehensible. The endgame is to ensure that the treatment of human beings as ends in themselves, and never simply as means to other ends[26]. There is also the issue of sexual objectification whereby a person is portrayed asa sexual ‘thing’ and seen as a collection of sexual/physical attributes rather than an individual.

Unfortunately this is already happening, as Dines has reported when lecturing on college campuses, although many women have not watched porn regularly, their sexuality is being molded by their partners as they pressure them into acting out ‘porn sex’ Many are left confused as to why their loved-ones try to act out degrading sexual acts[27].  Once again it is understood by the culture-industry that humans have a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ mentality and by using the Overton Window, people can easily think and enjoy what they want them too.

Conclusion –

There does seem to be a definite agenda by our culture-industry to push such behavior from the top-down via the media outlets. The solution is not censorship or isolating yourself from the world, but education. If you are aware of the manipulation, you will not be affected as badly. An analogy used is the magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat, if you know that the magician has two rabbits and he is not really pulling a rabbit out his hat, you will appreciate the craft, you are not fooled. The same applied to everyday propaganda.

[1] Joseph Lehman, A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window, (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2012)

[2] Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Ig Publishing, 1928)

[3] Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Ig Publishing, 1928)

[4] Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Ig Publishing, 1928)

[5] Joel Bakan, The Corporation, (Zeitgeist Films, 2003)

[6] Plato, The Republic, (Cambridge University, 1963)

[7] Linda Papadopoulos, Sexualization of young people, ()

[8] Rosalind Gill, The Sexualization of Culture?, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2012)

[9] Gill Rosalind, Sexualization of Culture?, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2012)

[10] Emma Rush, Letting Children Be Children: Stopping the sexualization of children in Australia, Discussion Paper, (The Australian Institute)

[11] Gail Dines, Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality (Beacon Press, 2010)

[12] “Alex Borstein , Lois Laughs at the Once-Dead Family Guy’s Longevity, (TV Guide, 2006)

[13] CBC, Dexter killer’ drops appeal: Edmonton filmmaker Mark Twitchell murdered and dismembered victim (CBC Online, 2012)

[14] Linda Papadopoulos, Sexualization of young people, ()

[15] Rob Waugh, Hit Star Wars game lets players ‘own’ and torment female slaves with electric shock collar (Dailymail Online, 2012)

[16] Colter Palen, Game Review: L.A. Noire (Marjorspoilers.com, 2006)

[17] Linda Papadopoulos, Sexualization of young people, ()

[18] Emma Rush, Letting Children Be Children: Stopping the sexualization of children in Australia, Discussion Paper, (The Australian Institute)

[19] Allen Pease, Body Language, (Pease International Pty Lyd, 2006 )

[20] Allen Pease, Body Language, (Pease International Pty Lyd, 2006 )

[21] Steven Meisel, State of Emergency (Milan Fashion Week, 2006)

[22] Anna North, MMA Fighter wins Twitter Award, Celebrates by Tweeting Rape Jokes (jezebel.com, 2011)

[23] Anna North, MMA Fighter Fired for Tweeting Gross ‘Rape Van Joke’ (jezebel.com, 2011)

[24] TMZ Staff, WWE Star: I just got fired over Kobe Rape Joke (TMZ, 2012)

[25] Linda Papadopoulos, Sexualization of young people, ()

[26] Emma Rush, Corporate Pedophilia: sexualization of children in Australia, (The Australian Institute, 2006)

[27] Gail Dines, Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality (Beacon Press, 2010)


Achbar, M (2003) The Corporation, Zeitgeist Film

Bernays, E (1928) Propaganda, Ig Publishing

CBC (2012) Dexter killer drops appeal: Edmonton filmmaker Mark Twitchell murdered and dismembered victim, CBC Online

Dines, G (2010) Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality, Beacon Press

Flood, M (2003) Youth and pornography in Australia: Evidence on the extent of exposure and likely effects, Discussion Paper

Gill, R (2012) The Sexualisation of Culture?, Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Lehman, J (2012) A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Meisel, S (2006) State of Emergency, Milan Fashion Week

North, A (2011) MMA Fighter wins Twitter Award, Celebrates by Tweeting Rape Jokes, jezebel.com

North, A (2011) MMA Fighter Fired for Tweeting Gross ‘Rape Van Joke’, jezebel.com

Papadopoulos, L () Sexualisation of Young People,

Palen, C (2006) Game Review: L.A. Noire, marjorspoilers.com

Plato (1963) The Republic, Cambridge University

Rush, E (2006) Corporate Pedophilia: sexualization of children in Australia, The Australian Institute

Rush, E (2006) Letting Children Be Children: Stopping the sexualization of children in

Australia, The Australian Institute

Waugh, R (2012) Hit Star Wars game lets players ‘own’ and torment female slaves with electric shock collar, Dailymail Online

TMZ (2012), WWE Star: I just got fired over Kobe Rape Joke, TMZ Online