Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
There is no question that media and entertainment have a deep and profound impact on youth, the way that they view the world, and how they interact with it. From a very young age, they are continually bombarded with images and sounds that shape their worldview – from the music that they listen to, the movies and television shows that they watch, and the advertisements that they view in magazines or on billboards.
Throughout the years, entertainment and media has become more sexualized in it’s portrayal of women and of relationships between men and women. When we view this in light of demand and normalization of sex trafficking and exploitation, there are two main cultures within the media that play a factor in the normalization of prostitution.
Sexualization of Women
Many discussions have taken place in recent years about the portrayal of women in media and entertainment. While the message may or may not be so straightforward and clear, media continually gives men the idea that they have a right to control women and that women should pleasure them, while also giving women the idea that they need to work to meet certain standards of beauty and behave a certain way in order for men to give them attention.
Many images and messages, specifically within advertisements, portray women in a particularly sexual and exploitive manner, often with the women wearing little to no clothing or in violent positions. In a recent fashion clothing advertisement campaign, images showed men dressed in suits touching and interacting with fully nude women. While the company received a great deal of pushback due to their controversial campaign, there have been many other advertisements that have pushed the boundaries and portrayed men’s control over women.
Advertisement campaigns, fashion magazines, and celebrities styles also often indirectly have an impact on exploitation. Media often shows youth and young women in a more mature light, encouraging young girls to grow up faster and to act in a way that is beyond their physical years. Young teenagers often deal with self-esteem issues and insecurities, striving to become culture’s ideal picture of beauty, causing some to soak in any attention that they receive from boys and men. Yet, on the other side of the coin, media and entertainment also sexualizes childhood and youth, with some pop artists and advertisement campaigns dressing down in age to look like a child or a teenager, while still maintaining the sexual aspect.
The Pimp Culture
Another aspect of media and entertainment that normalizes prostitution and ultimately trafficking is the normalization of the pimp culture. There are many forms of media that glamourize this culture, causing young men to strive for the dream of being a pimp, without fully recognizing who a pimp truly is.
There are a number of popular songs that address the pimp culture and glamourize the idea of this culture. In 2006, a song by Three 6 Mafia’s song It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which was featured in the movie Hustle and Flow. In the song, the writers discuss their desire and the struggle to make money, their lavish material items, and the girls that work for them. They also sing that for the right price the girls will perform sexual acts.
Other main stream artists have also included the pimp culture in their music, including Jay-Z in his song, Big Pimpin, and his collaboration with Kanye West, Niggas in Paris, where they sing, “You know how many hot b****** I own?”. Even the well known indie pop singer Lykke Li perpetuates the prostitute culture as she sings, “Like a shotgun needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some” in her song Get Some.
One of the most popular adventure-action video games, Grand Theft Auto, has had many controversies surrounding it’s violent and criminal fictional activities since it’s first version. In Grand Theft Auto III, the violence and crime within the game continued to get worse, with new technologies making the image look more realistic. Also within this new version, the characters were able to solicit sex from prostitutes in order to boost their health, and were also able to then kill them in order to keep their money.
Reality TV and Marketing
In 2004, MTV debuted a new reality television show called Pimp My Ride, which upgraded and customized older and run-down cars. While the show itself did not promote the pimp lifestyle, simply by naming the show as they did begins to normalize the word ‘pimp’ and gives a misrepresentation of the definition of the word.
In addition to Pimp My Ride, there have numerous other shows and products using the word pimp out of context, using it to imply that something is made better or improved from what it once was. It was through these names that the word become used in everyday language.
There are also a number of celebrities that are former, or current, pimps – showing a glamorize side to the life that young men, and women, strive to achieve. Highly recognizable people like Snoop Lion (previously known as Snoop Dogg) and Hugh Hefner pride themselves in their grand lifestyle that includes an abundance of material items and women. However, Snoop Lion has been open about his past life as a pimp, while Hugh Hefner is known for his Playboy legacy, which includes the Playboy mansion and bunnies – the women who live with him. While some of the women who have been a part of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy world have denied rumors of exploitation, others have spoken out about being forced to perform sexual acts against their will and about unwillingly participating in Hefner’s reality television series without compensation.
Another celebrity who is very well known for his involvement as a pimp is Don “Magic” Juan, who is highly regarded among pimps as a poster child for the pimp culture and who ran one of the most successful prostitution rings. Currently a hip-hop artist, actor, and fashion designer, he founded The Player’s Ball, an annual award ceremony for pimps around the country, most often hosted in his home city of Chicago.
All of these messages – whether obvious or subtle – help to form the minds of children, youth, and young adults, as well as sometimes older adults, making it seemingly alright to belittle women and exploit them. It is encouraging to see actors, musicians, and other leaders in the entertainment and media world taking a stand against stereotypes of women and speak out against trafficking, but it is also important to form a greater sense of self-esteem and good morals in the youth in our own communities. The task of changing certain parts of our culture is not an easy task, but can be done over time with the help of many.