Sexing the Media: How and Why We Do It

Merskin_Cover_WEBSex in the media is one of the hottest topics of the day. We know that advertising, television, cinema, and other forms of communication use sex to sell us products and pump up story lines. The question is: why are sex and sexuality such effective tools for getting our attention?

This talk—which includes slides and video clips—is based on research conducted by journalism professor Debra Merskin for Sexing the Media: How and Why We Do It (Peter Lang, 2014), a textbook that explores answers to this question through historical, sociological, psychological, and ideological perspectives. Dr. Merskin’s book looks at how media and other social institutions use sex and sexuality (the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses) to advance economic and ideological interests. Cinema, music, music videos, television programs, advertising, and the Internet are discussed as carriers of deliberately constructed messages that contribute to and support a master narrative that privileges heterosexuality and monogamy.

Book chapters include: The Puritan Sex Ethic – Prelude to Passion – Sexing the Media – Reviving Lolita: Sexualization of Adolescent – Girls in Fashion Advertising – Mirroring Violent Masculinity: Nike’s “Warriors” Campaign – Angels in America: Seeing through Victoria’s Secret – Catty: The Feral Feminine in Media – A Boyfriend to Die for: Edward Cullen as Compensated Psychopath in Twilight – But Where Are the Clothes? The Pornographic Gaze in Mainstream American Magazine Fashion Advertising – Homosexuality and Horror: The Lesbian Vampire Film – Not So Pretty Woman: Prostitution and the John in Media.

Presenter Profile: Debra Merskin, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication
Debra Merskin, UO School of Journalism and Communication

Debra Merskin, UO School of Journalism and Communication

Dr. Merskin’s interests focus on the representation of women and minorities in media, in particular the impact of symbolic representation on lived experience. Her theoretical focus is the ethics of representation. Her book Media, Minorities, and Meaning: A Critical Introduction was published by Peter Lang in 2011. Sexing the Media: How and Why We Do It was published by Peter Lang in 2014.

Merskin’s research also has been published in a number of journals, including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, American Behavioral Science, Sex Roles, Journal of Communication Inquiry, Feminist Media Studies, and the Howard Journal of Communication. She has written chapters for several books including Dressing in Feathers: The Construction of the Indian in American Popular Culture; Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity; Sexual Rhetoric; The Girl Wide Web; and Bring ’em on: Media and Politics in the U.S. War in Iraq. She is currently writing a book on parallels between racism, sexism, and speciesism (discrimination and prejudice on the basis of species membership).