Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sex sells, but does it harm?

Justin Timberlake may have brought sexy back, but in Singapore it seems, too much sexy can be dangerous – especially when it comes to advertisements!

A Straits Times video report by Imelda Saad featured a 43 year old Singaporean mother of four, airing her beliefs that sexy ads can lead people to commit sex crimes.

Why is she saying this and why is she being interviewed by the press? It started last week, when the woman, who was obviously aware of the recent ‘high profile’ spate of sex crimes reported by the Singapore media, was so appalled by a particular outdoor ad at the Tampines bus interchange, she felt compelled to write in to the Straits Times hinting at a link between such sexy ads and sex crimes.

She wrote, “One example is a gigantic poster of a scantily clad girl in a compromising pose, strategically placed to catch the eye of disembarking passengers, at the Tampines bus interchange. Some of these ads are in poor taste and some people may find them offensive. It is time the authorities came up with stricter regulations on the display of such provocative ads in public places, as well as in magazines and newspapers.
As the Chinese proverb goes, 'Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.' Let us not underestimate the influence of such images on the minds of our youth”.

She went on to say, in her video interview, that “too much of these images may culminate in them committing sexual crimes…I am certain of that”.

My first instincts are to start thrashing and bagging on her comments, because I always feel Singapore is way too conservative as it is, and as an adult, it is insulting to watch a movie already filtered through the rating systems but yet is still censored (it’s like saying you have to be at least 21 to see this movie but your mind is less capable of handling it than other 21 year olds watching in Australia so we’ll still censor it for you).

This moves us on to some of the interesting reasons on why she is upset – sexed up movie content unlike the outdoor ad, can have a controlled targeted audience, whereas, anyone walking through the crowded bus interchange is bound to see the ‘offending’ ad, young and old alike. So can or should there be stricter content restrictions for OOH mediums around Singapore? Would that make Singapore a bit of a joke to the rest of the Ad World? Do a majority of Singaporeans share the same negative vibe from seeing a pair of oversize mammary glands on a billboard?

Judging from the brief VOX pop in the video report, there are clearly those (young males included) who feel such provocative ads are a cause for concern on impressionable youths.

A point the woman stressed to Imelda Saad saying, “My son is 13 years old, I mean he is so innocent and so pure, and yes someday he may have to see, I mean I am not trying to fence him in but I don’t need him too, well he’s 13 years old and he’s gonna be excited about things and he will not understand what this is but he’s gonna feel excited and it may get him curious about pornography and it just is something that I feel is very objectionable,”.

I think despite this woman’s sincere concerns, there’s nothing wrong with sexy ads but of course a ‘fine line’ needs to be clearly defined between that and blatant pornography. Graphic media can have an effect on influencing maniacs to commit sex crimes, I agree with that, but it’s not the root cause. Imagine how boring the world would be if not just ads, but all forms of media were filtered and censored on the premise that a psychopath could maybe react to it.


Carl said...

I respect this woman's opinions whilst not necessarily agreeing with them. I think, however, it is worth considering that subjects such as sex are, if 'hidden away', more likely to be regarded by youngsters and teenagers in an unhealthy way. When teenagers are forced to face their sexual urges and adolescent cravings in private there is a risk of unhealthy developments. I wonder how 'innocent' her son really is and how free he feels to discuss sexual matters with his mother.

It's weird too that a picture of a woman in a bra should be considered so detrimental to the youth of Singapore when, judging by 'local' TV content, kicking the living daylights out of fellow human beings seems so acceptable. I'd rather have a child of mine growing up to appreciate a nice chest than aspiring to mindless violence.

Keith Wong said...

Well, actually, I recently did a research paper on the link between pornography and sex crimes. What I found was that, sex crimes tend to be cause more by the deprivation of sexually stimulating material rather than the abundance of it.

In reality, it has been found that sex offenders generally have less contact with pornography during their childhood than non-offenders, and have had “a sexually repressed childhood and sexually repressive parents” (Ref: Goldstein, M.J., Kant, H.S., & Hartmann J.J. (1974). Pornography and sexual deviance. Berkeley: University of California Press.)

I would say that that woman's views are unfounded and based more on paranoia than concrete facts. If she thinks a picture of a woman in a bra is going to encourage her son to become a pervert, then she might as well believe that seeing Superman fly on the big screen will inspire her kid to jump out of the window.

Like you said, Singapore is already conservative enough as it is. If regulations were tightened any more, it would indeed become a joke to the Ad World. However, Singapore does seem to be progressing, in that it is becoming more open-minded towards more "creative" advertising/marketing efforts (eg. the mini cooper mounted on the OUB Centre). If anything, I think Singapore will probably relax their regulations a little more in due time, rather than tighten it. At least, that's what I'm hoping.


Marcus said...

Interesting that your research found that sex crimes tend to be caused more by the deprivation of sexually stimulating material rather than the abundance of it.

I think its a very valid point -- one which i agree with but of course there are exceptions for everything. The woman was just being a parent and when she saw the billboard, it must have made her feel uncomfortable so she's deemed it as harmful for her son to see.

In terms of restrictions, how do we gauge when we've crossed the line between acceptability and accountability of sexy ads? I prefer to celebrate individuality rather conforming to society norms but as an Asian i can understand the view this woman takes.