Public Health: DV Grammys, Too Short Of A Memory, Sexualization

2016 grammy nomineesUpdate Feb. 12, 2016 With the 2016 Grammys coming up this weekend, I wanted to add two posts by the author of The Achilles Effect and Boys, Sex & Media as a ponderable question about what we’re choosing to honor and award with media messaging and masculinity. Without vilifying an entire genre, specific artist, or lyrics lens (not interested in uncorking a censorship convo; I acknowledge provocative ‘art’ has been controversial ad infinitum…) Instead, I’d like to ask a larger question…

When does the awarding of sexual degradation and objectification become a public health problem?

Here are two posts by Crystal Smith “for your consideration” as they say in awards parlance…

Sex in Music, Grammy Edition (NSFW)

Of Drake and Misplaced Hero Worship (A Toronto Lens)

Please weigh in on Twitter @ShapingYouth or here in the comments. Open to any/all input, hope this year brings positive social change like last year’s flip of the message. One can only hope…

grammys 2015

Update Feb. 8, 2015 In a positive flip of the domestic violence mixed messages of yesteryear (with Chris Brown and Rihanna sharing the stage in a PR blitz, see article below), Katy Perry will be performing “By the Grace of God” with DV survivor Brooke Axtell… A much needed public health hurrah!  Much like the No spot raised NFL Super Bowl awareness to snap open ‘eyes wide shut’ about #DV, her performance at The Grammys may well uplift and inspire to help reduce silence and stigma for abuse survivors everywhere…

My only disconnect with this well-meaning gesture is Katy Perry’s prior performances as a human whipped cream dispenser, which serves to remind that sexualization and objectification of women play acontributory role in devaluing women into objects, a prime domestic violence pattern…Eager to see how this is handled tonight at 8pm Pacific Time.

Feb 6, 2015 Trending on Twitter right now is a hashtag called “#GrammysIn5Words.”With the big show this weekend my 5 words could easily be #NoMore domestic violence on parade or “Please minimize music industry sexualization” or “Stop shutting out real artists” …All five words…take your pick…create some of your own! I’m just hoping profit isn’t once again placed over public health as toxic cues take center stage, so this post is a reminder that ‘corporate social responsibility’ applies to performing artists to ‘own their influence’ too.

Feb. 2013 Update: A collective shout…No, it is NOT “ok.”

Glad to see some media coverage on the need to focus on BROWN, and just left a comment on their site about the public blending of recidivism and restitution as an often lethal molotov cocktail when it comes to violence against women. Not helpful.

That said, ‘victim blaming’ sounds shrill and lacking empathy as well, so while I agree with not “piling on” Rihanna in judgmental furor, ‘redirecting’ the conversation into a ‘teaching moment’ (supporting the victim/channeling the demand for change/accountability/contrition towards Brown) makes much more sense.

As for today’s Ms. Magazine birthday tweet/gaffe hoping Rihanna ‘stay safe from violence’ it fits into the ‘victim blaming’ topic we covered about attire and rape today revolving around media complicity and exacerbation.

Finally, this is not the first time I’ve written about celebs ‘owning’ their antics and watching what they produce, both professionally and personally in the blurry lens of the public spotlight. After all, if we see Rihanna’s “Man Down” at some point, the public kangaroo court of media will assume it was ‘well-deserved’ …that form of vigilante justice feeds on its own misguided rocket fuel. Again, not helpful. Hard stop.

Original Post: Feb. 29, 2012 “With great power, comes great responsibility…”

February has been a brutal month for witnessing the harsh realities of profiteering at the intersection of pop culture and public health.

From showcasing domestic violence felons at the Grammys and parents’ worst media messaging nightmares, to ethically bankrupt buffoonery inciting sexual assault of young girls at XXL magazine, and self-objectifying preteens seeking validation of their appearance-based self-worth with “Am I Ugly” internet queries (plus the ongoing onslaught of the hyper-sexualized Monster High dolls proliferating the marketplace with age-compression dialed down into the K-5 years) I’d say our current media landscape is rife with contradictions that put profit over public health.

