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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 1:30PM   |  21 comments
music and prostitution

Blog posting written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberg, Germany

I recently learned that Sao Luis do Maranhao, a large, beautiful city in the northern coast of Brazil, founded by the French, (,_Maranhao) has become a mecca for child prostitution. 

Brazil’s image as a paradise of bossa nova, samba and small swimsuits propels the growing international market of sexual tourism to take advantage of Brazil’s extremely poor population.  Corrupt authorities silently support the system in order to pocket  some dollars and euros.  The children remain in misery, robbed of their childhood and dignity

I admire intelligent marketing. The tobacco industry impresses me with their ad campaigns.  Hip, comic book advertising indoctrinates teens, while sexy, healthy and smart smoking people emulate the ideals of an adult market.  I imagine that the most questionable companies offer the highest salaries to the geniuses of marketing. These marketers hire the top musicians for their commercials.  We all need to earn our daily bread—as many loaves as possible.

Old LP covers--now cult items—show images of a bygone era.  I  love those sultry women with their powerful contralto voices, supposedly victimized in their voluptuous poses, showing that most powerful part of their bodies: their curves.  Women in cigarette commercials do not have curves anymore.

Sex-based marketing has also infiltrated classical music. Lately, ‘classical’ CD covers also portray pictures of sultry performers to equate musical performance with the erotic.  A sexy violinist in a flimsy dresses holds her Stradivarius against the evening wind.  A muscular conductor drinks milk from gallon-sized chalices.
Horowitz’ nose and Rubinstein’s baggy eyes would have no chance in today’s classical music marketing schemes.    Gone is the time when Montserrat Caballe opened her mouth onstage, in all her rotund glory, and everybody sighed.  I love Montserrat, Eva Marton, Jessye Norman and the many other sturdy women who seduced us with their voices. 

So what are all these people selling? What are the real consequences?

Corrupt officials shielding child prostitution traffickers from persecution in Brazil are selling their values to earn more money.  Musicians working in tobacco advertisements are selling their integrity  to earn more money.  Established and aspiring divas are now connecting their curves to their virtuosity to sell more CDs.  Nearly all classical CDs now on the market have been touched up with some element of sexuality for sale.

While I was a  college student, I was the organist for the First Christ Scientist Church in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  It was one of the best-paid church jobs in Sao Paulo.  I did not believe in the ideas of that religion.  I often I played services for less than ten people.  The money helped underwrite my college costs.  I was a musical prostitute because I sold my music to an institution and a religious practice I did not believe in. Does it matter that I sold my musical skills in order to learn more music?

At one time or another, I would guess that we have all sold something that we do to some entity or institution that perhaps is not in total alignment with our own values and ideals.  These actions edge us all closer us into prostitution.  Of course, people should have the right to do whatever they want as long as nobody is hurt. Ethics is, in the end, all about consequences. 

Child prostitution damages innocent children for the rest of their lives.  Encouraging teenagers to smoke will shorten their lives. 

So I urge you to think about the consequences of our daily choices.  If you buy a CD because the singer is sexy, that’s OK; there will always be musicophiles who will buy Jessye Norman’s CDs.  Nobody is hurt. 

However, if your choices hurt other people, physically or emotionally, I hope that your punishment will be much worse than listening to the Spice Girls for the rest of your life.


Hey Jairo,

This blog is on a very interesting topic! There is a lot of this prostituting going on in the music industry, as you have said. One of my favorite singers, Ben Gibbard, seems to recently have sold himself to the masses for money. However, it was definitely not his looks that he sold, but his amazing voice. Benjamin, as he now wants to be called, has pulled his band in a more mainstream direction, advertises his tours and CDs like crazy, and is now promoting the Twilight Movies, in which one of his songs is featured, on his website and mailing lists.

It seems like the sell-out path is the path these days. However, he has also lent his voice and musical talent to CD compilations for poverty and AIDS research. Do you think one can create a balance between positive and negative actions? And, are we encouraging these musicians one way or another by the purchasing decisions we make? Because I, for one, refuse to buy anything by Benjamin until he decides to go back to being Ben again.

