The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Another apology. Again, only sort of.

It all started with my suggestion that Newsweek's two recent cover stories on adolescent girls turning into delinquent, pill-popping tramps might be a tad overwrought, given the media's proclivity for billing recent topics of water-cooler chat into the next grave crisis threatening America. I would've gone with something like the destabilization of the entire Middle East, but apparently teen pop sensations going underpants-less and drinking themselves into a stupor is the real threat to America.

Well, while I was pooh-poohing the notion, serious news outlets were starting to cover the story, thanks to a release from the APA (here). Now even NPR and the BBC can feel comfortable running breathless stories on hot, sexy teens. Talk about a win-win situation for them.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm annoyed by the creepiness of marketing the likes of Lindsay Lohan to kids, especially after going from 'America's cuddlebug' to 'scary wino.' But it sells across the board. Kids tantalized by a grown-up story of debauchery, adults tantalized by a youngster's story of debauchery, hipsters who follow the story like everyone else, but only so they can ridicule it more efficiently. And don't forget the demographic who made Baywatch such a smash hit-- repressed fundamentalists who shake their heads sadly at the decay of morals, even as they enjoy that tingly feeling in their nether regions.

But the ABA study, while making a useful point, doesn't appear to have much in the way of hard facts. Consider this study, which sounds great at first but doesn't necessarily imply the results the APA draws:

While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater.While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. In the emotional domain, sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.

The conclusion they draw there is, while possibly correct, certainly difficult to ascertain. Here's a thought-- the girls who were given the swimsuit option started to wonder if they'd been duped into starring in fetish videos for math geeks. Or a room comfortable for wearing a sweater might mean it was unpleasantly chilly for a bikini.

Anyway, I think this has the potential to become the latest manufactured doomsday story that will make tons of money for the corporate media (don't forget, they'll be able to show lots of slinky photos and video during the stories), scare lots of Americans needlessly, and not amount to a whole lot.