Sex Talk

Alexander-Wang Explicit Content

Sex: a private act that is publicly discussed and depicted. Similarly to audiences growing immune to the effects of violence, we are becoming more conditioned to seeing sex in the media we interact with, and therefore more immune to its impact.

What would have once been seen as controversial to be viewed in public is now featured in almost all moves aimed at young adults and over, as well as splashed across advertisements persuading consumers to purchase items such as clothes or perfume. Simply put, sex sells. Why? Human beings are wired to constantly search for the ideal partner with which to reproduce, and sex is one of our few basic primal urges.

You may be familiar with statements claiming that men think about sex at least five times a minute, however there is no scientific evidence to back up these so-called facts. A recent study conducted by Psychology Today author Dr. Terri D. Fisher found that, on average, males have 34.2 sexual thoughts per day, whilst women have 18.6. Whilst this number is a lot less than “several times a minute” theories, it confirms that the amount of sex-related thoughts we are having are similar to those surrounding our other primal instincts.

Statistical tests indicated that the number of thoughts about sex was not statistically larger than the number of thoughts about food and sleep. Men had more thoughts about all three of those areas than did women… The typical men in this sample were thinking about sex once or twice an hour, and statistically no more and no less than they were thinking about eating or sleeping.” (Dr. Terri D. Fisher, 2011).

So what does this mean in relation to the media? Sex has increasingly been included in the media that we consume because, being a primal instinct, it is relatable to most audiences, and is a part of almost every television episode, movie or novel that we pick up. Simply turn on HBO’s controversial Game of Thrones; with an average of 5.6 boobs per episode and title of most downloaded show for three consecutive years, it is a prime example of our attraction to erotic imagery. Media producers are increasingly using and manipulating sexual imagery, as it is an effective tool that entices audiences. However, media audiences must be wary with the depictions of sex that they are viewing on screens and pages. With the idea that media reflects conventional ideas and morals that individuals should conform to, certain portrayals of sexual acts or gender expectations may not be conveying the right idea.

Moral panic has emerged in recent years about the portrayal of sex on television screens and the reality of it. With the awkwardness of discussing sex with parents and the lack of informative sex education in schools, children and adolescents are turning to media to learn about sex. Glamorised, fully edited sex scenes found so often in popular Hollywood blockbusters are setting unrealistic expectations for younger audiences, not preparing them correctly for the reality of their own experiences. Role models to younger age groups may also be contributing to this issue. Many parents were angered when former Disney star Miley Cyrus gave a raunchy performance at the 2013 VMA’s, shocked at the poor example she was giving to her established fan-base of young teenagers.

Furthermore, the song in question, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, has been slammed in the media for its poor taste in representation and dubbed as the most controversial song of the decade (2013). An insightful article from The Guardian discusses the songs negative connotations of sex and consent, rape and misogyny.

Blurred Lines is one of many examples of a growing concern in sexual representation, that being the objectification of women. The female body is consistently revered in most cultures throughout history, this fascination being represented through various art forms and media outlets. However, there is a large difference between tasteful representation and cheap selling tactics, with the latter becoming more prominent in contemporary culture. Whilst a percentage of the objectified are men, it is majorly women who are sexually objectified. The commoditization of women is widespread, bringing to mind glossy magazine covers and billboard advertisements where women are made-up to their most attractive for the purpose of bringing male attention to a brand or company. The media is both the source and the means of relaying the moral panic connected to the sexual objectification of women, fears which surround women self-objectifying themselves, particularly the impressionable audiences of children and adolescents. With the sheer amount of women being used as sex symbols in the media, we can only assume that the media supports a male dominated society in which men are subjects and women are merely objects.

In saying this, there has been a growth in feminist literature, media pieces and initiatives that are rebutting the commodification of women. Lina Esco’s film and equality movement ‘Free the Nipple’ (2014) addresses the double standards of female nudity in society.

Similarly, when the following image was published for the first time in 1995 it caused outrage from the magazine’s readers. Tampon string

Whilst media portrays erotic images of women, females are oppressed by laws, regulations and “norms” in everyday life as society shies away from feminine symbols such as bare nipples and tampons that indicate the not-so-glamorous reality of being female. With a multitude of mixed messages leaving females with warped perceptions of gender roles and sexuality, the media is an integral part of societal problem in need of a push for change.



Let’s All Get Coffee


Ever tweeted a trending topic, re-blogged an article, tuned in to a talk show or posted a status about a current affair?  Then you have engaged in the public sphere, a metaphorical space in which ideas and opinions are exchanged and debated surrounding common concerns.

Sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas first likened the public sphere to a coffeehouse, a hub for discussion of current issues. Originally participated in by the elite social class and males, it evolved to include the middle class and both genders. Today, the media is closely linked to the public sphere as it encapsulates recent topics and is a platform used to both debate and incite issues. It has been argued that the modern model of the public sphere largely differs from Habermas’ original concept and is questionable in its effectiveness due to its digital progression; as First Monday Journal reads: ‘Can virtual communities contribute to the revival of the public debate… or are they merely distracting simulations?’ (Boeder, 2005). There is definite bias against contemporary media enhancing the public sphere:

“It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by (computer–mediated communication) will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.” (2005)

This statement complements other general concerns surrounding technological communication replacing human interaction whilst simultaneously evoking isolation, however the verging of the public sphere onto digital platforms has certainly improved society’s exposure to current issues and opinions. For example, Emma Watson’s speech at a UN conference for the launch of the He for She campaign sparked international discussion and controversy, both online and offline, when the video recording was shared across social media. Without media, society would not be exposed to multiple international concerns, decreasing the extent of the public sphere.

