Justin Bieber and Christian Grey: Sex Objects of the 21st Century

By Sarah Kendal

The women of our world have united. From every corner of the globe they have formed a mass of ‘Beliebers’ and 50 Shades fans, audibly panting with lust, funding these franchises with their or their parents’ hard-earned cash. Biebs and Grey’s fame relies purely on desirability: if women didn’t find them so sexy they would never have been this famous. E. L. James is not a good enough writer and Biebs just isn’t a good enough singer to acclaim such fame without their sex appeal.

One is human, one a fictional character, yet both have caused what the media have described as ‘palpable hysteria’. At a glance, Biebs is a spoilt baby-faced brat whose most famous song features him whining ‘Baby, Baby, Oh’, for most of it. Meanwhile, Grey is a controlling stalker who uses BDSM to express his emotions and employs legal contracts as foreplay. None of this seems particularly appealing, and yet, they have captured the desires of oh-so-many, almost with cultish popularity.

At the height of Bieber-mania, he had floppy hair, a puppy dog smile and a sort of feminised, unthreatening face. In his inevitable fall from grace he still has 61.7million Twitter followers. To the millions of girls around the world who are faced with male threat everyday, his affable manner, his pretty hair and his childish status were deeply eroticised. Biebs is an easy love-object for the pre-pubescent girl. Even Malala – the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner – loves him.

Meanwhile, Christian Grey is the young, good-looking billionaire with a bit of spanking and alpha-male pouting thrown in. His devoted interest, his alpha-male status and his inability to be in touch with his emotions (unless Ana ‘heals’ him), is a standard Mills and Boons construction of masculinity. Embarrassingly two-dimensional and consumable, he is easy to eat up and digest as a fantasy.

What I may find irritating in the lack of authenticity that these brands of masculinity present, is exactly what so many women find appealing. They are unreal. Biebs and Grey inhabit the cultural western maxims of sexual desirability, wealth, youth, Aryan, muscular physique. Meanwhile they purport to be utterly devoted and obsessed with an average young Ana or ‘fans’. They use a clichéd language of romantic love, echoing Disney, Mills & Boon and olden-day chivalry, but few of us live the kind of life where we expect our lovers to ‘be your soldier, fighting every second of the day for your dreams.’ They act out scenarios that are unrealistic or obviously untrue in comparison to our own reality. And their fans sing along to their catchy clichés with relish.

The presentation of this two-dimensional construction of masculinity is successful precisely because of its unrealistic status. Fantasy is meant to be unreal, and perhaps this is the secret of success for Biebs and Grey. Their brands present the idea of a ‘hero’ with a weakness: devotion to the female sex above all else. In this context it is not a surprise that so many lust-filled fans find this appealing. The culturally endorsed man puts a woman on a pedestal of worship, validating the female. In a world where women are constantly told to seek attention and validation, no wonder they find these men so deeply erotic.

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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