The Culture Wars And Other Thoughts
Rather than go back and link to everything I've read the past few weeks, allow me to briefly summarize what all the fuss is about. (Although if you like, you can read the New York Times story about the book here) Basically, the book is a collection of interviews and personal anecdotes that supposedly indicate the state of the sex lives of American girls in high school and college. According to the book, the "hook-up" culture that is prevalent among young people today fails girls emotionally, and yes, sexually. Critics of the book argue that the book presents the same tired stereotypes of women as helpless and perpetuates a worldview that women need to be protected from sex. I have read through some of the book (I certainly wasn't going to pay for it), and to be fair, I think the book avoids the worst sorts of stereotypes. And, as I heard being discussed on the radio yesterday, surely there are negative emotional consequences from "hook-up" culture for men as well.
But regardless, this debate is not the real question I wanted to raise. McEnroe's comments on the radio yesterday caught my ear, especially seeing as he's not any sort of a conservative or social reactionary. McEnroe made several references to pop culture (most notably rap music) as to one possible reason why this "hook-up" culture has proliferated. But I'd question, 1) whether this culture is as widespread and ingrained as suggested, and 2) whether pop culture actually has and reflects this culture.
The first observation is merely personal, but the second is more normative. I'd really question the assumption that popular culture really encourages our youth to reject relationships and pursue sex without attachment. Yes, we're inundated with hip hop videos and lyrics that portray women as sex objects. But aren't there an equal number of R&B songs about love and heartbreak? And moving beyond music to popular films and television shows, I think one will find that marriage and relationships are portrayed far more positively than one night stands. Really.
How many sitcoms show a husband and wife combination in an effective, loving relationship- or at least a relationship that's a lot preferable to the rest of the world out there? Look at the Simpsons, which has reaffirmed Homer and Marge's marriage countless times in the nearly two decades they've been on the air. The single (like Patty and Selma) and the divorced (like Millhouse's dad) are always shown as lonely, miserable.
Movies like the 40 Year Old Virgin reinforce notions of commitment and love, while rejecting hook-ups."Steve Carrell's character doesn't find real happiness until he finds love= the real sad thing about him was that he was 40 and alone, not that he was a 40 year old virgin.
And among shows that showcase young people, haven't we always seen plenty of relationships- sure maybe there were hook-ups, but relationships are always shown to be more fulfilling, hook-ups more hollow. Just watch a rerun of Dawson's Creek, The O.C., or Friday Night Lights (from what I've heard).
Now I'm not saying that there isn't a contrary mindset out there among certain groups of young people, I'm just saying that this mindset is not well represented in popular culture. I just find this to be a subject of interest because despite all the talk of declining family values in Hollywood, it seems as the though the products from Hollywood just reflect a more modern take on many of the values professed by the religious right. Sure we see a lot more sex and violence, and there's more bad language, but in the end, marriage is still a happy ending, and the family may be more diverse, but it's still just as necessary.
If pop culture really says something about us, then surely these values are present in the hearts and minds of the youth of America as well. What exactly does this mean as far as "hook-up culture" goes- I'm not quite sure. But surely, there's a lot more than what meets the eye, and there's much more complexity than an author, her critics, and a radio show host might otherwise indicate.