Sexting turns a profit: A lesson from the pornography industry?
Although “sexting” is certainly not an isolated phenomenon, a recent case at Chenery Middle School in Belmont, Massachusetts deserves cultural consideration. According to reports, a nude photo of an underage student was circulated between seventh and eighth graders – approximately 40 to 50 according to Bill Grubbs, the school’s assistant headmaster. Further details provide that each of those students paid $5 for access to the “sext,” which was sent by the underage student’s “boyfriend.” This situation is currently under investigation: cell phones have been seized, students have been interviewed, and the phrase “child pornography” has been circulating in media reports.
However, while this case is yet another example of “sexting,” interviews with parents, via a report on WCVB-TV 5, reveal an interesting denial of current cultural and sexual trends, i.e., the pervasiveness of the profitable pornography industry through accessible electronic media (Internet). One parent states that, “The fact that another child thought it was okay to pay for that takes it to a whole other level.” Another parent responded to reporters with the following: “The idea of charging, that’s the cherry on the cake, or the icing on the cake. I can’t believe that at this age it crosses their mind to do this.” Both parents question the notion that individuals would pay for nudity. Do they truly believe that the success of the pornography industry would not penetrate the minds of puberty-stricken eighth graders? Interestingly, this case at Chenery Middle School appears to embody behaviors learned from the normalizing pornography industry, most notably, exploitation and profit. Where else would eighth graders learn that selling nude photography can generate capital?
Article: Police investigating alleged sexting incident at Chenery Middle School (including WCVB-TV 5 report)
i agree that most seem to underestimate the ubiquity of porn. that a 13yo has access to the full range of porn via a computer is something new and interesting and will likely have positive and negative outcomes. HOWEVER, i’m not sure if the (overstated) sexting phenomenon is really the result of the big, bad porn industry as this post indicates. kids have always displayed bodies to eachother. also, their worlds are of increasing exhibitionism and documentation of their lives and selves via new technologies (e.g., facebook, mobile phones). all of this even without the big, bad porn industry seems to explain pretty well why kids are sending pictures of themselves to eachother, even for money.
I agree that blaming the “big, bad porn industry” for the sexting phenomenon is a reductive assessment. Rather that contributing to that “blame porn” argument, this particular post questions the reaction (based on the news report) from parents and their lack of awareness in connecting exposure to the pornography industry and subsequent behavior from their adolescent children (profit for nudity).
This was interesting post. I immediately relayed the story to several friends to see their reaction.
I think Nathan is right, though, this is a much bigger and more important than just dispelling the ignorance of naive parents. “If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” is probably one of the most typically and most natural behaviors for pubescent teens to engage in. The porn industry isn’t really the independent variable here. It’s been around for a long time. Rather, I think new social media and surveillance technologies are. What’s interesting is that it was the monetary aspect of this story made it shocking to most people, implying that the mass exhibitionist behavior is now relatively mundane.
Teens will likely always be obsessed with sex. Only recently have they become obsessed with mass exposure and constant documentation. The phenomena of mass sexual exhibitionism (e.g., sexting) appears only to be a natural extension of these two trends. Doing it for money? Isn’t this just the pinnacle of the American Dream, “the spirit of capitalism?” Namely, to do what you already want to do and get paid. Isn’t this the difference between being an Internet celebrity and a real celebrity? Aren’t we all supposed to seek to be the former and then the latter? Aren’t these kids just behaving the way society is asking them to behave? And by “society,” I don’t mean some elite pornographers, but you, and me, and everyone.
I see the point that both Nathan and PJ make about bodily display, but this is different because the subject of the photograph may not have intended to “show hers” to 40 other classmates. Were the funds shared between the subject of the photograph and the photographer? The article seems to suggest that the boy kept all of the funds. This does suggest that the girl was–as Rachael’s post describes–an object in a budding teen sexting industry similar to the women who are objects in the pornography industry.
Great post, Rachael. Thanks for bringing this story to our attention.