Newsweek Gone Wild

by The New Republic Staff | February 5, 2007

The title is titillating: "The Girls Gone Wild Effect: Out-Of-Control Celebs And Online Sleaze Fuel A New Debate Over Kids And Values." Is this from People? Us Weekly? No, no, it's from Newsweek. The current issue of the ostensible news magazine features Paris Hilton and Britney Spears during a night of partying on the cover--in perhaps the most blatant attempt to pander for newsstand sales since, well, People or Us Weekly. And it's just trash. First, the two authors, Kathleen Deveny and Raina Kelley, tell us that while conservatives have of course always been concerned about the effect of pop-culture on teens, now liberals too are beginning to wonder just what effect all these panty-less "hootches" are having. Meaning that there is in fact no "new debate over kids and values." Not only are the right and left both appalled by the behavior of the latest crop of "prosti-tots," they are also in agreement as to the solution: Teach your kids good values. There is about as much real debate here as there are real breasts on Britney Spears. The article is also punctuated with data from a Newsweek poll that cites illuminating figures like: "Eighty-four percent of adults say sex plays a bigger role in popular culture than it did 20 or 30 years ago." Well, case closed. What's next for Newsweek? Finding out whether or not most adults think prices are generally higher than 20 or 30 years ago? But worse than the poll results are the debauched details sprinkled in: Lindsay is called "Firecrotch" and is in rehab; many of the prosti-tots are cleanly waxed and panty-free; and "Britney, Paris and Lindsay have no shortage of 'boyfriends' but seem to have few real relationships." So how do Deveny and Kelley know all this dirt? Hard-hitting reporting? Nights out with the gals followed by drunken soul-searching talks in the pre-dawn hours? Nope. None of the "bad girls" were so much as interviewed. Leaving one to assume that the majority of the reporting on the girls' lives comes from Internet blogs, YouTube videos, and "E! True Hollywood Stories"-entertainments the authors confess "we adults ... can't get enough of." So not only is there no "debate over kids and values"; the "online sleaze fuel[ing]" that non-debate is the very source of their information. Then in a bizarre turn, Deveny and Kelley take the reader on a historical tour of bad girls throughout the ages, starting-I kid you not-at "the dawn of time." To wit: "The text on a Sumerian tablet from the village of Ur (located in modern-day Iraq) says: 'If the unheard of actions of today's youth are allowed to continue, then we are doomed.'" Ah the village of Ur--they so crazy. This magical tour immediately fast-forwards to Mae West and ends with Madonna passing the torch to Brit. It's enough to make you wonder: If this is nothing new, there's no actual debate, and online sleaze is your source material, then, um, what exactly is the point of the article? It seems "The Girls Gone Wild Effect" is really of no effect at all. So why the hubbub? It sells magazines. And the worst part is that these authors are creating salaciousness under the guise of concern over it. Which is too bad, because the hyper-sexualization of young women in pop-culture is worth looking at, worth talking about, and certainly worth teaching our kids about. But throwing some photos of hot starlets on a page on the basis of rumor, innuendo, and a crap poll is not tantamount to a serious examination. --Sacha Zimmerman

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