It’s hard to switch on a television these days without noticing how sex is increasingly being used as a cheap yet effective marketing ploy. From racy novels to racing hot dogs, advertisers are quick to cash in on the universal language of coitus. There are inherent problems with this practice. One of the biggest is that in order to sell sex it has to be commodified, and this product comes in some rather attractive packaging. As such, marketing sex also requires defining and commodifying sexy. This creates archetypal standards for beauty that can have long-lasting negative effects, for people who do and don’t fit the mold.
These created standards of beauty seem to be rising with the profits, subsequently creating needs and nurturing an industry that is increasingly self-sustaining. In this industry aging is a disease that must be fought, weight loss is a vain effort achieved in pill form or through fad diets, and often unnaturally thin models must be photoshopped into even further ‘perfection.’ Perhaps the worst result of this mass-media inundation can be seen among America’s youth as their focus is turned towards meeting physical standards over milestones in mental, emotional, and social development.
Focusing on the base elements of sex does more than this, however. It also sustains negative mentalities concerning men and women’s attitudes towards it, such as the idea that men cannot control themselves when it comes to their urges. Hand-in-hand with this is the idea that women are not as interested in sex and are prone to using sexuality as a tool for personal gain. Even worse than this is the idea that women are somehow responsible for the ‘uncontrollable’ sexual urges of men.
These notions counteract and threaten struggles for gender equality long in the making. Consider the case of Melissa Nelson who was fired by her male employer for being irresistible. This decision was later backed by the Iowa Supreme Court, and it took a public outcry from media coverage of the event to get the court to reconsider. Despite all of this, it is likely the same verdict will be reached. This raises many questions for the true nature of equality in the workplace, and it goads this Examiner to ask in which direction America is moving: forwards or backwards.
While in this instance media outlets proved to be beneficial, this is not always the case. Consider the media circus surrounding the infamous Debra Lafave, an attractive teacher from the Tampa Bay area who had sexual relations with a student. Despite similar occurrences happening within days of this incident, the media focused in on Lafave because of her appearance. The consequent national sensation caused the mother of the victim to keep her son off the witness stand. As a result, Lefave never went to trial for this crime and was able to accept a plea bargain. Her attorney was quick to capitalize on her appearance as well, using an argument now almost as famous as Lafave herself: ‘To place Debbie into a Florida state women’s penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions.’
In a 2006 interview with Dateline Lafave made the statement that ‘sex sells,’ and she seems to be right. Perhaps Americans should be asking at what cost.
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