Stick to Rock and Roll

March 24, 2009
Rolling Stone magazine cover (Issue 1075)

Rolling Stone magazine (Credit: Terry Richardson)

The CW’s Gossip Girl debuted in 2007 and has since become the network’s most-watched program, gaining its highest ratings only after the Parent’s Television Council deemed it “mind-blowingly inappropriate” and “very bad for you.” The show focuses on a fictional group of New York City’s most privileged 15–18 year olds, exposing a glamorous and dangerous world of sex, drugs, and revenge. The cast recently made the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

While the television show is targeted at teenage girls and easily amused college students, Rolling Stone tends to attract a slightly older and generally male audience. So it seems problematic that when the cast arrived for their semi-nude photo shoot, they found a table full of toys and candy. Photographers felt they were playing off of the irony of the show: very adult and sexualized content placed in the catty, vindictive, and child-like setting of a Manhattan prep school.

But the shots that made it to the cover and main story, in which the two female leads share an ice cream cone and a long piece of licorice rope, are an extreme sexualization of elements of childhood. The issue even features a tear-away cover with a second version of the ice cream photo behind it so that readers can easily remove the picture they want and hang it on their walls, a throw-back to teeny-bopper publications with pages and pages of pull-out posters of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.

Although the majority of the cast members range in age from 20–23, they play characters five years younger. Perhaps that’s one of the central issues: while we’d normally recognize the overt and exaggerated sexualization of college-age women in movies, magazines, and television programs, it’s their injection into a high-school setting, where students are presumed to be under-aged and therefore at least slightly more innocent, that raises some red flags. Or perhaps more disturbing is the use of little girls with candy and ice cream to entice 35-year-old men to buy magazines. At any rate, the magazine cover makes it more evident than ever that for a society that shuns and criminalizes child pornography and funds sting operations on child sex trafficking rings, we seem to be walking a fine line between exposing irony and normalizing the sexualization of minors. Maybe Rolling Stone should lay off of the sex and drugs and just stick to rock and roll.

This post was written by Meg Beyer, 2008–09 AAUW Student Advisory Council member.

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By:   |   March 24, 2009

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