Sexting: the Convergence of Two Revolutions – Part I

June 17th, 2009 in Pop Culture History by

Driven by an insatiable desire to text, my students often resort to surreptitious measures to get their fix in the classroom. They will often set up fortifications on their desk, such as a heavily laden backpack, behind which to base their operations. Or, they may appear to be auditioning for a Spaghetti Western, their hand faintly creeping down to the right hip, eyes narrowed, ready to draw as soon as a turn of my shoulders is evident. I’ve even offered to some of them a chewed stump of a cigar to complete the picture. This is serious business. When they’ve been delivered of their burden by yours truly, I could swear that I’ve heard Gollum-like utterances, “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little $@*$#%.”

Whatever the case, it is clear that note-passing is now passé. Outside of the classroom, though, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that garbled English is not the only thing being sent into cyberspace. The term “sexting” has been in the news much as of late. Sexting involves the sending of sexually provocative images or videos to peers or even strangers. This behavior has as its origins the confluence of the ever morphing hi-tech revolution of the last decade or so and the process of sexual liberation begun in the 1960s.

Each revolution has muddied the ideals of freedom and virtue so fervently considered at the founding of our republic. Though the opposing members of the constitutional debate departed on whether virtuous behavior could or should be legislated, they would have agreed that a behavior like sexting would have serious consequences for self-government. During the Virginia Ratifying Convention on June 20, 1788, James Madison spoke thus regarding the relationship between virtue and liberty:

But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks–no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.

Even though one can easily identify symptoms, the idea of defining or quantifying the amount of virtue in a people is difficult at best. Prostitution, alcoholism, cheating, murderous behavior and the like have always been prevalent in varying degrees. Older versions of sexting, such as the exchange of saucy letters have been with us for hundreds of years. Virtue, after all, doesn’t exist without the vice. But there seems to be something more insidious, more detrimental going on here – the fruits of the abdication of parental authority, responsibility, and an evacuation of common sense.

One short anecdote to illustrate my point: While speaking with a parent a while ago who was bemoaning the fact that the rapper, 50 Cent, made his millions on the back of profane language and despicable behavior, I suggested that parents were enabling this by purchasing these albums for their children; he reluctantly admitted that he too had bought his son a number of these albums.

Where did this mysterious disconnect from common sense come from?

Click here for the answer, in Part II.

About the Author: After departing Chicago sometime ago, I somehow ended up on a 15,000 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere southern Colorado teaching ranch kids. To me, every neat little historical factoid, twist, story I come across, usually by stumbling, is that washed and forgotten $20 bill in a pants pocket.

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