A song like WAP can’t be produced without the cultural and social milieu in which we find ourselves. There is a natural progression of thought and practice that must take place, both on an individual and national scale, to create an environment that is not only friendly to such a vile song, but promotes it as a sex-positive message for women. In one sense, those shocked and appalled by the lewdness of a song like WAP haven’t been paying attention. Think of WAP as a concoction brought about by a sort of raunchy, primordial soup that has been stewing for decades, if not centuries. That concoction, abominable as it may be, can only be produced by a set of ingredients that are equally vile.
Such ingredients have been present in the world since the beginning. This is, at first blush, the mark of sin, which we conservative Christians rightly draw things back to. Yet this answer, correct as it may be, is both shallow and unproductive if we are looking at specific ingredients that went into the cultural slop bucket. My point being: the answer of “sin” being the root issue is undoubtedly correct, but there are particular sins which we must be able to look at in our own modern history, which provided the building blocks of a licentious time such as this.
In many ways I believe we can isolate this type of perversion to “the big three.” The first of which is the degradation and defilement of the marriage bed, through things like no-fault divorce, gay marriage, adultery, fornication, licentiousness, etc. The second of the three would be the desecration of the image bearer, most notably through things like the practice of abortion or the use of abortifacients. Naturally, there is a connection in these two, in that both focus on sexual gratification rather than sexual purposefulness (e.g. procreation). Yet the desecration of the image bearer is not limited to terminating life; it is, by extension, what blends into things like transgenderism, gender roles, or any variant in the spectrum of gender identities available to us today. The third category is the hatred of God Himself, which necessarily precedes the other two. If one hates the Marriage-Giver and the Image-Giver, it follows that they will hate those things which testify to life’s ultimate purpose and aim.
There are additional factors that undoubtedly play into the development of our hyper-sexualized culture, particularly the psychoanalytic and philosophical framework our cultures have unwittingly embraced over several hundred years, which has led to the imbalanced understanding of personal identity. As that isn’t the scope or focus in this writing, I will instead simply commend to you Carl Trueman’s work The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution.
I do believe one’s concept of self is vitally important to this discussion though. When a society divorces itself from a proper understanding of metaphysics, even more properly, Christian metaphysics, the result is autonomous, self-conception. Whatever I think I am, I am. In the same manner of speaking, reality itself is seen as a set of malleable conditions which must bend to how I perceive my sense of self. In either case, one’s emotional and rational faculties are in essence, creating a reality expressed through individualism according to the telos, or ultimate aim, that individual believes mankind to have. If one’s ultimate aim and purpose is self-expression, one’s conception of the self will naturally be informed by this ultimate aim. It will become the bedrock of one’s convictions. In other words: their beliefs, actions, and loves will be expressed through this filter of personal identity and experience commensurate with that identity, whatever it may be.
A practical example of this, which Trueman has given in the past, is the modern phenomena of one finding meaning and purpose in one’s profession. This mindset is so prevalent in the world today that it needs little explanation. The more important thing to understand is that work itself, as a means of provision has, historically and religiously, never had such prominence attached to it. It goes without saying that a peasant living in a mud hut wasn’t nearly as concerned with finding meaning and purpose in his work so much as he was concerned with putting food on the table. For him, food enough to feed the family was what gave meaning and purpose to his work, rather than to his sense of self. It was, by necessity, other-focused.
In the same way, Martin Luther brought renewed focus to the telos of work in light of the priesthood of all believers. While work then could be seen as an extension of one’s ultimate aim (to glorify God), it was not the aim in and of itself. This gave importance to the how and why one worked—but it did not focus on work as a means to develop a sense of personal worth and fulfillment, namely, because the focus was not on the self, but upon God. As with the poor, mud-hut-dwelling peasant, Protestantism’s emphasis on the purpose of work was external to one’s sense of self. It was, by necessity and design, other-focused. It was an extension through which one’s ultimate purpose of glorifying God could be realized, not through happiness, self-fulfillment, or self-expression, but through working heartily unto the Lord.
Yet our culture today—even the Christian subculture—is notably different. We conceive of the self and compartmentalize life accordingly. We look at aspects of life with the ultimate aim of fulfillment through self-actualization. So long as we can realize our full potential, however we may define it, our desires, beliefs, and practices are noble, even though they may be morally unacceptable to others. Money is seen as a tool for the same end. The more money you have, the more readily you can express yourself through the various possessions you own. I boil this down to an expression of the self because one’s possessions, at least in our culture, signify something to the rest of the world about who we are. Those who enjoy a life of affluence and luxury do so not just because it is easy and enjoyable. It signals to the rest of the people chasing after the same dream that it truly fulfills the longings of our heart.
