Over the last few weeks children’s access to online pornography has been much in the news. Few can doubt how damaging the consequences of such access can be but there is something much more subtle also at play. David Cameron described our society as ‘sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’ and nowhere has this been more apparent than in several music videos released recently by some of the world’s biggest female pop stars.
Recent videos from Britney Spears, Rhianna and Miley Cyrus have included nudity, highly sexualised dancing and imagery and visual references to prostitution. What is particularly disturbing about this is that the fan base of all these performers is so young. Watching them, one could be forgiven for thinking that these videos have been produced to appeal to an adult male audience but, in reality, they are far more likely to be viewed by school children.
Young boys watching these videos will come believe that women are merely sex objects for their entertainment and young girls will learn that their value lies in their sex appeal and how they look.
Many critics will cry that ‘it was ever thus’ but what we are seeing as mainstream in music videos now is barely inches away from pornography. This week two of the Grandes Dames of pop music, Sinead O’Conner and Annie Lennox, waded into the debate.
Annie Lennox described the sexualised imagery of modern pop videos as "dark" and "pornographic". "I don't think there's one parent of young boys and girls in this country that would honestly, comfortably say they were fine with seeing their kids being exposed to that kind of thing."
She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I'm all for freedom of expression but this is clearly one step beyond, and it's clearly into the realm of porn. "How do you stop your kids being exposed to it? It's so powerful. "
The singer called for pop videos to be rated in the same way as films and said that pressure from parents could help to establish "very clear boundaries" on acceptable standards in videos.
Parents who responded to the government’s Bailey Review in 2011 cited music videos as a major concern. The report subsequently recommended that age restrictions should be applied to music videos to prevent children buying sexually explicit videos and guide broadcasters over when to show them.
Presently music videos, along with news, sport and religious video works, are not classified by the BBFC. Last year we responded to a DCMS consultation and expressed our view that it is time they were. Following the consultation the government announced that they would change The Video Recordings Act so that any of these products that are unsuitable for younger children will have to carry the familiar "12", "15" and "18" BBFC age ratings in future. The changes are expected to come into force next year.
Ministers have also called on the industry to develop solutions so that more online videos, particularly those that are likely to be sought out by children and young people, carry advice about their age suitability in future.
It is worth noting that as porn culture is increasingly normalised it is not just the audience who are being manipulated but also the stars themselves. Performer Britney Spears recently spoke about how she felt she was pushed too far produce sexually explicit music videos. Sinead O'Connor penned an open letter to the Miley Cyrus warning her not to be exploited by the music business.
Over the past few years the tide of public opinion has begun to turn and, as a society, we are taking stock of the position in which we now find ourselves. It is vital that we continue to speak out about the pornification of our culture and the damage it is causing, particularly to the next generation.
As Annie Lennox said: "I think this debate is about getting the voice of reason back there to say ‘look, we want to protect our kids.’"