New Year’s Resolutions for our Popular Culture
Since everyone is getting ready to make New Year’s resolutions, I thought I would do the same. But I’m not going to make them for myself (actually I am – but those are too boring to be fodder for this here illustrious blog). Rather, I’m going to make some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for our popular culture, especially as it pertains to my particular interests as a sexual ethicist.
And, just like real resolutions, even if these would ever be considered by our culture, they will no doubt be forgotten around, oh, the end of the week. So here we go.
My first suggested resolution for the culture: Celebrity women, please stop doing photoshoots of yourselves topless and somehow describing this as empowering. Keira Knightly, women’s bodies may be a battleground as you assert, but certainly not in the way that you seem to think. It is not empowering to show your breasts to us; it is objectifying. I assure you that the people who seek out your empowering photos do not have your personhood in mind.
The second resolution relates to the attitude found driving many movies and TV shows right now. Unfortunately, the architects of American pop culture believe that their consumers are all disillusioned single 25-year olds with loads of disposable income. This is the only explanation I can find for the editorial stances of any website or magazine focused on movies and TV. Attitudes towards life always skew toward the cynical and reduce anything noble, virtuous, or even just “traditional” (whatever that might mean) to a caricature. Fortunately, while this cynicism is widespread, it is not universal. So, second resolution: let’s see less cynicism.
The year 2014 brought us some high profile stories about sexual assault, an act that Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World said “poisons humanity” (GS 27). Unfortunately, attitudes toward those accused of sexual assault vary widely, in large part depending on whether one likes the celebrity or not. There is a certain unconscious mercy behind such attitudes, but this is undone by the brutal abuse heaped upon the celebrities we don’t like or don’t care about. Third resolution: let’s understand the act of assault as a horrific offense against the human person that always must be condemned, and try to remember that our attitude towards the offender should not be based on whether we like their work or if we agree with their politics, and that we are all in need of mercy and forgiveness.
The proliferation of pornography and the increased “pornification” of our culture continues unabated. The sociological data and the anecdotal stories of damage caused by porn continue to mount. Yet not only does there seem to be little interest in changing this attitude in our popular culture, but the prevalence of porn continues to set explicit or implied standards of what people should look like, act like, or what expectations in relationships should be. So for my fourth resolution, let’s resolve to take the sexual objectification of people across media more seriously.
Fifth resolution: As a culture, let us understand the actual prevalence of same sex attraction in our culture. It remains, as it has for decades of measuring such data, around 3-4% of all persons. Yet, people believe amazingly incorrect numbers in this regard. The result is a skewed perception of the experiences of persons with same sex attraction and concern for their representation. Yet there are plenty of other statistical minorities who do not get nearly the same attention. How about we start with faithful Christians who are not ludicrous stereotypes.
Sixth resolution: perhaps our culture could re-think what we mean by terms such as “transawareness.” This term has come to mean that we need better media representation for a phenomenon that occurs in fewer than 1 in 400 people and furthermore, that awareness readily implies unquestioned acceptance of the subjectivity of gender. With our current climate of greater openness about matters of sexuality (a phenomenon that, in itself, is not all bad), perhaps fruitful conversations could be had about the struggles of persons who consider themselves transgender, including the hurtful cultural circumstances that both mistreat such persons as well as foster inaccurate assessments about the meaning of gender and how we should treat it. Instead, we choose to have no conversation at all, and assume that as long as a person asserts some vague notion of “happiness,” their subjective self-definition is entirely sufficient in itself.
And on the subject of gender, I have often wondered why we can have heated debates about the so-called “war on women” (and many similar issues – see unnecessary topless photos and porn, above) and then in the next breath say that a person’s gender is entirely subjective. If this latter point is true, then we need to stop caring at all about the meaning of being a woman. Or a man. I finally realized that which perspective you held depended on who you are, who you were talking to, and what you wanted. Because in our popular culture, our personal sense of self-satisfaction is always most important. My seventh and last suggested resolution is that we lose this irrational inconsistency so we can actually know what conversation we’re supposed to be having.
And there you have it. The common thread among my proposed resolutions is that they all demonstrate a failure to understand the meaning of being human – a problem as old as Adam and Eve, yet distinctly magnified in the past 250 years, and possessed of a laser-sharp focus right now – and an inability to communicate the truth about ourselves and our relationships. The result is a vast host of people broken not only by their sins (as we all are), but further beat down by a confused and abused culture. This does not have to be this way. I’m honestly not expecting a change overnight, or even in the whole of the year 2015. But can’t we at least resolve to do better? I pray that we can.