Friday, January 16, 2009

Warning: Mature Content

I remember a time many years back, I think it was before I was a Christian (seems likely, I don't remember many of the details except the dialogue), when I was with a group of guys who were talking about sex. In particular, the topic under discussion was the morality and legality of sex with an underage partner. "Who would be stupid enough to have sex with a fifteen-year-old?" somebody asked. I quickly piped up, "I had sex with a fifteen-year-old." Every eye turned to me, wide and shocked. I smiled. "I was sixteen at the time."

Okay, confession time over. Yeah, I did some things in my teen years that I look back on as being very foolish, but that's not the point. Whether sexual or not, we all do foolish stuff when we're teenagers. It seems to be a time in life when we start to think we're as smart as adults, but few of us really are. Results may vary.

Now if you happen to be a teenager who's famous, your foolish mistakes will likely be broadcast on national television. In 2008, there were two famous teens who made what were considered to be foolish mistakes that to my mind, while foolish, say more about us as a culture than about those specific teenagers.

Miley Cyrus, sometimes known as the Disney star "Hannah Montana", was in the news this last year for posing for nude photographs. I don't really know how old she is, although I am aware she's under 18. Posing for nude photographs while under age 18 is considered a serious thing by our government, generally. I don't know how many people know this story, but back in the early days of Playboy, they had a centerfold that was 16 years old. Now, of course the idea behind limiting such ventures to those of legal age is to avoid exploitation of children, and as the story goes, this young woman came to the offices of the magazine escorted by her mother. Hugh Hefner no doubt figured that if he had parental permission, everything was fine. The feds said no, and there were consequences. Really, that made sense. If you make the assumption that anything goes so long as a minor's parents allow it, then one flings the door wide open to all sorts of exploitation. Think about it: do you think it would be alright for a child to become a prostitute just because her parents were her pimps? I hope your answer is "No!" As it happened, Cyrus' dad Billy Ray was not only present for much of the photo shoot, but was even in some of the pictures (not the nude one). Rather than making people think that made it okay, as far as I can tell, it made people rather angry at Mr. Cyrus for consenting to what they considered unconscionable.

How unconscionable was it, though? I saw the picture, and it made me think (not in a sexual manner, I didn't find the photo at all titillating). This is the thing: I think around the same time this picture was in the news, the movie Iron Man was released in the theaters. In that movie, the leading lady (Gwyneth Paltrow? I'm having a hard time with names this morning.) has a scene in which she shows off more skin than Miley; she was wearing an evening gown. Iron Man wasn't rated G, but I feel pretty confident that the rating had nothing to do with Paltrow's exposed back. In Cyrus' "nude" picture, it was only her back that was visible as well, but for her, it was scandalous.

Why is it that an adult (or even a child, actually) can appear in a movie or television program dressed in, let's say, a skimpy bikini, and it's alright, pieces of art such as Venus de Milo or Michelangelo's David can show pretty much complete nudity, but a teenage girl can't pose draped in a sheet? Note that I'm not saying I completely disagree with the critics on this matter, I only question it as a philosophical matter: what is considered by society to be unacceptable sexuality is vague at best.

Think about it: I'm pretty sure I have nude photos of my own daughters, but we're talking about photos of them under age two. I assume that nobody but the vilest of perverts would find them sexually enticing. The movie The Cider House Rules has a momentary shot of the female lead completely nude, but from the back, allowing what I thought was a movie of very mature content to garner a PG-13. I'm sure there are quite a few people who found that scene very sexually enticing--yet socially acceptable. There is a vague gray area somewhere between the ages of two and eighteen where the thought of sexuality is considered dangerous.

I find something about it ironically amusing. The other teenager who made the news last year was Jamie Lynn Spears. You probably heard about it, but she got pregnant. People were shocked, and I don't understand why. Back in the early days of her career, her older sister Britney had publicly stated that she was a virgin, and planned to remain so for some time. While of course there were those who admired this personal conviction, (however well it may have turned out for her) I seem to recall numerous people in the media who ridiculed the idea. Whether personally addressing Britney's choice in particular, or talking about issues of teen sexuality and scoffing the idea of any teenager being able to be abstinent, the idea seemed to many to be a joke. To many people, it's simply a given that teenagers have sex. News flash: the media may not be aware of it, but teen sex is the leading cause of teen pregnancy.

