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Media Comment: The sleazy media
By YISRAEL MEDAD AND ELI POLLAK
01/01/2014
"The media is sleazy – but we allow it to be. Shame on us."
 
It was media sociologist Brian McNair who justified media interest in sex by writing in his book, Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire, that the subject was “the most important thing in the world.”

He notes that despite the private, intimate nature of sex, it is involved in power and is a “terrain of emancipation.”

Mainstream and commercialized media have channeled the subject so that it has made “the sexual social and the personal political, both more than marginally profitable” for the media. It is a “pink pound” in that sex sells.

Nevertheless, McNair denies that there is a link between the sexual content promulgated in the media and the “allegedly anti-social values, beliefs and behaviors of the consumers of those images.”

We beg to differ.

Despite the fact that most media news reports relating to sex are factually negative and oftentimes of a criminal nature – such as rape, pornography, adulterous affairs, workplace harassment – the characterization the media provides is all too often also aimed at titillating and riding on the ratings that sexual content supposedly provides.

There is an ever-increasing amount, proportionately and absolutely, of sex-related issues transmitted in the media, including images, language, coverage of sex crimes and, not least, the entertainment world and the activities of its stars. The latter is perceived to be an extremely attractive news element. Some channels have whole programs devoted to what these “stars” wear, take off and put on.

A Rutgers University academic, Ahmet Bayraktar, has published an analysis of the use of sexuality and violence as marketing instruments in the mass media. His deductions about the use of sexuality are that its impact exceeds that of violence. Media institutions not only report on the subject but also use sexuality and violence as marketing tools to attract more viewers or consumers. This, he asserts, is unethical.

The media’s role in the sexualization of children and adolescents has been well researched. In a 2011 article Brett Lunceford, until recently an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama’s communication department, notes that with the advent of new media technologies such as the Internet and cellphones, children and adolescents are no longer merely consumers of sexual content, but also creators of digital content through what is termed “sexting” – sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily via mobile phones.

The media has created a culture that celebrates sexuality, yet at the same time claims to safeguard the individual, whether minor or adult, from perversions and criminal practices.

Israel’s media is part and parcel of the sexualization of our culture. One of the reality shows (X Factor) on Reshet TV had a contender who during the auditions bared his backside twice. The scene was then extensively used in the promos for the show, and the “star” is now one of the leading contenders.

TV Channel 10 runs a series titled Beauty and the Geek, a program which brings together beautiful but rather vacuous and ignorant females with a group of extraordinarily nerdy, high-IQ males. The program is a prime example of the media’s objectification of women.

Should we be surprised if some males consider this legitimate and then take it to criminal extremes, or simply exhibit loutish behavior? Should we shake our heads in disbelief when some misguided girls agree to being misused? Walla is a very popular website, especially with youth, due to the large amount of games which are accessible on it. At the same time, its users are sometimes only a click or two away from pornographic content. Walla, a purveyor of news, could, if it only wanted to, make sure that pages which are accessed by and aimed at youth would not contain such content. But probably advertising revenue is more important to Walla than the health of the children and youth using the website.

Ynet is another highly popular website and purveyor of news. On Monday, its third “news” item – appearing on the online equivalent of the front page – was “The sexual secrets of the famous.”

Our TV stations have no respect for ethics. Guy Pines has a program airing on Channel 10 between 7-8 p.m., when children, we can presume, are not yet asleep. Guy always sits, while his female counterpart, who takes the role of a model, always stands. Is she a “server,” a news waitress? Her dress is immodest, the background revolves about who is the desirable female, what should she look like, etc. The evening version of the same program exudes nudity and sexuality.

Popular Israeli series The Octet is based on a group of intelligent kids who participate in a secret government project aimed at researching the human brain’s energy.

This seemingly innocuous setting is in fact loaded with sexuality. Typical examples are boys who pair up with girls, only to find out they are underage, going on to pair up with older girls. The younger ones then find someone else, and so on.

These are but representative examples. Why have we returned to this issue at this time? The past few weeks were full of detailed coverage of a case in which a 12-year-old girl was raped by a gang of boys who claimed it was consensual. The media was full of holierthan- thou comments and discussions of the “how could this happen” variety.

Take for example the central news magazine of Channel 2 news, the highest-rated news program in Israel. Dafna Liel reported in detail on the implications of this case, including many excuses as to why such incidents occur.

However, there was not one iota of self-criticism or even awareness of the responsibility of Channel 2 news, which does not refrain from contributing to a sexually charged atmosphere in its programing schedule.

Her report ended with: “The problem is mainly with exposure to media. Research shows that Israeli youth is a leader in the consumption of electronic media. Although a poll published lately showed that only 16 percent have sexual relations below the age of 15, one of the lowest statistics in the developed countries, this problem includes all segments of Israeli society. So what can we do? “It is the easiest to reminisce about how things used to be and say ‘tsk, tsk’ to the 12- and 13-year-olds of today. But the truth is that the parents have a lot of influence – unless they themselves are also sitting in front of the screen.”

This is typical of what the Israeli public had to suffer during these past weeks. This would have been worth it, had the intensive preoccupation with the topic led to a deep review of the media’s role in the sexualization of society.

But perhaps we are being too harsh with the media. If the public shunned the purveyors, if the public demanded more modesty and less exposure, if the public stopped buying products sold via ads that debase the human body, we would all be better off.

At the end of the day, yes, the media is sleazy – but we allow it to be. Shame on us.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).
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