I’ve racked my brain trying to apply solutions-based thinking to elevate rather than escalate the conversation, but some sticky webs have been spun with corporate media sanctioning these entanglements by looking the other way, and youth advocates face-palming and hand-wringing over the impact of messages sent to children with the outcomes yet to come.

Today we’ll frame some of the public health problems, adding context for part two: solutions and ideation (both tactical and strategic) interviewing from within the entertainment industry and the public health sector as we “March” on and close out February’s fiascos.

What’s so glaringly discordant about media and marketing money-making over-riding public interests in February? For starters:

Teen Dating Violence Awareness month clashed up against Chris Brown’s freebie PR platform comeback blitz at the Grammys (his RCA Record label is a division of Sony Music, who partners with CBS, who hosted the Grammys, and, well, you see the money trail hopscotch…)

…His TWO performances sent a strong signal about priorities and societal valuation of women, in a music industry wink and nod to money-makers doling out a hallpass of forgiveness.

No Presidential proclamation on TDV is going to remove the media message sent into the sphere with full complicity there.

I won’t even get into Rihanna’s role in that script, and how their musical reunion is landing on kids but let’s just say “The Bro Code” was in full tilt that night, brushing off the gravity of the violence, and sweeping the ugly truths and Chris Brown’s subsequent (and recurrent) media flare-ups tidily under the red carpet.

Teen dating violence survivor Elin Waldal, author of Tornado Warning, points to the stark facts:

“Chris Brown was charged with California Penal Code 422, which in laymen’s terms is, the code that states the defendant threatened to kill the victim, he is right now on probation and will be for two more years.

In March of 2011, while in the studio of Good Morning America, Chris Brown had a violent outburst after being questioned about his past; the result of that outburst was Chris Brown broke a window with a chair…”

Elin goes on to say, “After the Grammys Chris tweeted the following message to his ‘haters’ and as we learned the following morning many young women tweeted messages that stated they would welcome a beating if it meant being with Chris. And his response (to the best of my knowledge) was to meet them with silence.”

She continues with thoughtful media literacy and societal questions we should be asking about the landscape we’re tacitly endorsing by giving performers a paid platform.

I’d add that this also goes for the bipartisan blowhards baiting outrage on news radio and talk TV resulting in public safety issues inciting violence as well…Quick example? (Gabby Giffords and the ‘target mapping’ rhetoric that left her fighting for her life, and every other shock talk jock given a paid platform to spew hate that rallies the less than stable faction of our nation to actually ACT upon these media missives…(update/another case in point:  ahem, Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic rant skewering women’s reproductive rights while playing the blame game for shock and awe to get media coverage at the expense of public health…but I digress…)

While many shrug off Chris Brown dismissively, saying things like “are you going to tamp down every jerk? The industry’s lousy with ‘em!”

…I’d ask that we ‘control the controllables’ from a profiteering standpoint and at least not pay for and fund the perpetuation of the cycle. (nor advertise or align with it, lookin at you, Pepsi, Grammys, Fox News et al…)

What does it teach youth about abusive relationships when a convicted felon gets rewarded with an audience of 39 million after pummeling his girlfriend bloody a mere three years ago? What signal does it send when the two ‘realign’ musically as if all is ‘forgiven’?

Do we need to post a timeline reminder as they did on HuffPo signaling how quickly this controversy has gone from chaos to commodified? Do we need to reiterate that statistically, black youth are most affected by teen dating violence? Again…public health problem, people…wake up call time.

It’s a toxic triple-fold sidewinder being missiled into the media mix…especially since the two paired up to release remixes for financial gain over public health, and the Grammys essentially became the gratis promotional platform.

The graphic Chris Brown/Rihanna police report (discretion advised, DV/PTSD triggers throughout) is packed with contusions, punches, blood splatters and death threats.

What’s the take away for kids by enabling (and FUNDING) this messaging? How are they navigating the messaging minefield as rookies in the teen dating scene?

