Sex, Shame, and the Superbowl


There was something very wrong about the Beyonce act during half-time of the Super Bowl. The thing that was wrong about it was also wrong with a commercial that aired several times during the bowl for a show called Two Broke Girls that featured the main characters of that show performing a striptease, with a pole, licking icing off their fingers, etc. It was also wrong with a “Go-Daddy” commercial in which the model Bar Rafeali, represented the “sexy” side of the business, and a chubby, hirsute male represented the geeky side, or “brains” of the business (the two sides then engage in the most disgusting kiss ever committed to film).

Calah at Barefoot and Pregnant, has written a very good post called “Slut-shaming and the Attractiveness Factor” about how we should not judge Beyonce’s performance, and women/girls in general, on whether or not we find their behaviors “attractive” or sexy, but rather we should judge the objective morality or immorality of those behaviors:


“I do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where the boys and men around her constantly judge her morality in terms of physical attraction. I don’t want her to hear things like, “waiting till marriage is sexy” or “it’s a turn-off when girls smoke”. I want her to hear things like, “your virtue is worth too much to throw away on someone who is not going to commit his life to you.” I want her to hear someone say, “smoking damages your body, and you’re too precious to damage for recreation.” I want her to grow up in a world where men and women talk about issues of virtue and modesty in terms of objective truth, not in terms of sex appeal.”


Calah is absolutely right that women/girls shouldn’t be threatened into virtue at risk of appearing unattractive to men. Not only does it provide little impetus for good behavior, it is also a poor school of virtue for girls.

Performing a strip-tease for an international audience that includes millions of people is not wrong because the gal doing it might be deemed “unattractive,” but because it violates a host of other virtues. It’s a very good point that needs to be made again and again.

Calah also brilliantly points out that if the only reason to behave well is to appear attractive for men, then appearing attractive is also probably a good reason to behave badly, which is why, we might assume, Beyonce’s act played as it did–so that she might appear attractive to the mostly male viewership of the Superbowl.

And yet, there was something terribly unattractive about her show.

To review: Beyonce wore a black leather body suit cut low in the breast, and high at the hip. She wore black thigh high boots. She performed a number of pelvic thrusts that required viewers to gaze on the small triangle of fabric covering her nether-parts, and she spent the entirety of the performance making a very angry face.

By certain objective standards, this was not a beautiful dance. Aristotle says, “a concept of beauty occurs when all parts work together in harmony so that no one part draws unjust attention to itself”

The problem with Beyonce’s performance is that it focused unjust attention on her sexuality. And yet, I suspect the performance did not portray “her” sexuality so much as a sexuality imposed on her, not only by culture at large, but by marketers, choreographers, costume designers–a team of people who had to agree on the image they wanted Beyonce to portray to America during the Super Bowl.

This is where we need to make room in the conversation for shame–not slut shaming, but sexual shame–and our collective lack thereof.

It’s shameful that advertisers and choreographers are so dull, so uncreative, so tired, that performing a striptease is the only move they can think of to appeal to viewers.

It’s shameful that porn and stripping are such quietly lucrative industries that market researchers are eyeing their profits and saying, “Yes, this is what people want for their money, for their entertainment.”

And yes, it’s shameful that so many people are so desensitized that a nearly naked woman gyrating in a fashion clearly designed to ignite the erotic impulse, cannot get a rise out of certain skeezy parts of the population. I don’t quote Naomi Wolf often, but she did say that in a culture where pornography is ubiquitous, and people are used to viewing air-brushed, unrealistically enhanced figures, “real naked women are just bad porn.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Beyonce’s performance failed at being sexy. It failed because it was a highly-stylized corporate “concept” of sexiness. It failed because it aired alongside a number of similarly uninspired commercials proposing similar corporate ideals of sexiness. It failed because people who are immersed in pornography find very few things sexy anymore, and because people who appreciate Aristotelian standards of beauty do not want to see anyone, man or woman, stripped of all the balancing characteristics that make them human and truly beautiful, so that they can be objectified as only one thing–their sexuality.





UPDATE: For clarity’s sake, the Godaddy kiss was disgusting because it sounded like someone stirring congealed dairy products. It had nothing to do with the appearance of the couple.

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