As far as sexual appeal in music, it's easy to see how easily it can go too far. We've seen many musicians in compromising situations, Amy Winehouse, Lady GaGa, Lindsey Lohan (if you count her), and even Jewel have all used sex to promote their image and music. Some are more talented than others, but they all use sex just the same. This approach flopped for Jewel but propels Gaga. She's the most scandalous singer out there and her sex appeal is the most extreme yet. But, I have to admit, I love her. I do. Do you think sexual marketing and good music can coexist? Can it actually ad to a musician instead of detract from the talent there? It's easy for a mediocre singer to use sex to become a popstar, but what about geniuses like Amanda Palmer who bring an entirely new meaning to sex appeal and make music even better for it?

Hi Jairo,

I've been struck by the parallels that your posts have drawn between pop and classical music. My guess is that sex appeal is still more central to pop than to traditional classical, but it's interesting that it's crossing over. I wonder if these tactics work. And I also wonder why it's happening. Is the political economy of classical shifting to make it more susceptible to market forces? If so, how and why?
Finally, I think there is a counter argument here, and it goes something like this:

"If you got it, flaunt it!"


I continue to be dismayed at how completely sex pervades our culture. It seems like part of a larger image pushed and sold on society- sex, beauty, unrealistic and unattainable ideal.

My mother owns a cd of trumpeter Chris Botti: the cover shows him arching his back and looking into the distance, his trumpet looking like what he's going to kiss instead of the girl draped over him, clinging to his shoulder with her eyes closed, hair blowing sensually in the wind. I can practically hear her heavy breathing. The image is obviously intended to insinuate the sultry music within, tempting the buyer with an idea of what their sex life could be like with this cd. While I personally find the blatancy of this image a turn-off even if the music is good, my mother loves it-both the music and the image, though she initially bought the cd because she liked the cover. The image accomplished its goal, but is it possible for images to go too far?

Recently, I read an article about the sexualization of little girl's characters, such as Strawberry Shortcake. She got slimmer, her lips got redder, her skirt got shorter and her cat became a cell phone. If the sexualization of music has a clear-cut goal (to sell albums), what is the point of sexualizing little girl's characters? What does it achieve, and does it damage our country's girls?

What is more important: that you sold your music to a church you didn't believe in, or that you learned more music? In such situations, one must ask if it is a means to an end, and if they can remain true to their values and self throughout. Yes, Jewel's attempt to sell more music with sex flopped, but the music itself was different as well-couldn't one argue it was simply the evolution of her music and her self? Our culture and our music drip sex, negatively, like the LoLo disaster, but what about Fiona Apple's 1996 video "Criminal"? The video is in-your-face sexy, but she's just young, having fun playing with her sexuality and thinness. Does the media teach us our sexuality? If so, what else do they teach us, and how do we differentiate the truth?

Hi Michele Maciejewski, (answer to comment on Nov. 8th)

Thank you for your insights in this matter.

Regarding Benjamin Gibbard's aggressive foray into the mainstream, that is normal in the course of most careers. You bought some of his music (and many other people) and that told him that there was a market for his music. Did he decide to advertise more in order to make more money or to spread even wider his musical message? Probably a bit of both. As I said, in the end it is all about consequences, and it seems that there are no really bad consequences to his entrance in the mainstream, as long as he keeps his personal aesthetics intact. That would bring more variety into the music world, and we certainly need that.

You mentioned that Benjamin has lent his voice to respected causes. That is a sign that the part of him wanting to spread his message is maybe bigger than his greed for money and fame. Yes, I do think that there are two sides to every situation and in some cases a negative action can be balanced by a positive action. However, there is no excuse for child prostitution and many other actions that truly hurt people.

Do not be so nostalgic about the old 'Ben Gibbard'. Allow him to evolve and grow. If what you hear then does not please you, then stop buying his music.

You mentioned some musicians that have used too much sex. Wait for the second next Blog I write. It will be about the role of video clips in music and I mention a lot Lady Gaga (I like her a lot too). I disagree that they use sex all the same. Each one appeals to a range of sexual appetites. When they move and dance sensually that is one thing, when there is too much black make-up and violence involved, it turns me off. There is a market for everything...

