Obviously, it’s not easy to have a lot of sympathy for Mark Foley. He did some extremely questionable things, and he’s being heartily punished for it, with more to come, most likely.
But he has raised an interesting issue long overdue for national discussion. The media and the pundits are acting as if something brand new happened when a grown up discovered the sexuality of teenagers. They’re acting as if teenagers are innocent little children who never heard of sex until they got e-mails from a Member of Congress.
The truth is just the opposite. This is a nation that is absolutely drenched in juvenile sex. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but it sure was going on when I was a teenager and that was a long time ago in the days of James Dean. The problem is vastly more prevalent now.
Movies in large part are about teenage sex. Whole TV networks — I am not going to mention any names — are largely about teenagers and sex. Music, if you can call it music, is very, very largely about teenagers and sex, and teenagers listen to it incessantly. (I am the father of a teenager, and I promise you, it’s true.)
Look at fashions for young girls. They are getting dressed like Parisian streetwalkers from the 1950s. Little girls are getting dressed by the fashion industry as if they were little hookers.
Billboards on Sunset Boulevard, very near my home, show young boys in extremely revealing outfits. Much of the whole young people’s fashion and magazine industry is about selling kids on the idea that their sexuality is all that matters about them,
Then there’s the Internet. Multi-billion dollar companies are bidding for websites that are very largely about teens advertising their sexual availability and allure. This is an immense business, and rapidly getting bigger. Can anyone say MySpace?
Obviously, this is not to excuse Mark Foley, who clearly breached his trust, or to excuse the House GOP leadership, which clearly messed up badly on Capitol Hill.
But this is a nation endlessly selling teenagers — sometimes younger than teenagers — as sex objects. This is how teenagers are merchandised — and watch the cheerleaders at any high school football game for more proof. It should not surprise us if, with all of that selling, there are buyers, both gay and straight for all of this selling.
If Mr. Foley’s disgrace brings about some kind of national debate about whether it’s legitimate or ethical for commerce and culture to be so largely about merchandising sex to young people and merchandising young people as sexually alluring, it might have served some useful purpose. As it stands, the culture is selling an entire nation on pedophilia and sexualizing children at an explosively early age. It’s long past time something was done to discuss whether this is where we want to go as a nation and a people.