It's been a few weeks since the viral video debut of a dance routine featuring girls as young as 8 gyrating to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." The furor has mostly died down, but I find myself still thinking about it—even though I deliberately chose not to watch the video (still on YouTube for curious readers).
The reaction to the video was almost exclusively negative, with bloggers calling out the girls' parents (what were they thinking?) and lamenting the oversexualization of children. One writer said watching the video left him "feeling the need to sit through a 13-hour marathon of The Lawrence Welk Show to cleanse [my] soul."
When confronted by the media storm, the girls' parents defended their daughters' dance, saying it was being "taken completely out of context." The routine was intended for the audience at the World of Dance competition, the parents insisted; "the girls weren't meant to be viewed by millions of people."
But they were. And most people had something to say. A few souls defended the dance (and the girls' parents), saying the real problem was the viewers: "when Babble.com publishes ridiculous commentary like the girls look 'ready for the boom boom room instead of romper room,' they become the ones who suddenly sexualize the video," the Examiner claimed. Were it not for such sexualized commentary, the video "may have otherwise come and gone fairly harmlessly through viewers' Web-surfing rear-view."
Gyrating 8-year-olds in red and black bra tops and hot pants would never slip through my "Web-surfing rear-view," attached commentary or not. And for that, I've found myself thinking, I'm grateful. As comment after comment joined the collective cry of "What were their parents thinking?" I felt, along with Salon's Broadsheet, that there's hope for humanity yet.
If our culture can recognize this video as (dare I use a moral term) wrong, I'm going to sit up and take notice. Because this is the same culture, I'd argue, that gave birth to the dance routine in the first place. I'm not going to call out the parents—it's already been done—and besides, the parents don't particularly interest me. It's easy to point fingers and ask what on earth they were thinking, but the fact of the matter is, they didn't do this alone. None of the parents, to the best of my research, are dance instructors. I highly doubt they sewed the girls' costumes themselves. That means that the cultural environment for this dance was already in place—dance teachers willing to teach the moves to 8-year-olds, costume companies selling flashy bras and chokers in little-girl sizes. In a culture completely inundated with sexuality, and that sexuality trending younger and younger, frankly, part of me is surprised that this video evoked the strong reaction that it did.
As I trawled the Internet reading about this story—in what eventually started to feel more and more like watching the clichfamp;copy;d train wreck—I was particularly interested by some of the "related media" popping up alongside the dancing girls. ABC's Good Morning America had three related articles, "The Truth (and Cruelty) About Sexting," "Pole Dancing: Not Just for Strippers Anymore," and "Smaller Condoms Marketed for Tweens." And we wonder what their parents were thinking? Companies are manufacturing and marketing prophylactics for tweens—it's not that much of a jump to get to 8-year-olds suggestively shaking their pre-pubescent bodies. This is our cultural environment.
Culture, of course, does not exist in a vacuum. And like it or not, I'm a part of it. Even though I can claim that my attitudes, values, goals, and practices share little or nothing in common with the milieu that birthed the "Single Ladies" video (the only time I'd heard the song, prior to the controversy, was as sung by Carlos Whittaker's son) I still live in 2010, in this country. I'm part of the culture.
Christians are becoming dissatisfied with the postures they adopted toward culture in the twentieth century: condemning it, critiquing it, copying it, or just consuming it. More and more, we want to be people who cultivate: people who tend and keep what is good. And we want to be people who create: adding new cultural goods that move the horizons of the possible in places as wide as the world and as small as a home.
If this viral video can serve as a sort of wake-up call, let's heed it. Don't just call out the girls' parents, don't blame "the culture" and then walk away. We are called to be salt and light, and from where I sit, the world is looking pretty tasteless and dark. Let's get out there and do something about it.