You ask:"Do you think sexual marketing and good music can coexist?" Yes. Let me support this with an opera quote:
In the second act of 'Tosca', Scarpia says to Tosca: "Yes, they say that I am venal, but it is not for money that I will sell myself to beautitul women. I want other recompense if I am to betray my oath of office. I have waited for this hour.
Already in the past I burned with passion for the Diva (Tosca). But tonight I have beheld you in a new role I had not seen before. Those tears of yours were lava to my senses and that fierce hatred which your eyes shot at me, only fanned the fire in my blood. Supple as a leopard you enrapped your lover. In that instant I vowed you would be mine! Mine! Yes, I will have you … "

Sex always sold (now or two centuries ago) and I guarantee you that Puccini's music in Tosca is glorious. So yes, good music and sex appeal(marketing), in one way or another, can coexist.

I think that you cannot hold on to a career for too long based only on sex. Have patience, history will filter the good and the bad. It does not take long for people to seem to have meteoric careers and to disappear. True value always remain in vogue!

Jairo Geronymo

Hi Tom, (answer to comment on November 10th)

Thank you for your comment.
I do think that sex based marketing has an enormous influence on people's perception of a product. Its existence for such a long time proves its effectiveness.

The classical music market has an ingrown problem. As opposed to pop music, that always has new music to be recorded, the classical music market deals with a restricted repertoire. How many times can the same Beethoven symphonies be recorded? Sometimes a single orchestra will have different recordings with different conductors of the same work. Can the market support such a redundancy? The possibility of buying music online and, of course, downloading it for free somewhere else, is an enormous problem in the music industry. The current economic crisis makes this problem even bigger. The first house hold costs to be cut are the purchase of items as Cds, books, etc.
As I wrote, in the end it is all about consequences, so as long as nobody is hurt, I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with flaunting it!
Be it your gorgeous legs or ethereal voice...

Jairo Geronymo

Hi L, (answer to comment on November 12th)

Thank you for your very acute comments,

I wrote in my blog about how acts without negative consequences are OK. However, sometimes these negative consequences are so subliminal that they can go unnoticed for a while.

The parameters of beauty have changed over time and the question of thinness is maybe the ugly one here. All those healthy, rotund ladies painted by Goya, Caravaggio and others reflect the ideals of those times. It was good to be round, a sign of health in a time before antibiotics. Today it is easier to be healthy and rounder so the models of beauty shifted towards the thin, as a sign of the eternal chase of youth. Being eternally young is not only physically unrealistic but poses serious questions about what is valued in a society.

I do not see any serious problem with the cover of Chris Botti's record. It sexualizes music but this most ethereal of languages has forever been interpreted in many different ways. Is a Cole Porter song sexier than Carmina Burana? Many times the 'affect' that we associate with a piece of music has little to do with its true content. Everybody loves the famous female duet in "Lakme"; what if you were hearing it when you learned that your mother was dying? I love some songs that I new as a kid and now, when I stop to analyze their words I am truly embarrassed.
The question of sexualization is quite complex and relates to values that we have carried on for a long while. My grandmother got married when she was fourteen to an older man; he was sixteen! Today that would be unthinkable. I think that the over sexualization of our society is closely related to its avoidance (and camouflage) of this basic human need. While conservative groups advocate for sex only after marriage, corporate america sells everything from cigarettes to airplanes with sex based marketing. When we embrace a situation, face it,and discuss it, the allure of its prohibition go away. Parents that talk about sex with their children often have lesser problems on that topic. I do not think that avoidance is the solution.

The other side of this coin is, of course, the premature sexualization of little girls, unable to rationalize these matters.
I have been living in Europe now for a year and a half (after 21 years in Brazil followed by 18 years in the US) I confess that I had to stop, think and learn about how north europeans think on these matters. I believe that any question from a child about sex should be answered honestly and accurately (formatted according to the age). It is important that these answers be non-judgmental so that the child will not feel inappropriately about these questions and keep the communication channels open. There is a natural, hormonal rhythm to this learning process.