Which brings us to the next abhorrent social outcome to fall into the ‘Houston we’ve got a problem’ public health scenario, swooning young women who saw Brown on the Grammys and ‘tweeted’ their adoration into twisted send-up snark and satire, saying they’d welcome a beating if it came from Brown?

Again, if Brown had contrition (and a clue) he could’ve used that moment to step up in the name of human decency to speak out that it’s NOT a joking matter and break the battering cycle of abusing women by calling for a hard stop on violence.

He could’ve used his platform and influence to show some semblance of change. But he hasn’t changed. Not a whit.

His silence speaks volumes, and our culture’s swift ignoring of the gaffe gives collusion to repeat offenders knowing they’ll be ‘excused’ from societal consequences. This. Is. Not. Okay.

Further, as news anchor Richelle Carey captures in this poignant HLNTV op-ed, it’s culturally relevant to connect the dots between media’s treatment of abuse as a trivial matter and the justice system’s real life legal sentences that are beginning to look like a kangaroo court if this “date and flowers” reparation for domestic violence is any indication.

When a court judge can dismissively hand down a legal wrist slap like that, we’ve got media mirroring that puts abusers in the driver’s seat, leaving male and female victims of DV further pummeled by ‘the system.’

Our attention span in this starstruck media circus is creating a ‘how quickly we forget’ scenario giving carte blanche to an increasingly coarse society of ‘anything goes.’ This eloquent post by Elin Waldal called “What we Choose to Forget” is a must read.

How short is our memory? Too Short.

Similarly, and quite literally speaking of “Too $hort,”—the rapper known for his less than savory exploits for his entire career took his ‘dirty’ messaging WAY too far this month, blathering in a video for XXL magazine with ‘fatherly advice’ on how to sexually assault young girls, which he tries to scrape off as if it were messy gum on his shoe (claiming first that he was ‘in character’ and j/k –a joke gone bad, segueing to the blame game, followed by the weak and lame apologies department, finally landing in a form of a ‘wake up call’ in Ebony magazine that seemed to hold some promise).

Now, Too $hort appears to be outing the record labels in the conspiracy to ‘shut down conscious hip-hop’ in favor of smut. Hey, if this is his farewell gig as a mea culpa truth telling catharsis, I’ll take it, as it would at least begin to unearth the money machine and incite a systemic overhaul...

But here’s the thing…For every entertainer that spews out a career’s worth of toxic crud under the guise of art, and then finally “gets it,” (or says s/he does) there’s a society already impacted, and youth caught in the blast zone. (lookin’ at you, 50 cent) I equate it to a sewage pipe burst into a fresh water stream; the impact hits everyone, whether you’re splattered directly or tainted by the lengthy process to filter/flush and return to some semblance of consumability.

In Too $hort’s case, there’s the reprehensible cost of inciting youth violence and putting both young girls at risk AND young boys in legal jeopardy with criminal charges, there’s also the larger conversation of the escalation of sexual violence and ‘rape culture’ as a serious public health problem.

True, the outrage has sparked high visibility about sexual assault, and a cry for public health media literacy…the good news is  over 600,000 have already signed the Care2 Petition and raised awareness…other petitions were launched on Twitter and beyond…

“In a culture where 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18; in a society where someone is assaulted every 2 minutes; with 2/3 of victims committed by someone known by the victim and 38% of rapists being either friends or acquaintances of the victims, and 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail, we stand together in condemnation of this video,”  reads a petition calling on Harris Publications (Publisher XXL Magazine) to fire Satten. 

The Color of Change petition adds,

“Rhetoric like this has real effects on girls in our communities. Three out of five Black girls have experienced sexual assault by the time they turn 18. Nearly a third of sexual assault and rape victims are between the ages of 12-17…” and in addition to Vanessa Satten’s firing at XXL asks “Please explain what Harris Publications plans to do to make sure your audience isn’t again subjected to rhetoric that characterizes girls and women as playthings who can be fondled and otherwise abused whenever a boy or man pleases.”

Amen to that one. Please explain ‘next steps’ for the hard stop policy-wise, not just a  Band-Aid repair.

