It wasn’t that long ago that selling sex was an easy way to be labeled brilliant, daring, and avant-garde. Madonna (who was obviously more talented than Cyrus) made a career out of “pushing the envelope.” Though transparent, her antics were almost always applauded by the cognoscente as being an important cultural or artistic statement.
Not so with Miley.
This makes me wonder if we might be on the verge of some sort of backlash. Was Miley’s “twerking” the modern equivalent of Fonzie on water skis?
Up until now, I have been operating under the assumption that the trend of history was in one direction, and that direction was toward Gomorrah — that mainstream entertainment would inexorably become coarser and coarser until it rained frogs or something.
But I’m starting to think there might be a market correction, if for no other reason than once you’ve already broken all the taboos, what’s left to break? At some point, there are diminishing returns where every desperate attempt to shock is greeted with a yawn. We may have become so inured to outrage that the only truly shocking thing is to take it down a notch. We may have finally come full circle.
This is not to say the 1950s are back. To be sure, the current “golden age” of television we are enjoying happens to be very dark. As Megan McArdle explains, there may be some primal reasons for this. And while it may also be possible that violent images also lead to violent acts, let’s not conflate niche programming available on HBO, AMC, or Netflix with the Video Music Awards or the Super Bowl. The latter examples are obviously much more representative of mainstream culture — and much more likely to be seen by the young and especially impressionable.
Aside from the Miley criticism, there is something else that is giving me hope the free market might lead the entertainment world to produce more wholesome programming: The WWE.
In the late 1990s, World Wrestling Entertainment was had descended into a vile pit of sex, blood, violence, foul language, and even crucifixions. This was known as the “Attitude Era.”
But around the time President Obama was inaugurated, the company decided to go in a more PG direction. This wasn’t done for virtuous reasons, but rather, for profit. WWE owner Vince McMahon simply made a calculated decision to go in a different direction, thus “allowing more children to tune in and bringing in more advertising dollars.”
How did it work out? Well, a couple months ago, Bleacher Report noted that “Vince McMahon is making money off of the product. His genius by using social media is creating great ratings in a day where he competes with Monday Night Football, playoff hockey and basketball as well as other programs like Dancing with the Stars.”
Selling to kids is obviously a smart way to make money. Aside from merely watching matches, they also drag mom and dad out to venues, and then purchase merchandise. But the move toward PG has had another interesting impact that I’ve heard a few people mention. It turns out when the sight of blood is rare, it means a lot more when you see it. Whether it’s sexiness (showing a little leg) or bloodthirstiness (showing a little blood), sometimes less is more.
We might have finally reached a stage where the entertainment world gets that.