As an academic researcher specialising in representations of sexuality in media and popular culture, I’m often asked to comment on contemporary controversies. Increasingly, my interviewers express concern regarding the sexualisation of certain groups, particularly teenaged girls. The question of role-modelling emerges as my questioners ask whether exposure to media imagery can damage or mislead impressionable viewers.
I was surprised by the lack of protest last week when the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the Ten Network’s Californication was the 10th most watched program among men aged 18–49. This is disturbing news, as it suggests that the program is deliberately targeting one of the least represented groups in our society: middle-aged men. Aside from the isolated candle-light vigil, what is being done to protect this vulnerable group from unrealistic media images?
Hank Moody enjoys his autumn years
According to Andrology Australia, 40 per cent of men over 40 who have casual sex never use condoms. Yet Californication (like so many programs targeting middle-aged men), irresponsibly ignores the risks our fathers and uncles are exposing themselves to. Clearly, more needs to be done to promote safer sex among this group yet our media refuses to take responsibility for glamourising middle-aged promiscuity.
It gets worse.
With his full head of hair and bedroom eyes, Californication‘s David Duchovny promotes an unrealistic body image. How many middle-aged men struggle with feelings of inadequacy when they can’t manage to drink scotch for breakfast and still make love to a supple younger woman after dinner? Thanks to Duchovny (and other screen idols), men are no longer free to simply enjoy the autumn of their years without being seen as sex objects.
As men enter their 40s, their testosterone levels are plunging. We know these hormonal changes can lead to mood swings, erratic behaviour and low self-esteem. Research shows that men’s brain chemistry is altered at this time, and they are highly emotional. Many are confused by the changes going on in their bodies. Some suffer from undiagnosed ‘Grumpy Old Man Syndrome’ (GOMS). Often, they isolate themselves for hours, disappearing into aimless escapism in front of the sports channel. Some resort to even more anti-social coping mechanisms such as compulsive spending on renovations and auto parts.
Yet, at this time in their lives, when they are most vulnerable and most in need of protection, they are subjected to constant bombardment by advertisers trying to sell them superannuation plans, erectile dysfunction therapies and family sedans with great fuel economy.
Clearly, these consumer goods can’t offer them the happiness and sense of fulfilment they crave. But where is the outcry? Where are the calls for more realistic role models for middle-aged men?
Not every mature man can be a politician, a news anchorman, or a sexy anti-hero. Yet these stereotypical images are over-represented in the contemporary media. Fuelled by dreams and fantasies, too many middle-aged men are destined for disappointment when they have to confront the ‘real world’.
As a daughter, I can only hope that my father is sensible enough to withstand the media pressure and make wise choices. Sadly, I see evidence all around me that his more impressionable peers may not have had the same opportunities to develop their sense of right and wrong.
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