Again, we’ll get to the ‘what you can do’ aspects in part two (from activism to ideation) part one is to remove the blinders, since so many parents don’t even have this on their radar.

This post by Lisa Guerrero, Associate Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies at Washington State University Pullman, is succinct and spot on, “Chris Brown, Too $hort and the Disposable Conscience of Consumer Society”

We need to take some squeaky clear Windex to the soft-blurred focus lens and come to terms with the full picture panorama. Let’s wipe it clean and crisp to see all around us in 360 living color…

Putting profit over public health is a huge societal problem…In the name of profit, recent media and marketing antics have put rape culture and assault center stage at the expense of girls and women everywhere.

Whether it’s Kanye’s “Monster” video with women hanging from the ceiling and dining on dead flesh (which grotesquely disgusted me into a rant last year around Grammy time) to yg’s ‘B*s Ain’t”which epitomizes vile hate speech and the devaluation of human beings without even a whimper from the FCC decency folks. (NSFW should be NSFanyone)

It makes me wonder how we as a culture of sentient beings can tune out and desensitize rather than rally and act upon it to raise the bar for humanity. Remember this post I wrote “Depravity Gone Viral: A Thin Line for Humanity on Facebook” about the teen who had her rape horrors posted and spread around social media circuits? Talk about desensitization…

I’d like to see an “infographic” on contributory elements in media and marketing messaging…toss some research money into causation vs corollary health phenoms.

Connect the dots with visual insight (Pinterest the dang thing if you have to get attention with the media darling du jour!) just visibly line up the statistics against the mounds of degradation and misogynistic messaging increasingly off the charts in shock and awe and see where it lands. Anyone? Research folks? Pretty please?

Again…seeding thought for part two solutions, because industry self-rein sure isn’t working. Next stop? Toy department…

Look at kids toymaker Mattel and their ongoing marketing push for their hyper-sexualized Monster High dolls…

Again, huge profit over public health issue with the usual ‘oh, calm down it’s just a doll’ desensitization. Have hipsters saying ‘relax’ actually studied the content and context of the webisodes? Have they read the ‘personas’ purveyed on the back of boxes and followed the media literacy ‘rebranding’ of a failed attempt to be ‘cool’ going sideways?

Parenting and youth advocates wish they’d ‘bury’ these scrawny, sexed up toys once and for all, yet they keep creeping back like nightmare zombie ‘dead Bratz’ to wreak havoc with vapid values seeping into kids’ ambient intake like second-hand smoke that pollutes with cancer-causing agents.

Despite pushback and pleas to the toy giant to see the bigger picture on the damage to girls as cited repeatedly by the APA Task Force study,  Mattel isn’t listening…like a petulant profiteer, they’re just turning up the volume, ‘la-la-la’ hands over ears, tossing in a bit of good-washing through alliances to further create market confusion for parents who are unaware of the backstory/content of the webisodes and superficial ‘made up’ personas.

Now, when you visit the Monster High site the words ‘be yourself’ and ‘be unique’ hurl at you in a desperate rebranding of a doll collection that has focused on building appearance and dating-based self-worth via consumption-obsessed personas (with mean-girl relational aggression added as a personality trait) detailed at length in their webisodes and on the back of their packaging, allowing zero room for imaginative play.

Read Peggy Orenstein’s “Monster High’s New Low” post and the comments from parents for a good overview of the ‘two sided controversy.’ Read Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker’s deconstruction of the content and watch for her academic treatise forthcoming that connects the dots on the vapid values and toxicity being put forth.

Read my own Shaping Youth analysis of how in just the last five years time we went from a successful pushback of the Hasbro strippers for 6-year olds slated to be marketed as The Pussycat Dolls to this new mass produced Mattel Monster High line which is arguably even worse!

Again…even if we offer Monster High deconstruction dialog, where is the public health conversation?

Parents are getting both riled and fatigued, calling for upending the whole system that’s pumping out these goods to sell off childhood as a big ol’ media and merchandising opportunity.

