Thoughts on Rashida Jones' Editorial on "Pornification"

I totally agree with Rashida Jones’s piece in glamour about the “Pornification of Everything:”

My own little addendum: any artist or entertainer should be free to do whatever they want. I don’t see it as any artist’s obligation to abstain from the easy advantages of selling sex. But the choice these girls (or any artists, myself included) do have is between being thoughtless and selfish or being awesome. Like other unjust social systems and norms, sexism runs on the acquiescence of most people. Just as we are defaulted into global capitalism and its consequent extreme global poverty, we (and especially female entertainers) are defaulted into this hypersexual culture. The thoughtless path is simply to participate. And any inklings of self-doubt about this path will be readily suppressed by a culture warmly embracing and defending it. People will call Rashida jones a “slut shamer,” etc. for voicing a wholly legitimate critique.

The path of awesomeness, on the other hand, involves recognizing that these cultural moments occur against a backdrop of global violence and subjugation of women. Right now, at this very moment, we live in a World in which women aren’t allowed to drive or show their faces publicly in many places, a World in which record executives still had the audacity to speculate that Adele’s size profile should disqualify her from success, a World in which millions of womens’ household labor remains unrecognized by our economy, and a World in which domestic violence and rape remain shamed.

In such a World, it’s no one’s obligation to do anything. But if you do take a stand against it, you’re way more awesome than if you don’t. These vestiges of human idiocy are, like all injustice, progressively losing the battle for the future. It’s never actually cool to be on the wrong side of history, to be a bedfellow of injustice. And I think that’s basically the role that some of these entertainers are thoughtlessly accepting. The alternative takes courage. Lily Allen’s video takes courage. Rashida’s editorial takes courage. Being right almost always does, because saying anything that most people disagree with generally angers and annoys the same most people.

For my own part: I did a video called “Black Girls” a few years ago that mainly revolved around an interracial lesbian sex scene. My goal with the song and video was to start a conversation about interracial love, something that I still find stigmatized even in the elite, cosmopolitan culture that I inhabit. The video was the most instantly successful thing I’ve ever done as an artist. It didn’t become a major hit or anything, but it did spread almost instantly across twitter, becoming a global top 10 trending topic, and the feedback was immediate and vociferous.

A lot of people were inarticulately offended, as they would be by anything involving race, gender, and homosexuality (and coming from two privileged white guys). Others complained more pointedly that they felt we were objectifying black sexuality, or that the power dynamics between the women were biased in a racist way, etc. etc. But we took great pains to avoid these mistakes in the casting and scripting of the piece. I have no regrets on those fronts. What actually shocked me about the response, however, was that basically no one voiced any concern about the one basic problem with the video: that we were trying to sell our music in the easiest way possible: with naked women. Though we were trying to make people think, we took the easy path to doing so. Against the same backdrop of persistent sexual inequality that I identified above, this wasn’t very courageous.

Unfortunately, if you take the courageous path, it’s hard to do well out here. I’m pretty sure Miley Cyrus’s project wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at this moment had she taken the harder path. There was a path for Adele or Susan Boyle, of course, but Miley Cyrus can’t sing like either of them. She is great, but she’s just not that talented. And so what should she have done? What would you have done in her shoes? It’s a tough predicament.

For whatever it’s worth, I’m going to try my best to be on the right side of history. I’m going to make a concerted effort to represent women in my own art in ways that are helpful to their global stature. Rashida’s piece inspired me to write this because I don’t view this as a “women” problem; I view it as a human problem, something with which all of us should be equally concerned because indifference reflects upon all of us in an equally embarrassing way.