Youth Culture Window
“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25)
“Shame” is so last year. Nudity is rapidly becoming “no big deal.” Call it an argument for a creator. People just can’t seem to get enough of God’s creation… the naked woman.
If you don’t have a TV, a smartphone, or haven’t walked through Times Square recently, maybe you haven’t noticed. But it’s becoming more common to see topless women on today’ top television shows, in music videos… and even walking along the street.
Last week my daughter Ashley and I visited New York City after a week of speaking in PA and NJ. I had just finished teaching a parent workshop where I spoke about America’s casual attitude towards sex and nudity, citing several new music videos with nudity and some popular TV shows that frequent graphic sex scenes. Then, as Ashley and I walked through Times Square, we encountered a topless woman taking pictures with tourists. We figured it was a fluke. But the next day we walked through Times Square again and encountered yet another topless woman. This time, the young girl wearing nothing but a G-string, was posing with her arms around two little boys while dad and mom laughed and took pictures. The next day, yet another topless girl.
Maybe my surprise is an American thing. If you travel abroad, you’ll find topless women a common occurrence, particularly on the beaches in Europe, Greece, Australia, or Scandinavian countries; but so far, Western culture has kept its proverbial shirt on in most states.
Some groups object to this. The “Topfreedom” movement fights for recognition of the right of women and girls to be topless in public on the same basis that men and boys are permitted to be bare chested. This movement has created momentum called “equal protection” in some court cases. For example: in 2005, a woman named Jill Coccaro was arrested in New York City for walking down the street topless. She sued the city for violating an earlier New York Supreme Court ruling, the Santorelli’s case, which declared women can go topless in public. Groups of New York women have actually organized regular gatherings of topless women sitting around reading to raise awareness that New York allows toplessness in public. Hence the women Ashley and I discovered.
So is nudity in itself wrong?
Nudity in Music Videos
Some would call Americans prudes for working so hard to try to cover up. After all, look at classic art. The majority of us wouldn’t rush to cover up a Michelangelo painting or sculpture-- it’s art.
There lies the rub.
When is nudity truly “art”? Two music videos in the iTunes top 10 last week featured topless women, even in the 30-second preview available on our kids’ phones. One of those is labeled EXPLICIT. The other isn’t.
Because one has been deemed “art.”
I’m referring to Justin Timberlake’s new music video, Tunnel Vision, featuring topless women throughout. While Google does not usually allow nudity on YouTube videos, they made an exception for this particular Timberlake video.
"While our Guidelines generally prohibit nudity, we make exceptions when it is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context, and take care to add appropriate warnings and age-restrictions" (ABC News)Robin Thicke’s video, Blurred Lines, also showing topless girls, was banned from YouTube. If young people search for this video on YouTube.com, they can only find the version with clothed girls, where just underneath the screen you’ll find links to the Vevo music video page with the topless video. This topless version has been the number one downloaded video on iTunes for months now, featuring topless women even in the 30-second preview. It’s still No. 1 today as I write this.
These aren’t the only two music videos with nudity. This Billboard article actually speaks to the recent phenomenon. But I’ve been showing parents clips of music videos in my workshops for the last 10 years, and this is the first year I’ve seen actual topless women, clickable from the Top 10.
Except music videos aren’t the only place where we see nudity… er… “art.”
The Growth of Nudity on Television
Is TV getting more racy?
It depends who you ask. If you ask the Parents Television Council, they’ll tell you, “blurred nudity on TV was 407 percent greater in the 2011-2012 season than in the season before, with 76 incidents of full nudity on 37 shows, compared with 15 incidents on 14 shows the year before.” They even provide a handy little list with links where you can view these clips.
Yes, shows like CBS’s debut episode of Two and a Half Men grasped at the low hanging fruit showing a naked Ashton Kutcher, and ABC’s Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 revealed a fully naked Krysten Ritter… pixelated, of course. And that was TV’s little “go to” during the 2011-2012 season—blurred, pixelated and cleverly-covered nudity. Many will be quick to tell you pixelated nudity “isn’t really nudity,” so it’s not a growth of actual nudity on Primetime TV.