Our modern society expects teens to be sexually mature and active, and yet at the same time, keep any outward sign of it to themselves. Dress slutty, but don't take your clothes completely off; have sex, but make sure you somehow magically suffer no long-term effects; talk to anyone in the world about your sexuality except for your parents because--despite the fact they had you, and therefore must have had sex at least once--they're surely the least likely people in the world to have anything useful to say about the subject. I wonder what sorts of discussions Miley Cyrus has had with her dad about sex. It seemed like the buzz I picked up is that either he was irresponsible for passively allowing it to happen, or that he was immoral for actively encouraging it. Isn't it possible that they had an intelligent discussion about what's acceptable and what's not? If Miley Cyrus is old enough to have a career, one might think she's old enough to make her own decisions, and not be judged for it. Maybe, I don't know; this is a complicated issue.

I think what most people tend to worry about is the fact that we have a strong tendency to look to celebrities as some sort of role models. Average people like famous people, for some reason it's human nature. My own daughters will tell you if you ask them that they are big fans of "Hannah Montana", although to be honest, I don't think they know who she is; they certainly have never seen an episode of the Disney TV show. Do I want them emulating this behavior? No, but then again, I also recognize the validity and value of artistic expression. One of my daughters wants to be an artist, and if she pursues that interest, no doubt she'll end up doing nude figure drawing, simply because it's an integral part of an art education. She may even pose for other artists, and if she's being smart about it, then good for her I say, and age doesn't really matter.

The truth is, if we're worried about the effect that celebrities have on our children, then maybe something is wrong. Wrong with us. I don't know firsthand, but I get the impression that Cyrus is considered to be a very talented young lady, and that's something to be admired. At the same time, I would urge my own children not to set up any other person, famous or not, to be a role model for their lives carte blanche, but rather to make decisions for themselves as to what's moral behavior, and emulate their own consciences instead. Whatever Cyrus' intentions were in doing the things she did, she's not going to be a perfect model of moral uprightness. Nobody can be guaranteed to be that. I know I'm not.

15 comments:

Laura said...

Enjoyed the blog, specifically your comments about how teens are given a conflicting message from society - "Our modern society expects teens to be sexually mature and active, and yet at the same time, keep any outward sign of it to themselves . . ."

Have to disagree with you on your take that it's okay to compromise our standards in the name of art. You mentioned your Christianity - Christ never said "Honor God with your body - unless you're in art class." I understand the human body is often portrayed as beautiful in art, but posing nude in front of others is pornographic - don't think there's any getting around that. Does a man suddenly quit lusting because he has a sketch book in his hand? As I see it, only one man is worthy of beholding your daughter's nakedness, and that's her husband.

Brucker said...

I understand what you're saying, and to a large extent I agree. The thing is, I'm a man, and let's face it, somewhere around 90% of men have some problem with lust. All the same, I've never lusted after "Venus de Milo" or "The Birth of Venus", despite nudity in those. Being able to draw a nude figure is part of learning art, and part of art in itself. I wish we lived in a society where we could appreciate the nude figure aesthetically rather than lustfully. I don't think it's unreasonable to think it might be possible.

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

I appreciate your response. Have to respectfully disagree with you, my friend - it is unreasonable to think that a man can look at an attractive nude woman (in person) and not lust. And just because lust comes natural to humanity does not mean it's a good thing (lying comes natural to us all, but we discipline our kids when we catch them in a lie, don't we?)

QUESTION: Should our art reflect God's desire that women be clothed in modesty (knowing that this helps protect men's tendency to lust), or should we exalt our art above God's desires and tell Him, "Just deal with it; this is how we do art." ?

Brucker said...

>>>it is unreasonable to think that a man can look at an attractive nude woman (in person) and not lust.<<<

Once again, I understand but disagree. First of all, our attitudes towards nudity are largely cultural; many cultures find nudity entirely acceptable, if not the norm. Secondly, even though I am personally from a culture that does not tend to view nudity so nonchalantly, I can tell you I have been in the presence of nude women without being in a state of lust towards them. It's precisely because lust is a bad thing that I wish we could get over it, although I'm not advocating nudism. I'm saying I wish we could take it in stride and not, say, freak out when a woman wants to breast feed in public for example.