Even within the Christian subculture, people still conceptualize things like manhood and womanhood, sexuality, having children, etc., apart from their ultimate aim and purpose. People see these as extensions of the self, in that they are, by design, purposed for our ultimate enjoyment and good. In one sense, this is true. What God declares to be good is made for our enjoyment and flourishing—but that is never seen as an end to itself, which means that enjoyment and flourishing is not the chief end of man, despite our culture’s insistence that it is. What God declares to be good is indeed made for our enjoyment and flourishing, but the ultimate aim of these things is to please God.
But if the ultimate purpose of life itself and all good things to be enjoyed is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then this purpose communicates something about the way in which we enjoy these good gifts. More clearly, it communicates there is a particular way we are to enjoy things. Thus, sex is not simply about physical enjoyment even in its proper form, between one man and one woman in the union of marriage. It has a purpose and an aim, which is child-bearing. The body of an image-bearer likewise has a purpose and an aim to it, which is to testify of the goodness of the Image-Giver, especially in His creating them male and female. The point being: these are intrinsic principles that inform how we then look at all of the hot-button issues of our day, and even the normal issues of life in general, in accord with both their function and purpose.
It truly is as simple as asking, “Does this bring glory to God and display my delight in Him?” By necessity, it is a matter of whether we see these things as a means of self-fulfillment and self-actualization—mere products of the quest to define ourselves—or things which dictate the how and the why behind what we do. WAP is the product of a culture that defines things as a means to an end in the quest for self-definition. It is but one of many degenerate ways our culture has declined in its quest to have all of the good gifts of God, including a sense of fulfillment, only to divorce them from God and His ways. By that, I don’t mean WAP is an expression of anything good; it is just the opposite. It is the expression of goodness perverted. It makes a mockery of womanhood, marriage, sex, both in its proper enjoyment and purpose, and of course, God Himself, all the while lifting up and validating any expression of the self as noble in and of itself.
In turn, our hyper-sexualized culture demands respect and admiration for women who perform lewd and indecent acts before the eyes of a watching world. It’s the same ideology that drives the slogan, “Sex work is real work.” In reality, these women deserve neither respect nor affirmation for their choices—but neither do the men in such industries. Both the sexes are whores and prostitutes, and I mean that in the technical sense of the word, in that they sell their bodies for money. At the very least, one must concede the rich irony of Cardi B. escaping the world of a stripper, only to enter the music scene during an age when its deemed appropriate to perform on a stripper pole at the Grammys.
The notable difference is that what used to be relegated to the dark and seedy buildings with no windows is now viewable on prime-time television with your children present—and this is portrayed as a thing healthy and whole woman do. For all the moral preening of those who condemned Trump’s lewd statements to grab women by the nether regions in 2005, we have [sic] surely come a long way. For all of the posturing around the #metoo, #believeallwomen, toxic masculinity movements—WAP tells us a story that there isn’t really anything all that indecent about vulgarities expressed at the expense of women, so long as women are the ones who are doing it. The world’s response to the problem of raunchy men is that women should be equally as repugnant.
Yet even if one were to ignore the display on the Grammys—the same ooze of debauched ingredients that forms the sexually anarchist soup in our culture was present with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira at the halftime show for the Superbowl in 2020. What shocked me in both of these things was not the display on prime-time television, as if these are family-friendly affairs and things that empower women. The entertainment industry has long made a practice of pushing the envelope and any observant person can tell you this. What shocked me was the amount of people that were shocked by this. One would think, given the reaction, that the football industry hasn’t been employing immodest women for the ogling of pre-pubescent boys and middle-aged men alike, nor that the music industry has sold itself on titillating lyrics and sensualized music videos and performances.
These things have been going on for years and like good Americans, most people haven’t batted an eye because they are used to the content that would have been deemed too explicit just 20 years ago. Every now and then, you need a real shock to the system to snap out of it—but most are quietly lulled back into a stupor because we are creatures that love to be entertained. My suspicions in why this is so is in tandem with the notion of self-perception. While the constant message being sold to the majority of the public is that things like wealth, luxury, safety, sex, power, etc., will bring true fulfillment, most of us won’t ever be in a position to experience that benefit firsthand, at least not to the degree the people telling us these things are fulfilling. The entertainment industry provides us with a sense of false fulfillment, in that we can live vicariously through the life of another.
