One of the biggest concerns voiced by parents of young Internet users is the easy access to pornography that the Web provides. There are millions of porn sites online, making hardcore sexual images that were once very difficult to obtain now just a click away.
Teens and preteens are at the heart of the social Internet interacting with others through chat, instant messaging, social networking sites, in virtual worlds and online multi-player games. It is inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.
When most people think about sexual risk and harm on the Internet, sexual predators come to mind. Because of its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting kids online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.
As adults, we want to foster resilience in young people, starting when they’re young. This can be done by teaching them how to handle harassing messages or requests that make them feel uncomfortable – on the Internet or in the schoolyard – and, as they get older, by teaching them how to spot and respond to emotional manipulation. The good news is that most teens are effectively handling online requests from strangers – the bigger challenge is helping them handle sexual advances from people they know.
Given the high likelihood that youth are going to come across or seek out online pornography at one point or another, not to mention the many messages they receive about sex through other media, it is important that parents take an active role in their kids’ Internet use and start talking to them about healthy relationships and sexuality at early ages to help them contextualize and make decisions about what they’re seeing online.
How things have changed in thirty years: more than ever before, queer people have a media presence. No longer relegated to the realms of innuendo and secrecy, we now see lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people represented on television and in mainstream film. Queer people see their reflections on screen in a largely positive light: stable, employed, charming, attractive, well-liked, and successful. And yet, there remain many challenges. The following sections will examine how media produces and legitimizes or delegitimizes queer sexualities, as well as how queer media differs from its heterosexual counterpart. To begin, though, it is worthwhile to examine the trajectory of queer media criticism over the past thirty years.
As in other media, queer people have gained a greater and more widely visible presence within the advertising world, with ad agencies courting the “Pink Dollar”. This is not surprising, considering that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is a multi-billion dollar target audience, estimated to be worth around $835 billion.
Queer people have been involved in producing their own media for as long as alternative media has existed. This landscape has traditionally been dominated by print media such as zines (small-circulation, generally low-cost, publications) and pamphlets or queer film, but with the advent of the electronic age and cheaper and more accessible electronic devices for production, there’s been an explosion of queer-produced media of all kinds. The following section explores the ways that queer people have sought to claim space for themselves within media and culture.
As previous sections have shown, queer characters, situations, and themes are becoming increasingly prevalent in the media. It is sometimes difficult, though, to determine whether or not certain representations are balanced.
When discussing media representation of various groups, especially those we consider marginalized, stereotypes are often a primary concern. But sometimes, breaking a stereotype doesn’t go quite far enough, and the issue can be a little more complicated than merely determining whether or not a character is represented in a positive or negative way. The section that follows explores different approaches to queer content by analyzing various ways that popular media have used characterized LGBTQ people.