Verity Johnson: Let positive role models speak loud and clear

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Nicki Minaj's Anaconda is the cornerstone of the debate about music videos.
Nicki Minaj's Anaconda is the cornerstone of the debate about music videos.

I like knowing what's going on.

And I had a particularly satisfying moment the other day when I realised we were in the midst of a "moral panic".

In the aftermath of the VMAs, music videos have been swirling around our collective consciousness. Nicki Minaj's Anaconda is a cornerstone in the latest debate about whether music videos are degrading to women and raising teenagers with overly sexualised images.

We've been having this debate ever since the Pussycat Dolls wriggled on to our screen in the early 2000s. It's kept alive by the fact that it really does bother people, and by the eyewatering likes of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, Anaconda isn't really a music video; it's more an exhibition of Minaj's arse.

Her twerking in a pink thong and lyrics "he love my fat arse, he love my fat arse" don't leave much space in your head for a melody.

I couldn't hum the song for you.

So it's not surprising that when I was eavesdropping at the microwaves yesterday, I heard 20-somethings repeating earnestly, "I don't mind ... but kids are going to watch that."

Yes, kids are going to watch that. After all, YouTube is replacing TV for us young people. Music videos dominate our media intake. And the majority of women in music videos are semi naked, thrusting their butts at the camera.

Surely that's going to have an effect?

Psychologists Borzekowski, Killen and Robinson found links in 2000 to watching music videos and increased false stereotypes and perceived importance of body image and appearance among teenage girls.

It's not a revolutionary concept - in psychology the Sabido method holds that individuals absorb behaviour and cues from TV. While the Sabido method attempts to promote concepts such as mixed race coupling or open attitudes towards sex, it stands to reason it could also be used for more negative images.

So yes, there's probably a risk to girls, and guys, from the heavily sexualised female image in the entertainment industry. And a lot of people have spent time telling the music industry to make female stars put on some knickers, please.

But is this moral panic, and cries to kill all the naked ones, very useful?

We might be filled with moral outrage, but angry letter-writing alone is never going to stop the MTV colossus. So instead of wasting time, we need to channel that moral outrage into promoting images of women doing other things.

Funny, clever or mind-blowing things that get watched as much as slut drops.

Because, as the person at the microwave sighed to her couscous, "We wouldn't get so pissed off about this if these weren't the only images of us out there".

Increasing the diversity of the images of women in music videos is great. Not only because normal women are bored of seeing stars squirm around in oil, like they've just dived into a KFC family bucket.

But it's also great for building up teenage girls' resistance to these writhing, wriggling women.

I can watch Nicki Minaj without worrying too much that my butt doesn't look like it's been pumped up like a bike tyre.

That's because I've also tried to surround myself with examples of women doing kick-arse things: Harry Potter, where Hermione is the only reason they got through to six sequels. Or stand-up comedians like Joan Rivers. Or that video of Julia Gillard's owning Tony Abbott for misogyny. But it's a lot harder if you're younger; Miley Cyrus does actually seem important at 14. And finding alternative examples of women means identifying the problem, realising the effect and actively searching for other examples.

It's difficult, and alternatives are much harder to find. The predominant female images out there are those writhing around like snakes with indigestion.

We need other options to the Mileys and Minajs. We need alternatives for our tweens to digest.

We need to show balance, and remind them that this is not the only thing they can or have to do.

The good news is that New Zealand's doing pretty well at getting alternative voices onto YouTube. Videos from the immensely popular Jamie's World, or the little-heard-of star Lorde, are pushing different, fiery images of women in the entertainment industry.

So instead of huffing and puffing and brandishing trackpants at Minaj, we should be pushing those funny, weird and awesome voices like Jamie.

Because we're never going to stop the music industry's casual sexism through hand wringing.

Anyone who's ever been stuck in a call centre knows exactly how organisations care about the dissatisfied.

- NZ Herald

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