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Sexing the Media

How and Why We Do It

Debra L. Merskin

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Americans spend a great deal of time thinking about, talking about, and representing sex and sexuality. At the same time, however, considerable effort has gone into and continues to go into suppressing images, ideas, and talk about sex. News media are replete with stories of the latest transgression, sexual conquests, and hookups. Cinema is richly endowed with plots devoted to sexual awakenings, conquests, and curiosities. Television programs such as Cheaters stimulate viewer’s voyeuristic pleasures in seeing adulterers caught. Advertising has long used sex to sell, whether or not sex is related to the product or service. Even photographs that circulate in international news, such as the humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, involve viewing sexual violations. The contradictory dynamic of what is, on the one hand, denial of sexual impulses and, on the other, almost constant public discourse about them is the focus of this book.

Sexing the Media: How and Why We Do It addresses this paradox by examining the psychological, historical, economic, and cultural theories that underpin not only how American mass media use sex as a creative device but also, most importantly, why sex (the biological distinction and the act of coitus) is used so widely, why it works so well, and how it influences the formation of individual and social identity. The goal is to go deeper than the ← xi | xii → obvious use of sex in media. “We need to understand why [certain] images are considered sexy, what they represent about...

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