The Pornification of America

Read an excerpt from the introduction to The Pornification of America: How Raunch Culture Is Ruining Our Society by Bernadette Barton, available March 31, 2021.

In December of 2016 recently-elected Donald Trump named Andrew Puzder, CEO of the fast food restaurants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, as his nominee for Labor secretary.  Puzder is the mastermind responsible for branding the burger chains with advertisements of sexy women essentially making out with food.  You may have seen the Carl’s Jr. commercial of Kim Kardashian eating a salad with her fingers on a bed, letting creamy dressing drip into her cleavage.  In a voiceover she says, “while the best things in life are messy, it’s fun to get clean,” and then sinks naked into a bubble bath.  As she casts a seductive look over her bare shoulder in the tub, a male voiceover growls, “who said salads can’t be hot?”  Or you’ve see the Super Bowl ad of Kate Upton in a car at a drive-in movie eating a burger that makes her so “hot” she begins crawling over the seats, stripping off her clothing, practically masturbating in a frenzy of sweaty, sexual excitement presumably induced by the pleasure of eating the sandwich.  The male voiceover comments, “introducing the classic patty melt with a spicy twist.”

Perhaps you’ve watched the Carl’s Jr. 3-Way Burger advertisement where blonde women strut around a kitchen in white bikinis (reminiscent of their underwear) while wielding sharp knives. The name “3-Way burger” is, of course, a play on sex menage a trois.  In the advertisement, three thin white women with long blonde hair and big breasts, cook bacon and feed it to one another provocatively.  This is an image from the opening of the commercial:

Figure I.1. Advertisement Still for the 3-Way Burger. Source: Carl’s Jr.’s, 2016

Puzder defended his pornified[i] artistic choices saying, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American. I used to hear, brands take on the personality of the CEO. And I rarely thought that was true, but I think this one, in this case, it kind of did take on my personality.”[ii]  Apparently Puzder also imagined his personality brand of busty white women in bikinis to best represent him in a prominent government role.  He requested that members of the media use the image shown below – a young, thin, blonde, white woman with large breasts wearing an American flag bikini holding a burger – when writing about his nomination to Labor Secretary:

Figure I.2. Advertisement Still of Model in American Flag Bikini, 2015. Source: Carl’s Jr.’s

The primary responsibility of the US Labor Secretary is to oversee workplace laws.  Consider what this image says about Puzder’s vision of the American workforce.[i]

Welcome to raunch culture in the 2020s – when the United States has devolved into a Hustler fantasy.  Naked and half naked pictures of girls and women litter every screen, billboard, and bus.  Pole dancing studios keep women fit while men airdrop their dick pics to female passengers on buses, planes, and trains.  Christian pastors compliment their “hot” wives from the pulpit, and we have whole television programs devoted to “the girlfriend experience” – a specialized form of prostitution.  People are having sex before they date, and women make their own personal porn to share on social media.  Rape and pedophile jokes are commonplace, and those who don’t like them are considered prudish.  Instagram users measure their self-worth by chili pepper emojis that indicate they are hot and sexy.  There are so many topless actresses on the cable series Game of Thrones, viewers talk about how empowering it is to see small breasts for a change.  Hordes of young women prefer the quasi-sex work of being a sugar baby to dating.[ii]  College parties have costume themes like “CEOs and Office ‘Hos.”  Internet porn drives trends in programming, advertising, and social media, not to mention the technological development of the web.  The first lady modeled nude and the leader of the “free” world bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy.”

How did we end up living in a cultural backdrop that might have been a pulp story from the 1950s written by a horny science fiction geek, I wonder, and how come so few people even notice?[iii]  In The Pornification of America, I answer these questions, explaining what raunch culture is and why it matters.  By doing so, I hope to deprogram its conditioning in your subconscious and create some mental space to imagine alternatives.  In short, raunch culture matters because it is sexist, not because it is sexy.  It sets expectations that women dress provocatively and appear always “up” for sex while encouraging everyone to sexually objectify women.[iv]  We see raunch culture everywhere in our porn nation. [v]  It’s on our phones, in the mall, in magazines, movies, and television, in music lyrics and videos, in comedy material, on billboards, bus advertisements, and bumper stickers, on t-shirts, in video games and comic books, in hookup culture, at parties and nightclubs, and in conversations.    

Bernadette Barton is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Morehead State University, and the author of Stripped: More Stories from Exotic Dancers and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays. Her new book The Pornification of America: How Raunch Culture Is Ruining Our Society will be available March 31, 2021 from NYU Press.

[i] In February 2016, Puzder withdrew his name from consideration for Labor Secretary not because of an outcry over the institutionalized sexism illustrated in Hardee’s and Carl Jr advertisements, but because of controversy over allegations of abuse from his ex-wife and the fact that he had hired an undocumented immigrant to work as his housekeeper. 

[ii] Berman 2018.

[iii] The story even includes sinister Russian agents intent on destroying American democracy with futuristic computer technology.

[iv] Consider the original Amazon show Fleabag (2016): during the first episode an anonymous male hookup penetrates a woman anally while she is asleep and she treats it as an accomplishment

[v] Attwood 2006; Barton 2017; Dines 2010; Douglas 2010; Evans et al. 2010; Friedman 2017; Gill 2007, 2008, 2012; Levy 2005; Oppliger 2008; Sext Up Kids 2012; Tanenbaum 2015; Walter 2015; Wesley 2012.

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