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Sexing the Media

How and Why We Do It

Debra L. Merskin

Sex in the media is one of the hottest topics of the day. We know that advertising, television, cinema, and other forms of communication use sex to sell us products and pump up story lines. The question is: why are sex and sexuality such effective tools for getting our attention?
Sexing the Media: How and Why We Do It is a textbook that explores answers to this question through historical, sociological, psychological, and ideological perspectives. It explores how media and other social institutions use sex and sexuality (the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses) to advance economic and ideological interests.Cinema, music, music videos, television programs, advertising, and the Internet are discussed as carriers of deliberately constructed messages that contribute to and support a master narrative that privileges heterosexuality and monogamy.
This interdisciplinary text includes contemporary case studies as examples that would be useful in courses in media, cultural studies, sociology, and psychology.
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Chapter 3. Sexing the Media

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SEXING THE MEDIA

Sex, once wearing the tragic mask, wears now the mask of comedy. And, whenever one laughs at a thing, one is no longer afraid of it.

—GEORGE JEAN NATHAN (1927)

When sexual jokes are used to sell everything from rice to roach-killer, from cars to carpets, it’s hard to remember that sex can unite two souls, can inspire awe. Individually, these ads are harmless enough, sometimes even funny, but the cumulative effect is to degrade and devalue sex.

—JEAN KILBOURNE (1999a)

Let’s talk about sex, baby Let’s talk about you and me Let’s talk about all the good things And the bad things that may be Let’s talk about sex.

—SALT-N-PEPA (1991)

Sex. A little, three-letter word that does a tremendous amount of work. “What simple definition could capture the tangle of bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and interactions that are conjured by the word?” (Peiss, 2002, p. xv). Both a noun and a verb, as shown in Chapters 1 and 2, the word identifies groups to which we are assigned at birth as well as the physical act. Sex is also evident in← 61 | 62 → America today through symbolic participation (sexting) via cell phone, or what we can watch on computers, televisions, movie screens, or in advertising.

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