Published on May 24th, 2011 | by Jim Dalrymple0
Should Musicians Cut Out Sexuality?
Should all media be children’s media just because some kid somewhere might possibly see it someday? Donny Osmond apparently thinks so. On last Tuesday’s Piers Morgan Tonight, he reportedly criticized what he described as Lady Gaga’s “shock” tactics. Osmond is also on the record slamming the sexuality in the video for “Telephone,” and has said he wouldn’t want his kids seeing the video. Which they could because, you know, it exists. On the internet.
But Osmond’s wannabe feud has all kinds of problems. For starters, the erstwhile B-lister seems to be using criticism of Gaga — intentionally or not — to elevate his own profile. Slam one of the most popular artists out there and, if you’re a lesser celebrity, you grab a few headlines. Isn’t that a “shock” element? Or a lamer version of one?
The statements are also suspect because they conspicuously suggest that Gaga’s approach to celebrity is inferior to the work of the squeaky clean Osmond dynasty. The Osmond family — some of whom I have interviewed and seen perform before — are universally nice people in my experience. I like them. But figures like Gaga are obviously trying to explore the phenomenon of celebrity itself, in ways that have little to do with “being a role model,” to borrow from Osmond’s vernacular. Successful or not, highly intertextual and allusion-laden videos like “Telephone” make that Gaga is trying to produce art. For grown-ups.
And then, of course, there’s the question of what we should be consuming, if not Lady Gaga. Perhaps something cleaner and more family-oriented? For instance, something produced by an Osmond? Basically, Donny Osmond criticizing Lady Gaga is like Subway pointing out that Quizno’s isn’t all that healthy. True or not, it’s a little hard to trust the latter’s motives.
But setting aside all obvious disingenuousness, the underlying issue is actually one worth considering. After all, despite my apathy toward Donny Osmond, I also doubt I’ll want my young children — someday, when they’re born — watching “Telephone” the minute they pop out of the birth canal.
From what I can tell, it seems that Osmond’s argument hinges on the accessibility of Lady Gaga’s work. Last year, around the time “Telephone” came out, the New York Daily News quoted him as saying — and I’m paraphrasing here — that these days content goes viral, that anyone can see it, and that the music industry is digitally marketing sexuality to everyone. That’s a problem, he’s saying, and it needs to stop.
The argument assumes that the Internet cannot be controlled — a questionable assumption given the array of censorship tools parents have at their disposal — and that kids can get highly sexual material. Fair enough. But does that mean people shouldn’t produce that material?
Lady Gaga has given us plenty of colorful and quotable responses to this type of criticism, but the best and most succinct recent counter argument might be from Glee‘s Dianna Agron after her fetishy cheerleader GQ spread. According to Pop Watch (as well as a lot of other sources that picked up the story), Agron apologized for all the offense she caused, then asked “if your 8-year-old has a copy of our GQ cover in hand [...] how on earth did it get there?”
The take away message: if your very young kid is consuming quasi-porn, you’re probably a bad parent. Also, don’t expect everyone else to uphold arch conservative values in order to protect your little babies. Protect them yourself.
Though I’m indifferent toward Agron’s photoshoot and I gave up on watching Glee months ago, the point is well taken. Art, whether good or bad, often pushes buttons. And sex is a big fat one. Also, little kids don’t have to consume it just because it’s out there. To suggest that artists like Lady Gaga fundamentally change is to argue against art itself. (And just imagine a world filled only with Donnie and Marie hits. Never mind, don’t imagine that. It’s awful. I definitely don’t want my kids to experience that.)
Ultimately, kids can look up to whoever they want — and a lot of them will probably find “Telephone” and other sexy internet videos. That doesn’t mean all those videos should be outlawed or destroyed. Rather, it means that parents should talk to their kids and help them transition comfortably at the right time into the media jungle.
After all, even if all risque videos were banned kids would just find old porno magazines. Or racy lithograpths. Or nude cave paintings. Or whatever. ♦ ♦ ♦
Jim Dalrymple writes about crime for the Daily Herald, based in Utah. He also is a culture writer for Revolv Magazine and Rhombus Online Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @jimmycdii.