Monday, November 11, 2013

Miley Cyrus and the Roast Busters

An editorial in the current issue of The Listener says the Roast Busters scandal suggests a need for society to undertake a deep and searching self-appraisal if we’re to understand how we have reached a point where young men take pleasure in the humiliation of vulnerable girls.
There’s ample evidence that this is exactly what is now happening. Not a day passes without the Roast Busters affair being earnestly discussed on talkback radio (which is not, contrary to conventional wisdom, the exclusive domain of the bigoted and ignorant). Several thoughtful and heartfelt newspaper columns have appeared, including three in the Dominion Post by Chris Trotter, Sean Plunket and Jane Bowron*. If there’s a common factor, it’s a sense of shock that we have come to this.

But there have also been kneejerk reactions, the aim of which seems to be to contain the discussion within parameters that certain people are comfortable with. I refer to the orchestrated condemnation of RadioLive hosts Willie Jackson and John Tamihere, who have now been taken off the air for the rest of the year to reflect on their wickedness.
I don’t listen to the Willie and JT Show and suspect I wouldn’t much like it if I did. Mouthy blokes don’t do it for me. Yet I have found myself forced to defend Jackson and Tamihere for asking questions that many people think shouldn’t be asked, even if I think they could have done it rather more sensitively.

Before I go any further, I should make a couple of points as emphatically as I can, since the reaction to my earlier post on this subject suggests some people have trouble getting the message. These are (a) that I detest sexual abuse in any shape or form, and (b) that nothing excuses the behaviour of the contemptible young shits who call themselves the Roast Busters. Everyone got that?
I need to restate this since some of my attackers effectively accuse me of "victim blaming", because I suggested that it’s valid to ask questions about whether the behaviour of the Roast Busters’ victims might have contributed in any way to their abuse.

Here’s my point: it’s simplistic to conclude that this is simply a matter of over-testosteroned young men behaving reprehensibly. Of course that’s the core problem, and nothing excuses or condones their behaviour. But we need to acknowledge that the social context in which this abuse occurred is more complex than that.
For a start, there’s evidence that some of the Roast Busters’ female friends saw nothing wrong in what they did and even admired them for it. That alone suggests society – or perhaps a subset of society – has taken a wrong turning somewhere.

If we step back and try to look at the big picture, it’s almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that a key reason for aberrant behaviour like that of the Roast Busters is that we live in a society that’s drenched with sex. That makes me sound like a 1950s prude, but what the hell.
The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s may have liberated us, but it has also left us with some perverse outcomes. One is that many girls grow up thinking one of their key functions is to be sexually alluring and available. And the attitude of some of their male peers, as demonstrated by the Roast Busters, is one of entitlement. After all, if there’s all that sex out there (and they know there is, because they see it all the time on music videos, on TV, in the movies and in video games like Grand Theft Auto), why shouldn’t they grab some?

I’m not just talking about pornography being instantly and universally available, though that’s certainly part of the problem. I’m also talking about girls being sexualised from an inexcusably early age and bombarded with sexual imagery and sexually-laden marketing everywhere they look.
I believe children are entitled to enjoy their innocence for as long as they can.  God knows they encounter the real world soon enough. But society and popular culture seems determined to rob them of that innocence long before they have the maturity to deal with the emotional complications that come with sex.

Who’s to blame? Phwoar. Where to start? Perhaps with pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, whom popular culture holds up as role models for girls. In the MTV Video Awards, seen by millions of sub-teens, Cyrus – a former Disney Channel child star – comes on to Robin Thicke, submissively rubbing her buttocks against his groin and doing that crotch-towelling thing that dancers in seedy strip clubs do; in the video for her song Wrecking Ball, surely one of the most watched songs on YouTube, she strips naked and mock-fellates the head of a sledgehammer. Swallows and Amazons this isn’t. And only this morning I read about the sexually explicit content on Lady Gaga’s latest album, supposedly inspired by her own sex experiences.   
But the blame goes much further than that. How about the Family Planning Association, which for years has been running a determined campaign to promote sexual precocity in kids? (Now that will definitely get me labelled as some sort of Mother Grundy, but it’s true.)