But this blurred nudity debate is only about broadcast television, which is a rather humorous debate when 91% of American homes pay for TV. When I grew up, TV meant NBC, CBS, ABC, and maybe Fox if you had a really good antenna. Now, it’s not uncommon for homes to subscribe to HBO, Cinemax or Showtime. After all, many cable and satellite companies throw in these channels free or at a discount for a limited time to entice customers to keep these channels where sex and nudity is commonplace. All three of these channels provide soft-core porn on most given evenings—literally.
Some of the most popular shows exist on these channels. Entertainment weekly just posted the Top 100 TV shows of all time. HBO earned two slots in the Top 10 of this list, including the number one spot. Series like Game of Thrones (so graphic with sex and nudity that Saturday Night Live even did a spoof about the show, claiming it was written by a 13-year-old boy who, “made sure there were lots of boobs in the show”), Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and other HBO shows all made the Top 100 list. U.S. audiences seem to be less and less concerned about sexually explicit material. After all, it’s in their favorite shows.
So is TV growing more risqué?
It’s not a rumor, this April the FCC did post a public notice about considering allowing more nudity and expletives on television. The public expressed overwhelming outrage, with 95,000 comments. But compare that to the millions of viewers who download episodes of Game of Thrones each week. Does America really object to this growing trend toward including gratuitous sexual imagery?
A Parent’s Response
So how should parents respond?
The easy reaction is overreaction. Put your foot through the flatscreen, unplug the internet and move to Amish Pennsylvania. That might sound nice, but I’ve spoken in Amish Pennsylvania and I assure you, Lancaster County parents are going through the same struggles. If you ever let your kids out of the house (which I recommend, by the way), then they are going to encounter the world’s values. We can’t protect our kids from every racy image and wayward philosophy they encounter. Those parents who do try to swoop down and save their kids from every struggle only cripple their kids from learning to stand on their own (take it from the mom in the introduction to my book, Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?)
That’s why we need to turn our overreaction into interaction and start dialoguing with our kids about sex, entertainment media, choices and their consequences. We need to help young people understand that sex is actually a good thing the way God designed it (Proverbs 5:18-23), and nudity isn't a bad thing until it's turned into object of lust (Matthew 5:27-30). When's the last time you lusted looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?
We need to have regular conversations about real life struggles. Kids whose parents are hush-hush about these struggles have to figure out the answers somewhere else. Usually, that ‘somewhere-else’ is on a glowing screen or in the high school locker room. Would you rather they hear about sex from you… or Two and a Half Men? The popular CBS comedy doesn’t typically address consequences like STDs, broken hearts… or even impotence. Yes, impotence is on the rise in a world where 87 percent of males admit to looking at porn in a year’s time. An increasing number of males are frequenting sexually explicit material and are unsatisfied with their sexual partner (more on that here). Dads, have you considered talking with your kids about this real issue? Wouldn’t it be better for them to hear the explicit truth about sex from you?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, “Let your kids watch what they want.” You need to teach your kids discernment. And as your family encounters misleading media messages, address these messages and compare it with the truth from the word of God (I talk more about how to do this in this new video we just uploaded to YouTube of me talking to parents about opening up the channels of communication in your home about real issues that our kids are facing).
Are you having these conversations?
The world might be getting more risqué. Who knows, we may begin seeing even more sex and nudity in TV and music videos. The question is, how are you going to respond… overreaction or interaction?
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE FROM JONATHAN, YOU’LL LOVE HIS PARENTING BOOKS, CANDID CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPERFECT PARENT AND SHOULD I JUST SMASH MY KIDS’ PHONE?
, president of The Source for Youth
Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new
Get Your Teenager Talking,
The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket,
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
, and youth ministry
Ministry By Teenagers
Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation
, and the
speaks and trains
at conferences, churches and events across
North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents
on his websites, TheSource4YM.com
. You can follow
Jonathan on his blog
, getting a
regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and
their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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