>>>QUESTION: Should our art reflect God's desire that women be clothed in modesty (knowing that this helps protect men's tendency to lust), or should we exalt our art above God's desires and tell Him, "Just deal with it; this is how we do art." ?<<<

Good question. My answer is that if any given man is the sort who cannot look at a nude woman without lust, he should probaly avoid becoming an artist, and he should stay away from that sort of art. I wouldn't allow my wife to keep a Victoria's Secret catalog around the house because it would be tempting for me; but I don't think there's anything inherently evil about V.S. or even their catalog. If a wife wants to dress sexy for her husband, then great! Let her pick it out of the catalog. Does this make any sense?

(BTW, marauder, if you're reading, my verification word is "quable" (sic).)

Laura said...

Hello again. In response to a few of your comments:
“many cultures find nudity entirely acceptable, if not the norm.”
I would have to say that such a culture has not progressed but rather regressed because a society that responds casually to nudity is a society that responds casually to sex. Casual sex ultimately destroys a society because it ultimately destroys families (sounds extreme but it’s true).

“I can tell you I have been in the presence of nude women without being in a state of lust towards them.”
That’s great – I’m not sure how you pulled that off, but since that is a most rare response, I still maintain that women should keep their clothes on, even in art class (not sure how I would feel if I took my clothes off and guys didn’t lust, now that I think about it).

“It's precisely because lust is a bad thing that I wish we could get over it.”
With all due respect, I equate that to beauty queens saying, “My platform is world peace – I wish we could all just get along.” Lust is not a cultural thing; it’s a humanity thing (specifically, an end-result of mankind’s fallen, sinful state). Our only hope of overcoming lust in this life is to have the Holy Spirit help us. That being said, I don’t think I’m going to go stare at a naked man in an art class and then pray, “Lord, help me not to lust!”

Let’s lasso this thing back in (yes, I’m from Texas). You said your daughter will likely need to pose nude should she pursue her education in art and to that I said I think that’s compromising spiritual/moral standards in the name of art. Furthermore, you said that if a person cannot overcome the tendency to lust while viewing a naked member of the opposite sex, he or she should avoid pursuing art. I say we should use more discretion with art to help protect people from lusting.

We can agree to disagree at this point if you like. I’ve enjoyed your willingness to discuss this with me!

Quick question, how do you tag certain themes in your blog so that they catch the Google alerts filters? I haven’t figured that out yet, and I would like to do that with my blog (www.InspiringAbstinence.com).

Brucker said...

>>>Casual sex ultimately destroys a society because it ultimately destroys families (sounds extreme but it’s true). <<<

No, I totally agree.

>>>That’s great – I’m not sure how you pulled that off,<<<

I think there are just times when nudity is acceptable. Granted, it's rare. The fact is, for a man, lust can be incited regardless of the amount of skin showing. Sometimes complete nudity just ends up not being a big deal.

>>>Lust is not a cultural thing; it’s a humanity thing<<<

I agree, but the way it gets expressed varies from culture to culture. It's like how everyone sometimes feels anger, but some cultures have higher murder rates. I'm not suggesting that if everyone waled around nude we'd never lust, I'm saying if we were a healthier society, I don't think we would obsess over nudity.

>>>Furthermore, you said that if a person cannot overcome the tendency to lust while viewing a naked member of the opposite sex, he or she should avoid pursuing art. I say we should use more discretion with art to help protect people from lusting.<<<

Well, we need both. Obviously there is no clearly delineated line between art with erotic undertones and pornography. The thing is, if you want to do away with anything that has erotic undertones, you'd have to scrap the Bible; it's full of sex!

>>>We can agree to disagree at this point if you like. I’ve enjoyed your willingness to discuss this with me!<<<

Thanks; it's been a rather pleasant discussion of what can be a very tough topic.

>>>Quick question, how do you tag certain themes in your blog so that they catch the Google alerts filters? I haven’t figured that out yet, and I would like to do that with my blog (www.InspiringAbstinence.com).<<<

Actually, I'm not sure what you mean. Honestly, I don't know much about the technical side of blogs, most of this blogger stuff is automated. Maybe what you want is to join Technorati? What is it you're trying to do? (BTW, your site looks great; I'll peruse it some more later.)

Brucker said...

And now once again, a list of my recent search terms:

*integral sexuality
*mature photos
*church angry over lyrics to imagine lennon
*revelation that john lennon was in love with his mum
*warning able mature tv shows
*mature sex blogspot
*homosex blogspot content warning
*mature bikini
*steven jay gould sky blue
*nude people

This list was brought to you courtesy of the World Wide Web: enabling your perversion since 1993!