The aim of making Strawberry Shortcake (supposedly) sexier is clearly to sell their products. The more important question is, however, what came first: the desire from little girls to have 'sexier' dolls or the endoctrination of little girls by corporate america so that they would desire 'sexier' dolls? Obvious, money makes the world go 'round. It is very sad when little girls feel pressured into assuming a role to which they are not mentally and physically ready yet. This is a very complex topic and I would like to pose two additional questions. How much can parents avoid these situation by treating their adult sexuality as normal and showing the children how different stages in life require different attitudes towards sexuality. There is another question that seems rarely to be asked. Are our little boys also being forced into premature sexualization and pre-established societal roles when they are enrolled on football and go see Demolition Derby accompanied by their dads while in first grade? Young men have also become a victim of the over masculinization (and sezualization) of contemporary society. This topic is being much less discussed than the premature sexualization of young girls. Does that mean that with this process we corroborate long lasting chauvinistic societal patterns?

Quoting you:
"Does the media teach us our sexuality? If so, what else do they teach us, and how do we differentiate the truth?"
I believe the secret to a life free of commercial media influence is to think, to be open, to be honest with ourselves, and keep discussing these matters.

"Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am)

Jairo Geronymo

What an excellent post.. Thank you Jairo for your thoughts on this matter. I wonder about these issues often. They stretch beyond sexual consumption to a point where culture, difference, and ideas are "smoothed" over to increase the profits of a product. Take the movie "Pocahontas" for example; here is a story twisted and turned into a Disney Princess romance knowing audiences will enjoy that presentation over a historical retelling of events that occurred during that time.

Personally I feel that spectacle and sex are oftentimes linked. We engage in a kind of voyeurism when we watch movies or consume in any way the world surrounding us, and I certainly can appreciate a sexy outflow of expression. Nevertheless, I see the dangers at hand... I for one decided not long ago that I am not willing to except the degradation of the work I create in hopes of earning a larger profit. If the work I create is naturally sexy than I hope it is damn sexy, but I feel myself dropping out of the world focused on selling art for a larger profit.

Certainly, I've prostituted myself as a student at Ithaca College - I've neglected my moral ideals at times in hopes of earning a higher grade on my assignment or producing a film which is more radical than those of my peers. I've come to see the process of filmmaking as a burning fire which forgets what it burns and how much it burns. There's nothing wrong with fire, but a fire can create hell. I think many are in the business of intellectualizing and thus justifying hell, but personally I am no longer willing to see it as something other than what it is: hell.

Hi Jairo,

That is an interesting post that you have made, especially when a large part of "sex sells" seeps unconsciously through our consumerist society and we as consumers and marketers lunge at it, as it drives consumerism, sales and profits. To some extent, it wields power.

With regard to Pocahontas's comment about voyeurism, I want to expand on the point that she made about "spectacle and sex" being interlinked. Films sell, cinema is a big hit. What is so entertaining and mesmerizing that we can sit and stare glued to the screen on a seat for 2 hours straight in a dark empty theatre with strangers around us? Watching is in a way voyeurism. We as an audience gain pleasure from it. Does that make us inwardly voyeurs? Voyeur in definition is a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others naked or engaged in sexual activity. One example of a film that highlights to its audience on this theme is Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window". Where a journalist who is recovering from his injured foot passes his time by looking out his window into the courtyard of his apartment, watching his neighbours carry on with their daily lives. He becomes so engrossed in the lives of his neighbours, that he helps unravel a mystery.

However the point that I'm trying to make is that it is in our innate nature as humans to gaze and be entertained and gain a source of pleasure from watching. Girls like imitating celebrities for their dress and style, females like to check out other females, just as much as men like to check out females and their own counterparts. There is a sense of thrill when we do.

