Before diving off the intellectual deep-end, it is important to secure an adequate flotation device to prevent yourself from sinking.
For me, this has always been George Michael’s “Faith.” So, spin this, while you skim over some of my thoughts on the use of media in American youth:
George Michael – Faith
As much as I would love for this video to be an example of youth media discourse, it is painfully irrelevant. I just like to ‘set the mood,’ if you will.
I recently found an article that, although briefly, seemed to feature a few fully-grown adults actually praising youth’s involvement in social media, (I KNOW, SHOCKING). It seems like the majority of the headlines we read (because let’s face it, that’s all we read), try to put social media in the same categories as drug use and unprotected sex with multiple partners. It only takes one child-abduction or one case of sexual harassment spawned from the internet to have pundits and talking heads up in arms about children online and the degenerating effect the web will certainly have on all of us. To that I say: puh-lease! Is this a joke? I mean, I get it. We should certainly be wary of a technology that can bring strangers into our homes (digitally, that is) and near our children. Cool. I get that. But by some divine cruelty the media has taken it upon themselves to instill our family values…with their values. I’m not even sure if it happens anymore, but my dad used to tell me how the evening news would always start its broadcast with, “It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your children are?” And while I fully appreciate the sentiment behind that question, it feels a little backhanded, maybe even fear-mongering, to ask viewers where their children are and then start a local news program filled with rapes, murders and child abductions. Have you watched your local news in the last year? It is ALL, I repeat, ALL stories of crime and tragedy. There is nothing positive about local news programs. So, why is this relevant? Because I firmly believe that the media control culture. Maybe not all too consciously, but through the way they frame issues, prioritize stories, and even more simply, the way they interact with each other serves as a strange model of “normal” for the rest of us the fall in line with. I would argue that the frenzy of media and information flowing at us 24/7 creates a climate where people are unable to even learn the truth about a topic at times. What I suppose I am saying is that rather than critiquing a specific piece of discourse, I would sooner critique the idea of discourse itself. Which…really…serves no purpose, so allow me to bite off a small piece and chew on it for a while:
The aforementioned article is from a site called EducationViews.org, a site operated by former textbook publishers, department of education employees, and general wizards of pedagogy. Assuming it was a pretty reputable site, I sniffed around until I found an article that seemed to stand out amongst others regarding social media:
“According to a new World Vision 30 Hour Famine study, conducted online in January by Harris Interactive, more than half of teens (55 percent) say social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have made them more aware of the needs of others.”
It was pleasantly surprising to find opinions like that floating around amongst these academics. The article’s study was done by the group who sponsors and organizes 30 Hour Famine, a charity organization designed to raise money/awareness of global hunger problems by having students pledge to go 30 hours without food and try and empathize with the plight of the world. So, admittedly, there is room for some bias here. I mean, if this study was taken of kids who were already volunteering for a charity, it may suffice to say that they are not the kinds of people who would allow something ‘bad’ to happen through their use of social media. But regardless, there is a small light now in the dark tunnel of social media’s reputation. These students were able to use social media as a social tool (huh, imagine that) and seemed to supplement their personal relationships with what they were able to learn from other students from a different proximity. If nothing else, this is what social media was designed for (you know, aside from making stacks of money). Social media is a gift for people to engage and interact in ways never possible before. I think it is a shame that the negative aspects or even the potential for negative aspects, inherent in any new technology, seemed to have risen to the surface and overshadowed all the good that came come from it.
The thing about social media is…”media” is a plural noun, which means when we say “social media” we are referencing all types of media that can be social. By extension, I would say that texting is a very specific type of social media, and sexting is a very specific type of social media.
The thing about sexting is…we’ve all done it. And if you haven’t done it you’re a liar. And if you truly haven’t done it, you are certainly hoping to one day. I hope this realization hasn’t offended you. It shouldn’t. And I mean the text-based sexting, of course. I don’t think we all want to send naked images of ourselves up to space and back down again. But sex is just as natural as sleeping and eating, yet it carries this horrific stigma in America and gives people the “oogies” at times. Have you ever been watching Comedy Central with your parents, say around 10-11 o’clock and a Girls Gone Wild commercial comes on? Awkward, right? How bout those commercials now that say “vaginal mesh” like 8 times? It’s uncomfortable! But why? I’m not sure I will ever fully know that answer, but I would put a lot of the blame on the way we all get shifty-eyes when someone says anything vaguely sexual.
Boobs! Penis! *shifty eyes*
I think the nature of sex and all its implications lends itself to being thrown greatly out or proportion. This may sound radical, but before Man invented age, and time, sex was something you did when you were able to, as in, once you went through puberty. It may be weird to think about (see, ‘oogies’ above) but our bodies are ready to have sex when we hit maybe 12-14? This physical readiness clashes with our cultural need to preserve sex until adulthood, or even marriage, when our natural inclinations begin much sooner. So why wouldn’t we all just be the sex-craved maniacs we all are, right? We’ve been fighting urges since the day we got them! Sexting seems to me like a natural expression of natural desires but through a digital platform, which we know can lead to replication, and seems to persist in existence much longer than any spoken thought or idea.
So what is so horrifying here? Is it a father finding a naked picture of his teenage daughter online and going ballistic? Yes. But it’s also a drastic encroachment on personal privacy and even freedom. Hasinoff feels that, “rather than viewing adolescents’ creative use of digital media to express their sexuality as a potentially positive development, the dominant media, legal, and educational response to sexting has viewed it as a technological, sexual, and moral crisis.” UGH this is spot on. The natural reaction from a parents persepctive would be to tighten your grip on your child and shield them from the dangers of sex and all that comes with it, but how is that helping a child? Would it not be better to promote education and a respectful understanding of sex in its social context for both grade-school life and beyond? Hasinoff later says, “struggling to understand sexting, many cultural commentators assume that it is the result of an overly sexualized culture combined with access to technology.” Really? Because…I think sexting would have gone on if cell phones were around in the 80’s, certainly the 70’s and you know it would have gone down in the 60’s. I’d have to side with Hasinoff here because I don’t really understand why were are the over-sexualized generation. Maybe because we are all-around more attractive than people of the past? (self-high-five). Maybe because of how nonchalant celebrities and other figures seem to be about sex? But, should we be that passive about sex? It is a major part of a person’s life, not to mention a necessary function for the continuation of our species. So why paint it as some heathenish act that only the bad kids do? A girl will know when boys start liking her. Boys know it too. That is not something we can change in the fabric of American youth. But what we can change is the way we conceptualize sex entirely.