There's something almost endearing about the fact that in an age when there are literally millions of images and videos of humans without their clothes on available instantaneously to anyone with an internet connection, the occasion of a famous person allowing her butt to be photographed can produce such an extraordinary amount of discussion. I'm not going to analyze the semiotic meanings and deep cultural resonance of Kim Kardashian's behind (beyond saying that for someone with no discernible skills or talents, she sure is good at getting attention), but I do want to say something about the issue Conor Friedersdorf raises with regard to Fox News, which has been giving this critical issue extensive coverage:
Fox is, of course, not so different from other gigantic broadcast media corporations in shamelessly exploiting the fact that sex sells. Its behavior is noteworthy only insofar as it underscores the fact that the ideological mission it purports to have and the cultural critiques it purports to believe in are at odds with its actual programming. More than other broadcasters, it pretends to flatter cultural conservatives, and to disdain the decadence of liberals in their coastal enclaves. But that's just a pose helping it sell ads against its own libertine cultural offerings.
In case you don't watch Fox, you should know that they work extremely hard to find excuses to put images of scantily clad women on the air. Some of it contains no finger-wagging—how about a report on Hooters' third-quarter profits, with lots of shots of waitresses?—but plenty of it is presented with a thin veneer of moral condemnation that allows viewers to feel like Fox remains on their side in the grand battle against sexual depravity. My favorite example has to be the time Sean Hannity presented hard-hitting journalism on what goes on at Spring Break, spread out over an entire week's worth of stories with endless shots of girls in bikinis. Somehow, the Peabody committee overlooked Hannity's scoop that kids are drinking and having sex in Ft. Lauderdale.
You can think of this as a betrayal of its audience's cultural conservatism, but I think it's actually a form of service. In a way, Fox News knows its viewers better than they know themselves. Don't forget that the typical Fox viewer is a conservative senior citizen. The median age of the network's viewers is 68.8, and some shows skew even older; Bill O'Reilly's median viewer is 72. More so than perhaps any other channel on television, Fox endeavors to shape and reflect not just its viewers' beliefs about particular topics but their entire worldview. It presents a picture of the world in which everything is going hell, and the prime enemies are change and modernity. The president hates America, immigrants are destroying our culture, the kids are out of control, and it's not like it was back in the day. Fox is a channel for the conservative id, where you can have your darkest thoughts and worst fears nurtured and validated.
And of course, there's nothing the id likes better than looking at half-naked girls. On Fox, you can be like the stern father who discovers his teenage son's stash of Penthouse, looking through each issue carefully to understand the depths to which the boy has sunk, lingering over each photo spread as you shake your head at how depraved the world has become. And should a voice in your head alert you that you're finding this stuff dangerously titillating, you can remind yourself that the reason you're there is to express your dismay. After all, it's on Fox, the only network you can really trust.
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