Ultimately, though, responsibility lies with all of us for sitting back passively while our children’s right to the innocent, uncomplicated pleasures of childhood was gradually stripped away.
Now, to get more specific, I’ve been asked to defend myself by explaining how the behaviour of the Roast Busters’ victims could have been a contributory factor in their abuse. (Please note that I didn’t say their behaviour was a contributory factor; merely that it’s legitimate to ask whether it was a contributory factor – a distinction lost on the ideologues who prefer explanations for bad behaviour to be bumper-slogan simple.)

Here are a few of the things I was thinking about. How do 13-year-old girls get into situations where they are at risk of being sexually exploited by older boys? How did they end up at parties where they were plied with alcohol? Did their parents know where they were? Did they care?
Do young girls dress provocatively because they see people like Miley Cyrus wearing only a bra and knickers, or nothing at all, and think that’s the cool thing to do – a sure way to attract male attention? Do they then suddenly find themselves out of their depth and in a situation that they can’t control?

Suggesting these might be factors doesn’t excuse bad behaviour; but it may go some way toward explaining it. And if we’re genuinely interested in understanding how society produces aberrant young males like the Roast Busters, then we shouldn’t exclude anything from the conversation.   
I know the argument goes that women and girls should be entitled to dress however they want without risking harassment or assault, but that strikes me as naively idealistic. I could argue that I should be able to go to bed at night leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open, but I don’t because I know what the consequences could be.

A 77-year-old Papatoetoe woman forgot to lock her door on Sunday and was sexually assaulted by an intruder. Does her forgetfulness justify or excuse the crime against her? Of course not, but it was inarguably a contributory factor. The point is, we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be.
I have long believed it’s unfair that a woman can’t go into a bar for a drink on her own without risking being hit on, but most women aren’t prepared to take the chance. It’s not right that things should be that way, but it’s the way the world is. And until we change the world – which I believe we’re doing, slowly – then we have to accept that some actions may have unpleasant consequences, so prudent people try to avoid them.

In the case of young teenage girls, those traumatic consequences are almost inevitably unintended, simply because they don’t have the maturity or experience to anticipate or perhaps even understand them. In other words, what happens to them ISN’T THEIR FAULT. (I need to put this in capital letters because some readers of this blog have limited skills of comprehension.) But that shouldn’t stop us stepping back and considering whether sexual abuse might not be quite so one-dimensional as the ideologues – the people who clamour for radio hosts to be taken off air – would like us to believe.
* Sorry, but I couldn't find Jane's column online.


Julia du Fresne said...

In agreeing with your comment on the Family Planning Association I table the following letter, addressed to the Dom Post a couple of days ago. What hope is there of seeing it in print?

'If Chris Trotter thinks the Roast Busters’ victims at age 13 are ‘pitiably young’, what does he think of the drones of Planned Parenthood whose latest target, in ensuring ‘the right to explore nakedness and the body’, is toddlers and children up to age four? Who believe information around ‘sexual feelings (closeness, enjoyment, excitement)’ should be foisted on little ones starting school, and ‘first sexual experience’ and ‘orgasm’ should be taught even before they make it to secondary?

These are the World Health Organisation’s Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe, published in 2010 with major input from Planned Parenthood, the international body of Family Planning – and maybe, coming soon to an intermediate school, a kindergarten or play group near you.

Julia du Fresne

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Karl and Julia

I'm with you both on the sentiments expressed in your column and Julia your comments regarding the Family Planning Association.

There are many commentators who have chosen to document the decline of western civilisation, including Peter Hitchins the brother of the famous late atheist Christopher Hitchins, who was notably interviewed on a panel including Germane Greer at the Australian Festival of Ideas in the Sydney Opera house last week. A must watch for those who really want a snapshot of Western culture and its animating ideas.
A second suggestion would be Mark Steyn who has been documenting the demise of western civilisation with great humour and no little irony over the last decade or more.

Rather than shout at the darkness, we need to light a candle that will give light to all in the house. For what it's worth:

All the best.

hughvane said...

