17 May 2006

Reinventing the pimp? Or the right to self expression?

I just stumbled into an hour of a talk show on some of the exact issues I've been writing about lately. I'm following a thread about reinvention and what that means, and what it is to be an empowered woman today socially and sexually. I would like to find out more about the changes in our culture that go along with choices to be open about sexuality.

A pronounced generation gap revealed itself on May 17 between the host and her guests on The Tyra Banks Show. Banks explored what people are willing to do on tape and why, interviewing the creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series. A real social and behavioral difference in tolerance for homosexuality emerged; Tyra expressed her surprise at the casual way in which these women talked about making out with their friends in bars.

Culture-watchers have been decrying the way people talk about casual sex ("hooking up" and "friendships with benefits" are the current watchwords) for a while now, and this talk show offered some evidence that a more casual attitude toward sexuality truly has trickled down to younger American women.

Whether this is a positive example of this new acceptance is worthy of discussion. I found that the young women and men who felt it was positive for them were all trying to make a living and deciding this would increase their chances of doing so. Even the ones who regretted it, who went home to humiliation and labels, ended up working for Joe Francis. Francis, the creator of the Girls Gone Wild series, said to one of the women after she complained about her regrets on national TV, "I'm just not getting that from you. I just don't see it." Indeed, it turned out she had been leafletting for Joe Francis' company just the week before. So even the ones with regrets are willing to try and gain some exposure working for him.

Tyra was a tough interviewer even to the point of being wet blanket and shutting down interviewees with a judgmental comment ("I never found that having a good time meant removing my clothes"). She was hard on Francis but she also allowed that he was charming. He was tricky, bunting balls back to her and saying she was projecting when she suggested something less than wholesome about him. I knew she was for real when she said, incredulous, "You're saying this is part of the women's movement?" and then twitched her eyes at the camera as if to say, "Watch him try to explain this." But I still have some questions she didn't get to on her interesting show:

For Joe Francis (creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" series): How do you balance your high-minded talk about women's rights to expose themselves -- ahem, I mean express themselves -- with your willingness to profit on them? I agree that women have the right to expose themselves for fame and fortune, but does it follow that someone (e.g. you) has to make gobs of money on them? It is a scenario disturbingly similar in my mind to pimping, or date rape. If most of these women are drunk when they are filmed, is it right to take advantage of that state and reproduce images of them doing things they wouldn't otherwise do? (I also want to ask Joe whether all the women are 18 when filmed -- age makes a real difference in the development of young brains and I maintain no one should profit on those particular shots EVER. And assuming every single person in every video is an adult, do they get signed releases from all the people shown in each video? (I did learn that they are allowed to back out of their "Girls Gone Wild" release for about as long after they sign as it takes to sober up.) What if one woman signs a release but is kissing someone they don't get a release from but whom everyone back home recognizes as her good buddy from the softball team?

For Tyra Banks (who could retire on just the money she made as a model for that soft-core staple, the Victoria's Secret catalog): How can you with a straight face tell other women that it's not okay to flash their chests for a) a good time or b) fame and fortune? As a high-priced model, Banks could hardly believe that women would flash their breasts or otherwise "go wild" for a t-shirt or a hat. In fact, she was outraged by that. Maybe she feels it reduces her market value, or the value of all women, but mostly she just acted like the offended prude anytime she heard soemthing she didn't like. Whatever anyone told her, she judged. She drew a moral line in the sand and held it. After a couple of women in the audience confessed to having their own exhibitionistic antics recorded on camera, one woman who said she'd worn pasties during her misadventures. "At least you had some decency!" Tyra cried, giving the woman an approving squeeze around the shoulders and a shove back toward her seat.

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