In one sense, entertainment resonates with the soul through the medium of good stories—stories that transcend much of the cultural trappings and speak to the common condition of mankind. We resonate with stories of enduring through pain, personal triumph, the exploits of a hero, and even the sappy love story, because these trigger emotions we all have experienced at some point in life, especially as we naturally look towards a sense of fulfillment in a world that is broken and distorted. Yet entertainment also offers us a powerful medium to express one’s most sincerely held beliefs and affections. In today’s world, entertainment is often riddled with an explicit glorying of sin, partly revealing the producer’s inability to tell a compelling story, but more so revealing their innate love of these things. In all of it, if you want a window into the heart of a nation, or any individual for that matter, look no further than what they call “entertainment.”
Again, a song like WAP, though undoubtedly not the first of its kind, reveals much about a nation that glorifies and worships one’s self above and beyond all else, even though it masquerades as a form of tolerance for all others. By saying any expression of individuality is worthy of celebration, including a pornographic performance (if one could call it a “performance”), it leaves room for more “decent” forms of self-expression, which in our cultural, just so happens to largely be through sexual expression. The underlying principle which unites all of these things is that no one has the right to shame you for who you are and what you believe—even though this is exactly what people do to those who disagree with that notion.
Often times you will even hear the question with these same concepts, “How does this impact you in any meaningful way?” One might translate the sentiment as, “Why do you care if Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion parade around on prime-time television with pornographic lyrics and choreography? What do you care if people find it entertaining? If it upsets you, turn it off. You don’t have to watch it.” It’s the same question asked of conservatives who opposed homosexual marriage, transgenderism, gender identity ideology, and now things like critical race theory and intersectionality. “Why do you care if it doesn’t affect you?” The question itself reveals much about how little we understand the nature of cause and effect, as these things do indeed have a profound effect on everyone.
As a friend put it: WAP is a popular catechism that is shaping the world our kids grow up in. His point is that WAP expresses a view of sexuality, and arguably by extension, a view of humanity, which is not healthy, good, or empowering to a future generation. I would add that these things are the popular catechism shaping the world that we all currently inhabit. It has an effect on how people view one another. It has an effect on how men and women relate to one another on a daily basis. Perhaps most of all, it has an effect on what a healthy view of sexual expression looks like—where everyone can act as sexual deviants, and there are no consequences to one’s life, or their mental, spiritual, and social state. Yet the question of “Why do you care if it doesn’t affect you?” has changed in recent years, largely because the question was a pretense for not caring if it affected anyone at all.
It is no secret that those in opposition to these things are looked at as morally repugnant people, namely, because they are seen as totalitarian prudes limiting the self-expression of sexually healthy people. It’s fine if you believe that way, so the cliché went—but it’s not fine if you wish to force those beliefs on someone else. But if we are to be honest, those days are gone. It is no longer fine even if you believe such a thing for yourself, namely, because any deviation from the cultural orthodoxy, especially that which messes with someone’s sense of identity, is the cardinal sin.
Those against the “sex-positive messaging” in things like WAP, Cosmopolitan’s sanctioning of sodomy to pre-teens, homosexual marriage, transgenderism, etc., are no longer seen as puritanical prudes; they are seen as social delinquents caught in an antiquated time. Even saying things like the purpose of sex is inextricably linked to procreation, meaning that yes, female and male bodies are uniquely wired to make a baby, draws the ire of those worshipping in the cult of self. If one isn’t in lockstep with the cultural dogma, they are not only in danger of being socially ostracized on social media and in their public life, they face the very real prospect of being fired from their job. No longer can one quietly sit on the sidelines. It is not enough to remain quiet whilst others “fight the good fight.” If you do not join them in their cause, you must be against them.
The problem is that many social conservatives and professing Christians likely also found WAP, it’s pornographic content, and the intent behind it, all a bit too alluring, at least if we are to take the number of accolades the song has received seriously. A great deal more have enjoyed the same themes prevalent in other popular mediums of entertainment, all under this nebulous realm they call “Christian freedom.” Others still speak out of both sides of their mouth as they hide the secret sin of pornography, adultery, and sensuality all from the public eye, and then wonder why yet another prominent member of the Evangelical elite has “fallen.” Yet even if we divorce ourselves from the dominant, sexual expressions of a wayward culture (and sub-culture in the church), there are undoubtedly ways many people view the world with their own self in mind, and this too has massive implications on the “why” and “how” our nation got here.
The way we got here is long and rather complicated, but it leads me to believe there is a strand of unity between those on either side of the ideological divide, and that is in the hyper-sexualized expression of the self. It also leads me to believe there really isn’t a way that our culture will escape from it, save a massive work of true revival where people recapture a sense of what it truly means to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, or some cataclysmic downfall of the nation. Much like Rome, it seems our culture will follow the proverbial whore all the way down to Sheol. More than this, they will probably love every step of their descent. In this scheme, a song like WAP is a rallying cry—nay, the degenerate national anthem of a country that has lost its mores. And here we thought our nation was divided.