Brucker said...

A bit of humor illustrating the fact that social attitudes towards showing skin can and do change (totally safe for work): someecards classic

marauder said...

Hey, what is this? You're having an actual intelligent conversation in the comments section of your blog -- and you never invited me? (Oh, right. You wanted an intelligent conversation; that surely would involve my exclusion.)

I was thinking about this earlier, and I have to respectfully disagree with you, Laura. I believe it is possible for a man to look at a nude female without being inflamed with lust. Not only possible, but natural.

Eroticism is something that comes naturally to us; it's a part of the design, and that is why it is so easy for us to eroticize not only the nude but something as nonerotic as eating an orange or even checking the air pressure on a set of tires. So you would be quite right in saying that it is easy to eroticize the nude in art class.

But you err in assuming it to be automatic. It is also natural (and fundamentally a part of the design) for us to appreciate beauty. Flowers are not inherently erotic (though again it is possible to eroticize them), but many if not most flowers are beautiful to look upon, and anyone with an appreciation for artistic design, elegance of function, and sheer honest beauty is going to love flowers: the crocuses that herald the arrival of spring with their first dazzling bursts of color in a drab and weary landscape, the dewdrops that gather on the petals of a tulip, the soft yellow fur of a dandelion, and the ephemeral wonder of a hibiscus.

So it is with the human nude. It is possible to appreciate the fleeting beauty of youth, the elegance of the design in the human form with its wondrous symmetry and complex interwoven systems, the way light flows across the skin, and the luster of hair in the soft light of evening or the bright cadence of noon. It is possible to do all these things without thinking of having sex with the person modeling or with the subject of the painting. I'm sure that every married couple has such thoughts not only about themselves but when they see their children growing, and falling in love; they see that joy etched in their children's lives and share it without intending to march in and steal it for themselves.

Men have a reputation for being raging lust-beasts, and I don't deny that we've done a lot to deserve it, but give us some credit. We are much more than that, created in the same image as women, and (at our best) capable of appreciating creation by faith from the same perspective as our Creator.

And, ironically, the word for this comment is "ticestio." I leave it to others to decide whether that sounds suggestive or innocent.

Brucker said...

>>>Hey, what is this? You're having an actual intelligent conversation in the comments section of your blog -- and you never invited me?<<<

I object! No only did I invite you (well, fairly unofficially) via e-mail, but I told you months ago that I was going to put up a post on the subject of pedophilia just to shame you for being associated with me, so you should have seen it coming.

Word Verification: "dolumbs". Does sound like a real word, and yet doesn't suggest any particular meaning to me.

marauder said...

The crew was overcome by a severe case of dolumbs.

***

It was a difficult operation, but fortunately the patient had come to a state-of-the-art hospital where doctors had all the necessary equipment, even a set of dolumbs.

***

The salad bar was full of everything Freddie would need for his meal. There were plump red cherry tomatoes and mounds of grated cheese, the bins were heaped with mounds of croutons and delicious bacon bits. But when Freddie saw the dolumbs, he knew he truly had found the holy grail of salad bars.

***

"Whoa!" Pete cried, elbowing Vern in the chest. "Check out the dolumbs on that babe!"

***

The gym teacher was furious. He'd seen some useless students in his day, but this class had to be the biggest set of dolumbs he had ever come across in 36 years of public education.

***

"I might be a dolumb," thought Melvin, "but at least I'm no rathro like Kevin."

Brucker said...

Another thought just occurred to me that I often like to bring up in these sorts of discussions: At UCSC, where I went to college, they had coed bathrooms. You actually get used to it very quickly.

As to your uses of "dolumb", I think they are rather pleha.

marauder said...

At Lafayette, where I was a student, one summer some of the students suggested co-ed bathrooms. The rationale was what that we all had co-ed bathrooms at home, we could designate certain hours for use by each for things like showers, and whatnot.

I don't doubt I would have got used to it, but my concern was that I didn't want to get used to it. I don't mind having co-ed bathrooms at home, since I can lock the door, and I'm related to those people. I'm not ready for that sort of familiarity with people I'm not related to and may not even know; I would think that none of us would want would be to accidentally be seen naked by a member of the opposite sex in a dorm situation.

That may be a denti attitude on my part, but I still stand by it almost 20 years later.

Brucker said...

Here's that someecards link updated:
http://www.someecards.com/card/kindly-stop