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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Sexploiting young girls just not cute

A talking head on TV dubbed it “the molehill [that] has turned into a mountain.” A full week after Janet Jackson spilled into public consciousness, we cannot stop talking about it.

As a writer for the show-biz publication Variety said on Dateline Sunday night, it wasn t just the breast, it was the freak dancing, the crotch-grabbing, the lyrics.

“You just suddenly saw it,” said this Variety writer, “and began to focus.”

One stray breast during a family broadcast event has turned into a pop-culture tipping point, the opener America apparently needed to launch discussion of how much is too much, how far is too far, when or where it s right or wrong.

Personally, I m bored by it all.

Or rather, I was - until Sunday at the University of Toledo women s basketball game.

In the time it took for the 31-30 score to change from UT s favor to its 67-65 loss, I had something of a courtside, pop-culture epiphany - though, God knows, this business of How Much-How Far is not a new discussion.

Jazz-age flappers. Madonna. Elvis. We could make a parlor game out of compiling this list.

But my guess is Britney Spears and her look-alike contemporaries might have started our more recent round of pop-culture fretting. (Belly shirts!) And if it s true that the Janet Moment sharpened our focus, then it must mean we were watching before (if we watched at all) with our vision blurred by a soft-focus lens.

This was driven home for me, ironically enough, during the Sunday half-time show of the women s Rockets game, when a local dance studio provided the entertainment.

They were adorable girls, these dancers, but the performance left me queasy. I ve re-written this paragraph, describing the choreography, six times but have yet to be satisfied with the description. The reason is now beginning to dawn on me - there was just enough “plain-vanilla cute in the dance moves to offset the more generous portion of “sexed-up, flirty cute.

The problem, of course, is that little girls and young teens putting on the “sexed-up, flirty cute” act aren t cute. Bras draped by super-sheer, clingy T-shirts. Fishnet stockings under short-shorts. Choreography that could sometimes have been straight from MTV, or at least VH1.

I m 100 percent sure the parents of these girls have only their best interests at heart. And I don t knock anyone trying to do their best by their children.

But I found the UT half-time show remarkable if only because it is apparently no longer remarkable when young teens and preteens writhe around and bump and grind just as suggestively as twentysomething pop stars.

Having said that, it would be truly sad if this freeze-frame moment of pause in our popular culture was twisted to somehow stifle art or expression. I d never make the case for that. Honest, I m no prude. None of Robert Mapplethorpe s controversial art offended me.

But the sexualization of young girls does - especially when it s easy to make the obvious connection that all this is simply the beginning of a long continuum of female sexual commodification.



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