Monday, August 07, 2006

Teen Lust

"Are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods?" - Frankie Goes to Hollywood

According to a recent AP report, the August issue of Pediatrics claims that teens who listen to music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs. The music's influence on teen behavior appeared to the researchers to depend on how the sex was portrayed - songs depicting men as "sex-driven studs," women as sex objects, and with explicit references to sex acts were more likely to trigger early sexual behavior than those where sexual references were more veiled and relationships appeared more committed.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music. Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

For the life of me, I don't understand why the researchers did not conclude that teens anxious to rush into early sexual experiences were more likely to listen to music with overtly sexual messages, and that teens who were more demure were more likely to listen to songs where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed.

It was like this 30 years ago with drugs and rock 'n' roll. I remember many parents, my parents, getting all riled up about drug references in song lyrics, and coming to the conclusion that druggy lyrics caused drug abuse among its listeners. Wrong. Druggy listeners simply liked druggy lyrics, just like horny teens like horny lyrics. Or more precisely, teens inclined to experiment later in life with drugs were more inclined to listen to music that addressed that topic. Let's face it - at 14, it was a lot easier to get your hands on a Jefferson Airplane album than a joint (at least back then - times have changed, I'm told). It's not so different today, I imagine. At 14, it's probably easier to get a Snoop Dogg album than to find a willing sex partner (although even that's changed some, I'm told).

How could the researchers have so confused cause and effect?

The study was based on telephone interviews with 1,461 participants aged 12 to 17. Most participants were virgins when they were first questioned in 2001. Follow-up interviews were done in 2002 and 2004 to see if music choice had influenced subsequent behavior. "Teens will try to deny it, they'll say 'No, it's not the music,' but it IS the music. That has one of the biggest impacts on our lives," one of the subjects said. Were those candid words from a teenager realizing the true impact of the lyrics, or just a teen trying to please the interviewer by saying what he/she thought wanted to be heard?

Efforts to censor pop lyrics seem to go back as far as pop music itself. You've got to wonder whether Tipper Gore's actions with her Parents' Music Resource Center, claiming that popular music encouraged violence, drug use, suicide, criminal activity, etc. and should be censored or at the very least rated, turned off enough liberals that when husband Al ran for President in 2000, they weren't motivated to turn out and support him. And with that year's tight election results, a few thousand voters might well have tipped the scales and prevented eight years of you-know-who, the quagmire in Iraq, budget deficits, bad foreign policy, and so on and so forth.

Benjamin Chavis, chief executive officer of the Hip-Hip Summit Action Network, a coalition of hip-hop musicians and recording industry executives, said explicit music lyrics are a cultural expression that reflect social and economic realities. "We caution rushing to judgment that music more than any other factor is a causative factor" for teens initiating sex, Chavis said. Researcher and author Yvonne K. Fulbright said factors including peer pressure, self-esteem and home environment are probably more influential than the research suggests. "It's a little dangerous to just pinpoint one thing. You have to look at everything that's going on in a young person's life," she said. "When somebody has a healthy sense of themselves, they don't take these lyrics too seriously."

So what's up? Why were the researcher's so quick to finger hip-hop lyrics? Could it be racism? Roger Ebert, of all people, once wrote, "Rap has a bad reputation in white circles, where many people believe it consists of obscene and violent anti-white and anti-female guttural. Some of it does. Most does not. Most white listeners don't care; they hear black voices in a litany of discontent, and tune out. Yet rap plays the same role today as Bob Dylan did in 1960, giving voice to the hopes and angers of a generation, and a lot of rap is powerful writing."

It seems there's always been a white backlash against black music. Elvis was acceptable, but Little Richard was over the line. In the 60s and 70s, pop music was divided into the white, "rock" camp and the black, "soul" camp. Even the "Disco Sucks" movement of the late 70s was rooted in racism, misogyny and homophobia. Even though the music did, in fact, suck, so did a lot of other music of that era, and those who were motivated enough to go out and smash disco records in public protests probably had some real issues over music sung largely by black women to audiences of largely gay men (although white David Bowie never experienced that same sort of backlash).

Anyhow, this is starting to become a rant. My point here was about the subtle differences between cause and effect, karma and the Tipper Gore case, and the sometimes unpleasant truths revealed when one looks into oneself openly and honestly.

1 comment:

GreenSmile said...

"for the life of me..." Yeah, exactly the same thought came to mind. Are there two categories of people: those who understand the limited interpretations justified by a correlation and those who jump immediately to a cause-effect conclusion based on their biases or the way the framing of the presented results?
And if this split exists and does divide humanity, why to the latter type always get the job of writing up the news?

Music is not the biggest source of ideas in a teenagers life, it is a big form of expression. At an age when kids are trying to stake out who they are, the shared nature, the "instant culture" of popular music gives them choices yet assurance that others are with them in their choice...all without having to commit anything more than the $15 for the CD of their choice. I share your amazement that people can come to any other assessment of teenage tastes in music without noticing their own bias. My dad yelled at me about my Jimi Hendrix...but also recounted how wholeheartedly his dad hated Glenn Miller, my dad's favorite dance music [to which we are dancing yet]

Whoa! Et tu Tipper?

And what will their stats mean to me? I still have my Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane albums, wore them damn near out with playing...and could not muster the energy to get high and got laid when I was good and ready.

The shared music of the greensmile household is classical. Mom and dad greensmile dated at Santana concerts but discussed Dvorak and bought Mozart 8-tracks. All three kids played an instrument and learn classical music performance. They then brought in their own music. The rap they like, they bring to me for the searing honesty of the lyrics. While I find the presentation barely deserves to be considered "musical", the lyrics in some cases make a kind up updated Allen Ginzberg wake-up call about the malaise on our streets.