Recently, singer Sia’s music video for her song ‘Elastic Heart’, which features Shia LaBeouf and young Dance Moms’ star Maddie Ziegler, in flesh-coloured, dirt-stained outfits dancing artistically in a cage, has come under criticism for having paedophilic connotations. If you’ve not watched the video, I suggest you do before you read any further. The video is intended to represent Sia fighting with versions of herself, and I personally loved it. I think it is a great artistic representation of emotion, but it’s this quick labelling of the work as paedophilic content that bothers me. Before I go any further, in no way do I want to downplay the importance of indentifying material that is inappropriate or harmful, but I do fear our quick labelling of the ‘P-word’ is, itself, not only confusing but potentially harmful to our future analyses of sexual and non-sexual content. How can we understand what is inappropriate and appropriate sexual content in such a sexually confused society? A society where naked photos of children are pulled from Facebook but Miley Cyrus runs free? It seems this idea of political correctness has taken over, but who gets to decide what is actually politically correct and, for these matters surrounding human sexuality, is there ever a way to decipher what is right and what is wrong?
I was taught how to analyse sexual content because I studied it on a professional level in my quest to become a sexologist, and I only wish that even part of what I learnt was made more accessible to everyone (especially those who wish to have an opinion on social media). When it comes to situations like this, education really is the key. From my education, I struggle to see how photos of nude children are taken down from Facebook as a violation, but violence remains very much present. Are photos of nude children worse than photos of a beheading? And what does that teach us about nudity? Is it wrong to be nude, something that is very natural? Is the image of a woman and child being murdered less offensive than that of a child running free and naked in their backyard (I personally witnessed such an image on Facebook, of a woman and child being beheaded, and when I reported it to Facebook, I was told it DID NOT violate community standards).
Due to the acts of some immoral people, it is becoming a sad world. And a confused one in regard to what constitutes sexual content. Has it come to the stage where we need to consider not taking or showing photos of our children naked out of fear it will be deemed as paedophilic content? And while we consider this, images of violence play out around us on a daily basis, whether on social media or the news. Images we can easily see. Of course, we can’t have a relaxed approach to anything that could be classified as paedophilic (and, as a result, a sexual label might be given to material that is not), but I only wish we could have the same concerns about other content that may be harmful, such as violence.
There are certain circumstances where the label of over-sexualizing belongs (‘cough’, Miley Cyrus). But we also now witness the non-sexual becoming sexualized while the sexual becomes the norm. A child running around in a flesh-coloured outfit is deemed as sexual because she is dancing with an older man (Quick! Hide my childhood photos of me running around the beach in just bottoms with my Dad or cousins!), but flick through to the next TV channel and you’ll find women discussing their boob jobs (and showing them) as if they were discussing what they made for dinner. And that’s all normal, right?
I recently interviewed Jennifer Lopez about her music video ‘Booty’, and attempted to challenge her on her lesbian appearance with Iggy Azalea in the video. I asked if she felt women these days were encouraged to be faux lesbians in order to flaunt their sexuality. Her answer was less than inspiring. She tried to tell me that they didn’t think about it too much; it was just she and Iggy having fun on set (her blasé answer was punctuated with a cute giggle). I’m concerned that she maintains little thought went into her actions of bumping and grinding on camera with another woman. I wish she had simply admitted it was done to sell more records. When women who are international role models (Beyonce, Shakira and Rhianna, especially, I’m looking at you), feel the need, with very little thought, to act seductively in the name of ‘fun’ ‘strength’ and ‘independence’, then Sia’s video is the least of my concerns.
As I attempt to play God on the matter of sexual morality, here is the crunch: even I can’t decide what is right and wrong. If, in the science of sex, we can’t decide what is normal then how do we work out where the limits are? A belief in sexology is to assume there is no such thing as normal when it comes to human sexuality. What is appropriate to one person might not be appropriate to another. I personally do not have a problem with Sia’s music video, which I feel I could explain to a questioning and curious child or teen. I do, however, find the expressions of Miley Cyrus both offensive and a struggle to make any sense out of. Is flaunting and thrusting your crotch, taking drugs and cursing every two seconds the new way to show sexual independence as a woman? I have the privilege of hiding behind a professional education on these subject matters, but even after all this study and research my opinion is just that, a professional opinion, not a fact.
My advice would be to have an opinion. To continue to question everything you view and see, and share those opinions. But also know that it is just an opinion. Don’t flaunt it as fact. Allow others to express their own opinions, even if they differ from yours, and even if you are 100 per cent against it. Understand that so many of these debates can never be won because we will never be able to truly define the boundaries when it comes to determining if something is sexual content and if that content is appropriate or not. While there are obviously legal boundaries in some situations, when the line is blurred there is no way to decide. Do we rely on the opinions of the masses?
While I personally and professionally don’t deem Sia’s video to be paedophilic, I do see how someone who has experienced violence and abuse could be triggered to feel uncomfortable. Our previous experiences have the ability to change our opinions, but instead of using inflammatory words such as “makes me want to vomit”, as one Twitter user stated in response to the video, we should used this as a catalyst to discuss important topics, express concern and welcome a debate ( which I feel has been done by many people with this video). I’m happy if the video has encouraged that discussion, because that, to me, is art at its best.
If you have a voice and something to say, then use it. But I ask that before you do, take a moment to think about the impact that voice might have on others. Take time to consider how you will present your side of the debate. While I will never be able to solve the injustice and confusing matter of sexual content in this world, I will continue to use my voice with the best opinions I can muster. And I, too, know that it is just that. It’s up to you whether you choose to read it or not.