Not only does the media serve as an informant to the public sphere, but also as a medium via which people across the globe participate in the public sphere. With the notion of multiple public spheres, the growth in social media networks, including sites such as Facebook and Twitter, means that people are able to communicate globally in an online public sphere. Television and radio journalism with news programmes and talk shows often incorporate public opinion into their projection of current affairs. SBS’s Insight is one of many shows on commercial television dedicated to dialogue between various viewpoints about contemporary matters, using a diverse audience to gather a range of opinions. Not only is society involved in the public sphere by simply viewing such shows, the integration of social networks means viewers can engage with each other about the topic at hand.

The credibility of television programmes as a way of interacting with the public sphere is questionable amongst society. The range of media within the public realm is extensive, encompassing both high and low culture forms. How do we distinguish between the two? High culture is involved with serious issues while low culture seems to be concerned with the trivial, however both can be connected to individuals within the public sphere, posing the question whether on type is more relevant than the other. While the quality of the current public sphere may be in question, the quantity of issues is escalating. Modern society is definitely more involved in the “coffeehouse debate” than ever before.


Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law


As the media is viewed as an intangible information and communication system, we can often forget that it is physically owned. Media is a multi-million dollar industry that, not dissimilar to most industries, is dominated by a small group of owners. Just as “umbrella”  empire Cocoa-Cola owns multiple smaller companies, shareholders and business owners have taken hold of media entities that control multiple networks, newspapers and magazines, publishing houses, film companies and, more recently, social networks.

Media ownership in Australia is extremely concentrated. Most Australians will recognise the titles of Newscorp and Fairfax Media who, together, own all major newspapers within the country. Newscorp is owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, whose media web expands internationally and comprises of multiple media platforms such as Foxtel, The Daily Telegraph and Vogue Australia (to name a few of many). Lachlan Murdoch, heir to the Murdoch enterprise, has holds in news providers such as Nova and Network Ten. Additionally, Gina Rinehart staked millions of dollars in shares in Australian media, only recently selling out of Fairfax.

So what does this mean for the Australian media consumer? With the spread of media ownership growing increasingly smaller, bias is definitely a rising concern. Not only is it about what is being printed, it’s also about what information isn’t being revealed. Traditionally, journalism has been ethically rooted in impartial communication; that is, delivering fact without attempting to persuade society towards a certain opinion. However, as information became more corporately owned, proprietors have been able to control the reveal of information and direct stories in the way they choose. There have been many allocations made against Murdoch publishing his own version of the truth, as written in Independent Australia, portraying the media they own as a tool to be manipulated:

‘…the Australian Journalists Association, in a submission to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, alleged that Murdoch was an autocratic and unprincipled proprietor who demanded that his lackeys publish distorted accounts of the news when it suited him.’

This would be more accepted and inconspicuous if each media organisation was separately owned, as it would provide media consumers with a range of differing opinions. As the diversity of media ownership declines, so does variety in representation, resulting in a concentration of ideological exemplification.

In theory, information should not be taken ownership of and should be freely accessible. In reality, the trade of information has turned commercial and can be manipulated by those with the power to do so. Modern media is dominated by the government, publicity and scandals, with public relations monitoring communication with the public through various platforms. Media seems to be becoming less controllable as it expands, with technology providing several different access points for the divulging and consumption of information. Never before have there been so many providers of media; technology has allowed the average media consumer to also become the producer, whether this is through blogs or social media websites.

Whilst there are definitely owners of media corporations such as broadcasting networks and newspapers, the online sphere is unattainable of such ownership, and is overtaking traditional journalism as the platform for society accessing mass media. This evolvement poses the question; are we the new owners of the media?


Altering Society: The power of mass media

The media; it’s something that society accesses and connects with on a daily basis via multiple platforms. As mass media has steadily advanced along with technology, society has given it more power as a controlling force. As new forms of media emerge, so do new anxieties.

Media has grown from a simple communication platform to a multi-faceted one, controlling our access to information and shaping our reactions to it. While society is aware of these effects, this influence still seeps into our interpretations of mass communication. This influence is more of a danger to impressionable audiences, for example children and teenagers, who can be easily swayed by media. Marketers spend the largest percentage of money targeting children, as they are the consumers with the most amount of spending years ahead of them. There has been great controversy about whether fast food advertisements, particularly for McDonald’s, should be restricted during children’s programmes on television, as this was said to be a large contributing factor to levels of obesity in children and adolescents. The naivety associated with young age is often taken advantage of, however is this the responsibility of the media?

As children grow, they learn conventions and patterns of behaviour by emulating the actions of those around them. Thus there is concern that, with a growing exposure to mediums such as televisions and computers, more gullible audiences will replicate negative behaviours learnt from media that could endanger themselves, such as drug-taking or violence. Nevertheless, there is constant debate as to how far the impact of the media extends and where individual accountability steps in.

Modern audiences are far more exposed to different walks of life due to having grown up surrounded by mass media, causing an advanced loss of innocence. There is fear that these audiences will therefore take risks and place themselves in possibly harmful situations without being aware of the consequences; taking action before deciding themselves if it abides by their individual morals. This loss of innocence could also potentially impact on individual characteristics and self-development, causing problems with personal identity. With exposure to thousands of opinions in the media, from newspaper articles to tweets, how do we distinguish our own opinion from what we have been conditioned to think?

On that same note, we must question why society as a whole has such great unease about mass media, or more precisely, its effects. It seems to be the extreme size and spread of the media and the speed and cultivation of messages throughout the world, giving it the power to either link people or divide them. The majority of future depictions of society are dystopian. We are all familiar with the portrayal of a brainwashed contemporary society ruled by technology and media as a dominant force living in a state of perpetual hypnotisation focused on a monitor. The media influences people, yet people make up the media, so what can we, as people, do about it? Hopefully our futures are brighter than our screens.