The standard argument against overt and systemic sexist photography populating magazine covers and in music videos and film and, in fact, the sexist costumes and poses comic book superheroes are subjected to, is that it is pushed upon us and caters to the lowest common denominator: the 14- year-old boy who resides in all men.
The idea being that if Hollywood and the media stopped posing women in sexist, uncomfortable poses and then photoshopping out the less thin parts, things would be less marginalizing. Women will feel less required to look the way these models look, men would stop thinking that women are simply porn stars in regular clothing and equal treatment might become a reality, or at least closer to a reality.
The simplistic idea is: society apes what it sees. If society sees young black men consistently portrayed as criminals, then it is the exception when someone meets a young black man who is not a criminal. If society is presented with images of Muslim men and women exclusively engaged in terrorist activities, then anyone Muslim (or Muslim looking) is deemed a terrorist. If women are routinely seen as sex objects, evaluated strictly by their youthful bouncing tits and twerkable asses, then any woman not posed for immediate sexual gratification is considered abnormal and wrong. But we aren't that gullible, are we?
Or... maybe we are exactly that gullible. In fact, it isn't just the dudes who are that gullible, it's the ladies as well. Turns out that both men and women are aping the overtly ridiculous I'm Ready for My Humping poses that so many criticize female superheroes of being subjected to, in spite of the fact that female superheroes are, in fact, fictional. Turns out that, for all of the feminist objections to objectification, lots of women don't give a shit in an effort to snag a date via Instagram by way of Match.com. Turns out that selfies are as ridiculously pornographic as, well, porn.
Selfies are a representation of how we want to be seen and it seems that our selfies look exactly like the sex-infused advertising we despise. So which is it, the chicken or the egg? Much of what we know about propaganda and media indicates that it is, indeed, the chicken (ie. the representation of ideas repeated endlessly until we all just believe what it is the advertisers want us to swallow).
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.” ― Joseph Goebbels
"They are mere words..." We are a modern society lead more by images than words at this point. Memes, YouTube videos, selfies, animated GIFs. We are certainly the most narcissistic bunch of navel gazing assholes the monkey farm has ever produced—social media and our desperation to be heard amid the din of billions of status updates about food we ate and movies we saw has made each and every one of us so goddamned fascinated with ourselves it's hard to imagine being interested in anyone else. When I see Rage Profiteers post anger-filled screeds about the horrific racism in America alongside with articles about ghosting, and looking for love, or when fiscal conservatives post a status about the love of Jesus just before defending the defunding of Food Stamps, I find both perspectives somehow less than.
One thing is certain: Goebbels was right. Repeat bullshit enough and to enough people and they'll buy freaking anything.
• Trickle Down Economics
• Following your dreams will eventually lead to financial stability
• The media is biased against the GOP
• A burrito is not just a taco encased in a tortilla
Pop culture has power—don't fool yourself into thinking it doesn't. For all of the intense activism behind getting the G to finally legalize marriage for all citizens, it was Ellen and Six Feet Under and Doctor Who that tipped the vast middle of the population to see Gay as non-threatening and just like their sons and daughters and brother and sisters. It was pop culture that moved that scary, homophobic needle away from the red zone and made it possible for the Supremes to grant access to the institution of marriage to Adam and Steve.
It was Morgan Freeman and Dennis Haybert who showed Americans in the Heartland what a black president would look like years before we actually elected a black president (and Bill Clinton was not our first black president).
Sidney Poitier had as much to do with the Civil Rights Act in the late sixties as Martin Luther King ("They call me Mr. Tibbs" was a demand for respect that resonated with millions.) This is why including portrayals of black men and black women in popular films and television is not just important, it's fucking crucial. While there are a handful of serious activists out there, marching and writing op eds and boycotting businesses, it will be John Boyega and Lupita Nyong'o and Chadwick Boseman who will be slowly winning over that huge section of Americans who haven't even heard of #BlackLivesMatter. It will be Rey and Wonder Woman who inspires little girls that being objectified and paid less is not the way to go.
Goebbels was right and the power of repetitive media can be used for good ideas as well as selling us a fucking bowl of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and cheese. Good Ideas might not be a sexy as the sorority squat but things like feminism, equality, and justice look mighty good on a t-shirt.