This “Mattel, I Am Seething” post by colleague Melissa Wardy, parent of a 6-year old girl who has watched the toddler high Monster High merchandising on toy shelves take hold with “age compression” far younger than ‘tweens’ 8-12, details how the ambient impact landed in her own home, despite her vehemence in keeping toxic toys like these at bay, as she passionately voiced in an open plea to Mattel,

“…You make my job so, so hard. You make me tap dance around the topic that your dolls are dressed like women who sell their bodies for sex, often to men who offer zero respect to the human being that lives inside. My husband cannot even talk to his little girl about this, because his voice catches in his throat, knowing how awful the world is to its girls. He also knows the thousands of girls who aren’t having this conversation with her parents, and it scares him.”

…”Before, when I spoke about your products, I did so as sort of a far-off and removed concept that might someday touch my child. Today, I am speaking from a place of deep anger because you have reached her. Today, more than ever, I am dedicated to making change. Serious change. Today it became personal. Today, the gloves came off. It is never wise to be in the space between a mother and her child.” 

No, it is not. And that mama bear Melissa can growl, and has a posse of she-bears alongside her willing to come out of hibernation and give Mattel some serious teeth baring treatment too. I know, ‘cause I’m one of ‘em.

Mind you, some may blanch at putting the Monster High doll sexualization and tween YouTube “Am I Ugly” objectification and self-esteem turbulence in the same bucket as sexual assault/teen dating violence but they’re connected via the over-arching public health umbrella of kids’ socio-emotional and physical well-being.

As a nation, media and marketing are failing our children when we put profit over public health repeatedly.

As I wrote to the ‘just don’t buy it’ crowd on the “Mattel, I Am Seething” post, this is an AMBIENT issue, it’s about exposure and surround sound messaging.

You don’t have to “buy it” or even listen/watch it to be impacted by the devalued message that flows into the media stream. People need to understand that what manufacturers ‘put out there’ in the media and marketing universe is now ambient in its proliferation…

My vehement stance is that the default should favor public health…I wrote:

“To me it’s like second-hand smoke.

…Should my child have lung cancer from pervasive exposure to unhealthy environs even though I choose not to smoke?

Should children have to breathe in the polluted sphere of formulaic pop culture with its body image soul erosion and snarky/mean-spirited hyper-sexualized ‘dead Bratz’ imagery and vapid values?

The only option consumers are entitled to is to ‘leave the building’ to get some air (getting harder to do with mega-bucks marketing proliferation) or to ‘deconstruct and desensitize’ with media literacy (tune out the crud with ‘why not to buy’ which in itself presents a judgmental conundrum, since lil’ Sally is bound to have peer posses playing w/Monster High crud)…

The larger question should be:

Why isn’t the default for ‘clean air?’

Why isn’t Mattel/Monster High put out on the stoop?

Why should healthy kids be forced to leave play environs to eke out some fresh air away from cancer-causing agents of ‘secondhand smoke?’

Why are we as parents undermined by cruddy ambient cues, essentially putting Non Smokers into a Smokers den…then asked to ‘do our jobs as parents’ by not letting them breathe in the fumes?

Why are peer parents entitled to dismissively tell nonsmokers to ‘calm down’ and start the eyerolling and name-calling as ‘over-reactive’ when we’re just trying to find some freakin’ fresh air to breathe? It’s the ultimate ‘pass the ashtray’ peer perpetuation hipster moment and frankly, I’m sick of it.

Instead, let’s ‘imagine’…(channeling Lennon here)

Imagine if Mattel embraced healthier products w/the same fervor and financing imparting POSITIVE caring credos (eco/animals/ocean/whatevs) and amped ‘em up with ‘coolness cache’…Imagine if we replaced toxic items like MH with healthier role models (post on Super Tool Lula, Karito Kids, and GoGo Girls Sports dolls forthcoming)… What if we ditched the self-esteem coffin nails/cancer sticks to try a “switch pitch” so children could breathe healthier air?

