Monday, 9 April 2007

Sex sells (even to eight year olds)

I have Take That on the brain at the moment. Having only just recovered from the sheer joy of managing to get tickets to see them in December, courtsey of Debz's amazing persistency (albeit in London - road trip!) I wake up this morning to find out that E4 are running a special Easter Monday Take That Day, where it's 'Nothing But Take That'. This is tragic. I have an essay to hand in tomorrow and the sight of the nicest boys in pop prancing about in black leather and silver codpieces, getting jelly rubbed all over their bodies, has left me weak. The best part is the fact that I failed to notice how extremely homoerotic it all was at the time. Then again, in 1991, I was only seven.

Of course, they don't get up to that kind of nonsense now, they're all respectable family men (with the exception of Jason, of course). But they can still make grown women weak at the knees. And they can definitely still dance (with the exception of Gary, of course).

This morning's marathon has been coupled with the recent speculation that Robbie may be re-united with his former bandmates. Now, I was a mega Robbie fan at the time; I thought I was going to marry him, along with about a million other little girls. Well he wasn't that much older than me; when I was nine, he was like, what, seventeen? Obviously, that never happened, or I'm sure you would all know about it. Despite my early love for Robbie, the news that he wants to re-join Take That left a sour taste in my mouth. He has been nothing but arrogant towards them in the last year or so, since they decided to reform. But now, what with his latest album being pants and his recent stint in rehab being dismissed as a publicity stunt, I can just imagine his PR person sitting across the desk going " Right, Robbie, you were the once the golden boy of British pop but now everyone hates you. You're going to have to swallow your pride and rejoin Take That. They're back for good and everyone loves it." The thing is though, they're doing fine without him. Their singles and album have all charted straight in a number one and their upcoming tour sold out in minutes, just like their reunion tour a year ago. So, if I was Take That, I'd say 'no thanks, Robbie'. But then, they are the 'nicest guys in pop' so who knows?

You may be wondering, as I am starting to, how I am going to link this to PR. Well, the implications of Robbie's rehab visit (timed nicely to coincide with Take That's appearance at this year's Brit Awards) and the recent revelations that he may rejoin them, to me, reek of publicity seeking. But this is not what I'm talking about. What struck me this morning, as I was watching thier raunchy dance routines and nearly-naked bodies on my telly-box, was the outright sexualisation of the pre-pubescent market. The first time I saw these videos, I wasn't even ten years old. Indeed, I was subjected to the afore-mentioned jelly-rubbing shenanigans when I was only seven. I recounted a tale of woe to my flatmates, who I think were only pretending to listen, being boys. When I was about nine, Take That performed a stunt on one of their tours where they ripped off their trousers and stood with their backs to the audience, with the words 'Take That' written on their lovely bum cheeks. I had a large poster of this incident on my bedroom ceiling (my walls were full). My dad, a relatively liberal-minded parent, had a fit and ripped it off. I was devastated. Only now can I see why he was so affronted - I was nine for crying out loud!

This set me to thinking about my expriences as a little girl, coming across the first boys I fancied, ie. Take That (but not Jason, he was too old; funnily, now he's scrummy!) and I joked about doing my dissertation on 'The Impact of Take That on the Sexualisation of Young Girls in the Early 1990's'. But the more I think about it, the more it seems like a real issue. How does PR use sex to sell a target market of pre-pubescent girls? Because they undoubtably do. It's all related to the adultification of our children, the covert sexualisation of little girls barely out of nappies. It's not just in the music industry. Think about Barbie, she's being doing it for decades. My youngest sister, despite the best efforts of my parents, virtually idolises the 'Bratz', a fictional group of friends who wear make-up, mini-skirts and flash their midriffs, while discussing boys and fashion. What's scary is that she's only four. This is obviously a major issue but is it one we can really do anything about?

On a lighter note, I am now sitting wondering how my love of Take That in my younger years has influenced my taste in men in my adult life. I hope it hasn't, those codpieces were bloody awful!


Mhairi said...

I see where you’re coming from Nic. It’s all totally horrid but I’ve got to be honest, I really don’t like or find any of Take That attractive, never had, apart from Williams on the odd occasion but I do get it and I understand why people go a bit nuts about them. They are pushed in such a way that they appeal to tiny girls, teenage girls, girls in their 20s, housewives and hordes of gay men and PR and marketing is behind it all because let’s be honest, most of their talent lies with Gary, and he’s a bit of a donut.