Re Jane Bowron's column, it can be read in Monday's Press online, assuming you have a public library subscription and have had an access number registered. Here's the link to the Press The article is on page A15.

All power to your expressions of a balanced viewpoint Karl, and your courage in facing up to the mindless, bigoted raging coming from almost everywhere.

[Have you heard or read of the incident where the Police Commissioner phoned an ardent roast buster critic and was hung up on by said critic, who then tweeted that they (Police) knew who he was and were on to him so everyone else should look out. Reading the whole story and not just the headline revealed that the critic contacted the police last week through their website and provided his name, address, and a phone number. So, given the nature of the information he had provided, the commissioner was ringing him to enquire further. I shall try to find the source of that story.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Apologies, the previous "deleted" commment was mine, not my wife's. Here it is in it's entirety:

Because I think you must have missed it the first time:

Unknown said...

The lifestyle of Lindsay Lohan and Milie Cyrus was being lived out by the groupies and prototype stars in California by the mid to late 1960s. By the early 1970s public nakedness and back stage orgies was commonplace at rock festivals and backstage.
Teenage sex was commonplace allover NZ since the late 1960s and probably even. Puberty Blues would suggest it would have been close to universal in Australia by the early 80s at the latest.
Porno, Booze and Drugs are only pelipheral factors with any of this or the roast busters. The real thing is society changed long ago and the current outrage really reflect a return to conservative attitudes and a different population mix in NZ. The movements hippies and 1960s left are not in their sixties and long little interested in sex and therefore now opinionated and reactionary. Half the intelligent professional white group between 25-50 have left the county and we have a lot of extremely conservative immigrant muslims and fundamentalists from the Middle and Near East mouthing fundamentalism and reaction in church and on talkback.
I don't support the roastbusters or their activities but almost everybody who choses to comment including me, no nothing reliable or particulary accurate from the reporting of the case other than hearsay and one sides story or the other.
The real story is TV3 and Radio Live need to make money and are more colourful and reckless in reporting and on the plus side prepared to take more risks for a good story.

Skippers said...

Some teenagers in any era have always engaged in illicit sex, the big difference with the current situation is that the girls are now much younger (probably for the reasons Karl outlines), and Facebook has introduced a new element into the situation.

Tinman said...

I believe you are wrong simply because you (appear at least) to think this is a new phenomena.

Young girls have been advertising their awakening sexuality for a very long time, young men (and not-so-young men) have been taking advantage of this advent for just as long.

The only thing the visual entertainment industry is guilty of is bringing this behaviour out into the open and exploiting it (shamelessly :-) ).

Of course modern communication allows young men to boast about their activities to a far greater audience than us old farts (and those before us) ever could but this in turn allows them to prove to be absolute dickheads to a far greater audience as we all knew those who boasted about their sexual encounters were back in the day.

The young men in the roastbusters outfit are indeed scum but, I suggest, no greater scum than many who have gone before them.

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

I think planned parenthood just don't want kids getting pregnant because they don't know anything

Stephen said...

Yet I have found myself forced to defend Jackson and Tamihere for asking questions that many people think shouldn’t be asked, even if I think they could have done it rather more sensitively.

Did you listen to the interview? Because I hope your glib references to the need for Tamihere and Jackson to be have been “rather more” sensitive, or (from your previous post) having only asked “a few awkward questions” can be explained by ignorance.

As for your example with the 77-year-old Papatoetoe woman who forgot to lock her door, if a friend of the woman was interviewed, would the entire course of the interview focus on her actions and how they may have ‘contributed’ to her attack? Of course not. And if so, it would also come in for heavy criticism. I doubt you’d feel forced to defend it.

Please note that I didn’t say their behaviour was a contributory factor; merely that it’s legitimate to ask whether it was a contributory factor – a distinction lost on the ideologues who prefer explanations for bad behaviour to be bumper-slogan simple.

This is disingenuous. Given your subsequent comments, it’s clear you think aspects of their behaviour are contributory factors, so the ideologues guessed right.