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Where's the outrage? A billboard too far

Mary Hasson

*Warning! Explicit descriptions!*

A teenage girl lies topless, caressing one bare-chested guy, while she kisses another. Nearby, a third male moves to pull off his pants. A steamy porn flick? No. It’s the latest Calvin Klein billboard, splashed 50 feet high on the side of a building in the heart of Manhattan. Competing with Abercrombie & Fitch in the soft porn department, Calvin Klein defends its ad as “a very sexy campaign that speaks to our targeted demographic.” Teens and young adults, that is.

If this ad “speaks to” our teenagers, let’s consider for a moment what exactly it tells them. Imagine taking a stroll down the streets of New York, enjoying the company of your thirteen-year-old daughter or fifteen-year-old son.  You turn a corner and, with no warning, this image sears itself on your child’s memory. A master of art and design, Calvin Klein knows the impact of his work. Shocking. Erotic. Repulsive. Mesmerizing.

The message: sex is the pursuit of wild, physical pleasure, a primal response to raw sensual impulse, unfettered by fidelity or commitment. And, with nearly “everything” on display, sex seems far from intimacy and love. It’s a visual pitch for off-label sexuality—the fashionable knockoff that outsells the genuine article.  Claiming the title of market-leader, the cheap imitation becomes the new standard by which all else is judged.

And that’s the most damaging part of this whole ad campaign, its aura of normalcy. When I was growing up, a “threesome” had all the cachet of a hippie’s drug-induced stupor.  It was weird, kinky stuff.  Degrading and objectifying. The mere mention of such a thing would earn the speaker withering glances, suspicious looks and a wide berth. Not so today. Sure, a few predictable culture warriors have protested the ad. But the average New Yorker seems to take it in stride, with comments split among those who find the image “artistic” and those who figure, oh well, it could be worse. At least the models kept their pants on.

Counterfeit sexuality, exchanged for the real thing, seduces our children and silences the rest of us. How will our children know the “real thing” if we never speak up? Sometimes explicit, sometimes implied, the cultural message is that nearly everything is “normal.” Television features appealing gay characters and sexually insatiable heartthrobs (in contrast to hypocritical religious folks, of course).  Popular music, music videos and video games depict women as ready vessels for degrading sex—or better yet, for violent, degrading sex. And the relentless campaign for gay marriage cloaks itself in the language of normalcy: gay ‘spouses’ marry, get pregnant (with a little help from rented wombs and purchased sperm—darn that built-in plumbing!), and demand legitimacy for their contrived families.

Let’s call a spade a spade. What’s being sold is sexual deviancy, repackaged as the fashionable norm.  Isn’t it time we said, “Enough?”

Topics: Culture , Current Events , Pornography

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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