Consuming a Culture of Sex

Marcia Forbes PhD

“R & B helps to like reflect deeply on relationships”

“Celine Deon make me feel good….sometimes her songs let you know about love and all those things
“You see souls. Souls make you hug up and hold tight”
“Joy inna dancehall now, like dancin’ no fighting inna de dance.”
“Like most Rastafarians, I will listen to Anthony B and Sizzla…
Their videos show some of the struggle that poor people are going through….”
These are the views voiced by some adolescents when asked to talk about the emotions they feel when they watch various types of music videos. Different genres of videos evoke different emotions. In the face to face encounters some focus group participants displayed an almost protectionist attitude toward dancehall, not wanting to link it directly to any sexual feelings. But in research there are ways and means of probing in order to get at the truth and non-verbal communication can speak volumes. So when the older adolescent girls explained that dancehall videos put them in a dancing, ‘jiggy’ mood and this was accompanied by sotto voce comments and giggling, I probed. In response I got “It makes you more flirtatious”  
Middle class girls were very good at arguing that while music videos had no effects on them in terms of evoking sexual feelings, they were sure the videos influenced others. This ploy was also sometimes detected among those from the lower income as well. From one inner-city adolescent girl in the 10 to 12 years age range I got,
                        “Sometimes when you watch the music videos, some of the girls dem
 would say it make them feel like they are horny”
While another felt that,
                        “Because the videos influence the man and the man now will say, ‘She
 talking about do it to me baby’ and he’s talking about sex, so have sex.”
In the questionnaire respondents were asked to state the extent to which they felt different genres of music videos talked about sex or showed sexual behaviours. Dancehall led the way with almost three quarters of the adolescents (72%) indicating that these videos often or very often talked about or portrayed sexual behaviours. In fact almost twice as many respondents indicated ‘very often’ rather than just ‘often’. The sexual nature of dancehall resides not just in the lyrics for which sex is frequently a dominant theme but also in the erotic nature of several of its dances which are often the dominant feature of music videos. 
Compared to dancehall videos’ high of 72% of respondents believing that they portray sex, hip hop an extremely popular genre among Jamaican adolescents, attracted the comparative low of only 53%, while reggae drew less than 40%. Still high but nowhere close to dancehall. And while the controversy of slackness in dancehall versus soca continues, the adolescents did not perceive soca videos as featuring as much sex. Less than one third of them ascribed sexual talk and behaviours to these videos on the basis of occurring very often or often. Even R&B/Soul described as ‘lovey dovey’ music by the teenagers, only scored 27% in terms of the frequency with which these videos were seen as showcasing sex. So dancehall it is, even though for some reluctantly so.
Another question painted a scenario of a boy and a girl watching TV and asked respondents to give their opinion as to which genre of music video would make them want to try to have sex. Again dancehall music videos led the pack with two thirds of the adolescents indicating that these videos would make the couple want to have sex. When asked specifically about themselves, they were not as forthcoming though. One fifth of them (20%) said no music video would make them want to have sex. But the truth would not be buried and again dancehall surfaced as the leading genre to bring on sexual feelings, with one third (32%) of respondents identifying that genre as the one most likely to make them want to have sex, way ahead of R&B/Soul which ranked second but only attracted 16%. 
So we see dancehall music videos coming out in the responses to several different questions as the leading type of music video to showcase sexual images and lyrics and to generate sexual feelings in our young people in Jamaica. So what one may ask?   Well let me turn to the voice of the adolescents for some answers. 
                        “Well it seem like every music video startin’ to depict sex,
you rarely see anything that doen’t turn sex in it.”
This came from a rural area boy. The rural girls also had their say. This quote is from one of them,
“All this sex appeal thing and it’s kinda making it OK
 to do it and like when they do out there and do it, they
like get themselves in trouble”. 
These young people, without realizing it, tapped into some of the responses to the ‘So what?’ question. Social learning theory effectively highlights what many of us know without getting bogged down with what some may see as academic ‘googly gook’ and this is that ‘children live what they learn’—what they see and hear around them help to influence how they will behave. It’s called social modeling.
Music videos help to create a culture of sex and this is being voraciously consumed by our young people. This constant diet of sexual images and lyrics gives the impression that everybody is ‘doing it’. It you are not, then you’re the odd one out, just as it is with watching the videos. And many adolescents, would rather die than be left out by their peers. As one boy remarked,
                        “If they come to me and ask if I haven’t seen that video before
 and…I wouldn’t be able to tell them, I would seen a bit odd
and that going look a bit ridiculous ‘cause I don’t know what’s
going on.”
It’s the same for the girls,
                        “When you go to school everybody is talking about oh,
                        did you see this video and discussing it and stuff. You
                        have to have your input, your own opinion.”
Now least anyone accuses me of bashing music videos or dancehall, I am not. I confess to being one of the over 40s—well over 40—who actually enjoys music videos. I like the energy and the vibes which music videos generate and the clever ways many of our artistes play on words and the frequency with which they put their finger on the pulse of the numerous wrongs in our society. My adult son (a TV Director/Businessman) and I still sometimes sit and watch and critique these videos—the lighting techniques, the camera angles, the story line or lack of it, the editing—these conversations keep us bonded and also help to keep me current. I highly recommend watching music videos with their sons to all Mothers –just don’t be too critical about every little thing. You’d be surprised at the ways in which you can bring a different perspective to your son’s interpretation of what he sees on screen. But remember, be subtle and don’t be overly critical. You want to bond, not to alienate!!
I’ve watched with a great deal of pride the way in which the technical competent of our video makers has improved over the years. What I’ve not been proud of is the manner in which so many of the videos, local and foreign, commercialize sex. The underlying message in many of them is that it’s OK to sell your body, whether you’re a man or a woman, because that’s your Capital, your resource for survival and for self-actualization. Well we all know that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. So while it’s fine to want to get ahead in life, what often comes with the body as Capital argument is that there is a lot of psychological damage in its aftermath. And when the body, no longer ‘fit and firm’, is unable to serve its function as the means to an end, what then? 
My friend’s just barely one year old granddaughter, not yet able to talk, is already making the sounds and moves to the music videos on TV. What is she consuming? Increasingly research is highlighting the ways in which infants and toddlers develop active engagements with the media, particularly television. The results do not have to be negative. Jamaican artistes do themselves and the society a disservice when they fail to use their talents in productive ways. Glamorizing guns and commercializing sex is not productive. There are ways to point to the ills of our society without engendering new ones. The music video genre is fully capable of being used in entertaining yet highly productive ways and I don’t mean using them to preach sermons to young people. My challenge to our local video makers is to show your talents by harnessing the potential of this genre in making a different to the lives of our young people.