It’s doable. Really it is. We shouldn’t need to live life with 21st century inhalers to filter; instead, let’s task corporations NOT to light up toxic media/marketing tripe in the first place. Accountability and a free market economy CAN go hand in hand.”

Finally, as February draws to a close, we cap off this toxic month of marketing misfires with poignant ‘outcomes’ shared on the Today Show, as young ‘tweens’ literally place themselves into the media market of self-objectification to have their ‘hotness’ valuation externally bestowed upon them by strangers…

That’s right, young girls are sadly commodifying themselves for validation through videos asking “Am I Ugly?”

After all, that’s what every media and marketing cue is telling them…Girls value is being judged in ‘hot or not’ appearance amplification and objectification over internal heart, soul, mind, identity and worth as a member of human kind.

It’s heartbreaking to see these insecurities play out on the ‘digital stage’ as kids are defined by media before they can even define themselves…but it’s even harder to delve into the societal repercussions and public health facts that so many have yet to understand.

To clarify the sexualization correlation, via the APA Task Force study:

“Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood”–Cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs can all be impacted by the various components of sexualization which occurs when:

•    a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
•    a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
•    a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
•    sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization.

The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.”

It’s pretty obvious to me that the proliferation of hyper-sexualized culture and age compression dialed down into tween and K-5 demographics is doing some unmitigated damage…The “Am I Ugly” videos are just one canary in the coal mine reflecting same.

Many parents don’t even see ‘the problem’ much less ‘the solution’ so to ignite sustainable change we need to start by unearthing some of the smoldering messages polluting childrens’ environment like second-hand smoke.

Reading the CDC folder, “Almost 60% of children breathe second-hand smoke, at home, in day care, in cars, they have more than twice the level of chemicals of smoke in their blood as nonsmoking adults…”

Now swap the words “MEDIA AND MARKETING” for second-hand smoke and I dare say those numbers are even higher, with involuntary intake seeping into their psyches from radio, TV, digital, toy shelves, peers, and in the play yard.

Start asking yourselves: What messages are sticking, even when we try to scrub ‘em off? What are we selling kids, and what are we buying into with our silence when we don’t speak out and lash back to make change?

Ready for the ‘what can we do about it’ part?

I sure am…Time to “March forward” to applaud and amplify some of the fast counter-marketing efforts and interventions under way…

From Tumblr’s all new media platform policy change to tighten the reins on ‘self-harm’ to New Moon Girls and Pigtail Pals video challenge to girls worldwide to use social media to counter external messages and look internally to take back beauty and speak out with voices yet unheard to build confidence and inspire positively. (Join in the fun–see videos already up and add your own!) 

Meanwhile, if you have specific contacts in the entertainment industry and public health field you’d like to send my way to get their point of view on solutions-based thinking, I’ll add them to the ones I’ve already got.

Bring it. We need as many ideas for how to turn this tanker around as we can muster.


Update, March 6, 2012: Check out the updated site of with a similar tonality/post called “Only Entertainment…Right?” which gives some cultural context of ‘then/now’ discordance. Stay tuned for solutions-ideation and interviews from a cross-section of industry, policy, public health folks…(Any recos, send ’em my way!)

Visual Credits: forum/second hand smoke, Rihanna-TMZ, pop culture graphic

Mini-Resource Guide

Prior to Part Two “Solutions Building!”

Break the Cycle

Love Is Respect

RespectRx Boss of Me

A Thin’s Over the Line (digital abuse/teen control)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

See It and Stop It! Organization

Do Something Organization

LiveStrong: Teen Dating Violence

Love is Not (Liz Claiborne campaign)

APA: Teens/Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt (pdf) Cycle of abuse/DV; cause-effect

HSUS/Animal abuse & corollary w/domestic violence

Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness



  1. Brian Welsh says

    I am totally against violence against women and people who perpetrate that should be dealt with seriously. Everybody deserves a right to opinion and in case of disagreement there should be other ways of solving the differences, not violence.

  2. Mercy Owen says

    Women should be treated with all the dignity that they deserve. Violence against them must stop.

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