Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bad Girls

With all of the convictions and allegations and admissions of sexual harassment and assault in the news recently, it seems like there's a house cleaning going on up at the top levels of power. One powerful man after another - in media, politics, and arts - is being dragged into the light and exposed as a sexual predator. And the reaction to it all seems appropriate. For the most part, I don't hear a whole lot of excuses being made for their behavior, and the consequences are coming in fast and brutal, as they should be. 

Especially in the case of men like Harvey Weinstein and Dr. Luke, it seems that the reason that this has gone on so long without repercussions is because they are hold a special kind of power over some of the youngest and most beautiful women in their industries, women who know that their hopes for a career in the arts will probably have to go through these men's offices at some point. These women, and many men as well, have to decide how badly they want that success. Badly enough to give in to these perverts and abusers? Badly enough to keep their mouths shut about the exploitation of others? And we shouldn't be surprised by any of it, either. We've joked for years about the casting couches and trophy wives in these industries.

In all of this, I can't help but thinking about all of these young starlets that we've watched grow up of the years. Some of them we even grew up with ourselves, thought of them as peers or friends or classmates. For about twenty years, we've watched a cycle repeat itself in these young women. They start of as bubblegum singers with Disney-esque reputations, and then as soon as they hit the age of majority - or sometimes sooner - they ditch the nice girl act and become "nasty girls." They either go from innocent, teenaged lyrics to highly sexual lyrics, or, too often, from suggestively lewd lyrics at 16 to openly lewd lyrics at 18. Then, after a few year of wild success on that track, they fall apart in public view and give in to drugs, alcohol, and other addictions. And for so many years, we've shaken our finger and tsk-tsked at them, lamenting the fact that these "bad girls" seem to need to act so whorish in order to prove their maturity and womanhood.

But now I'm not sure we had it right. After seeing how deep this perversion and abuse goes, or rather, how high, I'm starting to think we've been watching the cycle of abuse play itself out in these women's lives all along. We shook our heads at these young women with their suggestive or outright sexual music - women who for the most part don't write music, play instruments, or even write lyrics - and completely ignored the machine behind them that was crushing them and molding them into its masters' desires. And we participated in their destruction, because all the while we were scorning their behavior, we were still buying their music and greasing that despicable machine.

In fact, those desires became our desires. They exploited these girls and put their bodies on display, sexualized them and dehumanized them, and then made us all believe that this was all right, that we should celebrate this, because ... girl power? This is one of the reasons I go on a music fast every once in a while, because I need to know that I like the music I like because I find intrinsic value in it, and not because the industry told me it was hot right now. I talk about this with my students about this all the time whenever the subject of today's music comes up. The question I ask them is, are you really sure that this song is on the radio because it's good music, or do you just think it's good music because it's on the radio, usually in heavy rotation? How many times have you said that when you first heard a song, you didn't like it, but the more you listened to it, the more it grew on you? If somebody forced to you listen to "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as often as some of these pop songs play on the radio, you'd be humming that at your desk too. Even some of our most beloved songs are suspect. When you think of throwback jams that you hold up as personal favorites, it that because of the song's actual merit, or just because it happened to be in heavy rotation that year that you graduated high school, or got the party started at prom, or was on the radio when you had your first kiss? And for all of those moments in our lives that have such personal meaning to use, how can we be sure that the soundtrack of our lives wasn't actually the degradation of someone else's?

We played a role in this scandal, and we also have an opportunity and responsibility to do something about it, other than to post memes to Facebook. We can take back control of music and media and decide that the exploitation of these young people, especially women, stops with us. Instead of letting perverts tell us that it's okay for us to fantasize about underage women, or any woman who is exploited and objectified, we can retaliate with the same fire and brimstone that Weinstein and others are getting right now, instead of waiting to find out that the men behind the machine, the ones that put sixteen-year-old girls in fetishistic outfits and give them sexually suggestive lyrics and dances to perform, are the sexual predators that they obviously are. defines the verb pervert as "to lead morally astray," and while that's what has happened to so many of these young people, it's been happening to their audience as well, to the point that many of us watched the blatant exploitation of beautiful, young, vulnerable girls, and we not only bought a ticket to the show, but we despised the performers for their own degradation.