Two decades after a nude photo scandal helped cost a Miss America her title, Americans may be adopting a more ho-hum attitude toward people who bare it all for the cameras.
Some experts say the Internet and more explicit TV are fostering a more relaxed response by Americans to public displays of bare flesh, even if many people profess to be more conservative.
Take, for example, the muted reaction to nude photos of 18-year-old Vanessa Hudgens, the star of Walt Disney Co.’s squeaky clean “High School Musical” franchise,
One day after the photos surfaced on the Web last Thursday, Hudgens issued an apology and family friendly Walt Disney Co. said it would continue negotiating her appearance in the third installment of the hugely popular series, one of the most popular programs in U.S. cable TV history.
While some expressed outrage, many fans pledged support on her MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/vanessahudgens.
Some lashed out at her critics.
“Quit moaning and if you have any kind of decent filtering on the computer, kids aren’t going to see it,” wrote one poster on a media blog Web site at http://acemanonline.wordpress.com.
It’s a far cry from the scandal in 1984 when Vanessa Williams, the first black woman named as Miss America, resigned after nude photos surfaced of her and another female model.
“I do think that general attitudes about nudity are becoming more relaxed, but these changes take time, which is why there’s still mixed responses,” said Paul Levinson, communication and media professor at Fordham University.
“We as a society are finally growing up and it’s a healthy thing,” he said.
Sex and nudity are also more prevalent on television, especially cable stations. Last week’s opening episode of the HBO drama “Tell Me You Love Me,” contained at least half-a-dozen sex acts.
A huge disconnectRobert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, agreed attitudes about nudity had “lightened up,” but said there was still a huge disconnect between how people feel and what people say.
“While filling in a survey, people will always check off with one hand that there’s too much sex and violence in the media, while using the other hand to search for that kind of material,” he said. He cites the furor over Janet Jackson’s breast being exposed for a fraction of second at the 2004 Super Bowl as an example of this hypocrisy.
“Of all the things threatening America’s youth, I would not have put the exposure of Jackson’s breast for less than a second in the top 5,000. I don’t think a single young person was damaged by the exposure of that, with the exception of people who may have been fired as a result of it,” he said.
Millions of wired youths share private or embarrassing pictures or videos with each other daily on cell phones or social Web sites like Facebook and MySpace.com.
“There’s no doubt about it. The Web for the last 10 years, has made more nudity available,” Levinson said. “I predict in the next few years, the FCC will be put in its proper place and nudity will be the norm,” he said.
Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist, says the shock threshold for young people is higher than for adults because baring one’s soul and flesh is so common on those sites.
“The line is being blurred. The distinction between what’s proper and what’s not is constantly changing,” he said.
But others say caution needs to be exercised. “Clearly, kids are involved in narcissism and putting photos on the Web, but parents are starting to tell them to be careful. Once it’s out there, it’s no longer in your control,” said Brandon Watson, CEO of IMSafer, which monitors young people’s online activity.
“I’m not sure if people are becoming more casual, but in the case of Vanessa (Hudgens), she comes with a lot of brand equity and this was her first strike. If she was a constant train wreck, her fans may not be as forgiving,” he said.