I think you’ve also got to look at how PR has been responsible for how women are represented in the media. I think that the sexualisation of girls by the media really kicked in big style after the Spice Girls were beamed down from Planet Spice or wherever it was they came from. Liverpool maybe.

My childhood crush was Adam Ant and yes, that probably is just a bit wrong but the worst role model I had was Madonna and hey, that really wasn’t that bad compared to what girls are looking at now.

Giving girls bad role models is far worse than pushing a bunch of what most people would probably agree is a good looking bunch of guys, with or without their pants on, and PR has been responsible for a whole glut of hideous, awful women, products and ideas that little girls are wanting or trying to be like.

You know, I’m a lot older than a little girl and I still struggle not to be sucked into this whole world of size zero pressure. Nowadays, if I was 13 I’d have no chance. Thank goodness when I was 13 I had pretty cool, strong headed women who I thought were cool and the whole boy band thing didn’t really exist so my heroes were Indie bands. Images of what women are meant to look like now are everywhere – there are so many more magazines and obviously websites, music videos, clothes and adverts so if you’re young and vulnerable, which by definition, you are, it’s going to get you at some point.

The whole KGOY thing, media speak for ‘Kids Growing Older Younger’, is driven largely by marketing/pr/ad agencies and they need to be put under pressure to take more social responsibility when it comes to this issue and address some of the negative attitudes and images which are becoming ingrained in young girl’s minds. It all puts an enormous pressure on parents to say no to the pester power too.

I’m glad I have a son. The worst he’s asked me to do is make him a Kylie Minogue CD and buy him pink shoes, pink trousers, a brown jumper and a pink hat to match. I’m absolutely sure it’s just a phase…

Nic said...

First of all, I must disagree with you on the Take That being unattractive comment. True, looking back on their nineties heyday, the outfits and haircutus left a lot to be desired. But look at them now! They are all shaggy-haired and fatherly and mature! Yum!
On a more serious note, I agree with you that the PR industry should take some responsibility for its role in 'the beauty myth'. The current hot topic is the size zero debate but extreme dieting (by no means a new phenomenon) is just the latest thing in a long list of things women (and girls) feel they must do to meet expectations.
YOu've got to laugh (if you don;t you'll go mad) at the hypocrisy of the media in general. Last week's Heat magazine (and it takes a lot for me to criticise it; it's my Bible) had its front cover emblazoned with 'BIG STARS HIT THE BEACH!', with the likes of Vanessa Feltz and Tyra Banks (yeah, cause she's one heifer of a supermodel)lazing about in their bikinis. What was interesting was the way the feature was pitched, as if it was applauding these people for having the 'guts' to go outside and parade their flab. What is really was was an excuse to look at unflattering pictures of 'fat' people (the one of David Guest in his trunks was particularly off-putting). You can't win. Too skinny and you're into the size zero debate. Too fat and you get sniggered at, while being patronised. The previous week's issue was even better. 'Skinny Girls Have Tummies Too' featured pictures of such likes as Nicky Hilton displaying a tiny belly, which I assume can only be put down to water retention. Yeah, thanks Heat, I feel a lot better. If that's a tummy, what the hell do you call what I've got?
I also noted what you said about the lack of role models young girls have. What worries me is the current culture of stupidity. If you were a little pink alien and landed in the UK in your little pink spaceship, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the best way to be successful is to be (or act) stupid. Think blonde bimbos like Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson and (ex-blondes) Jade Goody and Chantelle Houghton (who are both now brunette, in an effort to convince us that they are, in fact, not stupid - sometimes they even wear glasses! Gasp!). I mean, 'style icon' and permanent 'rabbit caught in the headlights' impersonator, Victoria Beckham, is worth millions and has never even read a book. Or has she? Is this supposed admission merely a ruse to 'endear' her to the British public? Tell you what, Posh, if you want the public to relate to you, sort out your wierd breasts and look like your enjoying yourself once in a while. That might work. She san't be as stupid as she says she is. I mean, isn't David Beckham stupid enough for both of them?
It appears that what began as an intelligent reply to your comment on a sensitive subject has turned into a rant about skinny, rich, stupid people. Oh, well, I reckon they deserve it. In shirt, PR should be taking responsibility for the lame excuse for role models it seems to purvey in the 21st century.
Remember people, being rich and thin doesn;t make you happy. Just look at the permanent misery on Victoria Beckham's big stupid, non-book reading face.