Sex Sells - So Does Virginity
In February I reviewed Peggy Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. The book takes a hard look at the culture that imposes itself on our nation's daughters, and challenges the notion that it is altogether harmless. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it. In a media atmosphere where the facts are often harnessed to fuel fear, Orenstein manages to inform her readers with sobering research without crossing into full-on paranoia.
In a more recent New York Times article, "The Good Girl, Miranda Cosgrove," Orenstein continues her exploration of the themes in her book. The article features teen star Miranda Cosgrove, who shot to fame in her role on the hit Nickelodeon show iCarly. Cosgrove, who turns 18 in May, stands at the edge of a precipice with her adulthood stretching out before her. And like the teen stars that have preceded her, many are watching to see how she will emerge in the next season of life. Gracefully, clumsily, or catastrophically?
Orenstein is troubled by the media pressure cooker in which young women like Cosgrove exist. But even more concerning is the manner in which these young ladies' virtue is marketed like a product. For the NYT, Orenstein wrote,
For as many seasons as the illusion can be maintained, [teens stars] remain, at least onscreen, uncomplicated, untroubled good girls, on the verge of, but never actually awakening to, their sexuality. There is a lot of money to be made—and a lot of parental anxiety to be tapped—by walking that line.
At this point in her career, Cosgrove shines as an unsullied embodiment of all the qualities a parent desires in a role model. No objections here. But things get complicated when Christians consider how to respond to an industry that uses morality as a marketing device. Should we praise these young women as role models, or hold them at arm's length?
Cosgrove's pristine image is inextricably tied to her career, a dynamic that presents us with two key problems. Orenstein summarizes the first one in her book. Of the partnership between morality and profit she writes, "I suspect that you cannot commodify a girl's virginity without, eventually, commodifying what comes after" (129). In other words, the entertainment industry isn't promoting chastity; it's selling what sells. Up until a certain age, innocence is a powerful marketing image, but when purity no longer garners attention, these young starlets turn to what sells. And what usually sells is sex.
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