However, it is true. As long as we don't end up hurting anybody or get obsessed by the fascination of it all, through our act of voyeurism it should be fine. As long as we have a clear conscience and knowing that your ethics are rooted and firm. 'Cos ultimately, sex sells.

it is really an interesting piece of entry that gives me a new insight about prostitution.

regarding the issue in Brazil, i really agree with you that it is horrible and wrong to force young innocence children into child prostitution. however, i would want to emphasize on the word forced. they are doing it without knowing what is done to them and do not have the power to make their own decisions. this kind of actions is unacceptable. however, it is all about survival. if the goverment were to ban such activities, is the government body going to feed them? if they are not, i think the government would rather let it continue rather than adding more problems to the ones they already had.

i feel that comerical market is all about demand and supply. if you are doing something that you like but no one appreciates and give you credit for it, the motivation dies. i agree that it results in selling away your values or principles. but, when it comes to survival, unless values and principles can feed you and give you shelter, everyone would simple give in to reality and not stay idealistic.

hi, a very insightful entry that gives me a new look on what prostitution is all about.

i totally agree that the issue on child prostitution is wrong. taking advantage of the innocent young minds and forcing them into doing things that they do not know about is a big unethical thing to be done. however, this is survival. many a times we are bring forced into doing things taht we don't like or dont agree on. however, we know that in so, can be achieve something. and for them is food and shelter.

the government might be corupted and evil but what can they do about it? this industry has been there even before they are being elected. if they ban this activity, are the government going to feed these people? if eradicating this issue will be take long than their time period of service with huge uncertainties, who would have the courage to do so? especially the government already had so many other problems to handle, why add one more?

regarding the music industry, i would think it is more of a demand and supply idea. you can do whatever u like but if it is not being recognized, appreciated or given credit for, motivation will die down and it still boils down to survival.

i agree that to that extent that it is an exchange for values and principles. however, unless they can be used to feed and provide shelter, many would just give in to reality.

Hi Pocahontas,

Sorry about the late answer to your January 12, 2010 post.
Your comments about Disney's Pocahontas are very pertinent. Gone are the days of motherly "Snow White" and sexless "Bambi". Now Disney creates films that are multi layered so that kids and parents can enjoy it simultaneously. On the surface there is nothing wrong with it: the kids are fascinated by the bold colors and funny characters while the parents enjoy the 'insider jokes' of political or social character. Kids and parents now laugh at different moments in these films. Since our topic is sex, it is also interesting to point out that Pocahontas body is much curvier and sexier than, for example, Snow White. The little Mermaid as well as the "Beauty" have minimal waists, generous hips and overall unattainable bodies. Disney is appealing to the mature audiences but in the process it sexualizes prematurely the younger viewers. Disney is also selling Walt's values in order to compete in a difficult market.
I am glad that you are aware of the ways in which academia forced you to sell out your values. Awareness is the first path towards change.
Keep the good work and thank you for your insights,

Jairo Geronymo

Hi Tabatha Randall,

Thank you for your post on January 24th. Nice ideas.
There is no doubt that sex sells and that a large percentage of the economy relies on sex. Do I really need a new jeans or this new one makes me look sexier? If I buy this watch will I look like the model in the commercial? Our multifaceted economy would not be possible without simple, basic sexual instincts. We pose as such intellectually complex individuals but the raw sexual drive still steers our society. How prosaic. At least now, procreation is not the main focus, or over population would be an even bigger issue.
Voyeurism assumes many forms and can be only subliminally sexual as well. When we seat in a hall to hear music we are also going on a trip of supposedly asexual character. So is Carmina Burana asexual? Is La Boheme asexual? Is Madonna's music asexual? No, in the same way that Grace Kelly's first entrance in James Stewart's apartment is a vision of glamour and beauty, but ultimately about sex. I imagine that we could link almost every aspect of our life experience to sex, in the same way that we can link it to other basic instincts as eating and breathing.
So let's go ahead and eat and breath freely! And while we are at that, let's look around and enjoy the beauty of other people's bodies and sexual expressions. As long as nobody is hurt, that's ok. And healthy...

Jairo Geronymo

Hi Kang Zhang,

Thank you for your insightful and realistic post on February 8th.
I agree with you that in the case of Brasil, if the government really wanted to stop child prostitution it would have to deal with some basic problems at the core of society. Sadly they seem to have other priorities.
I also agree with you that demand and supply drives the world economy, including prostitution. But I cannot allow the idea, even in my social impotence, that children should be subject to such market laws. Can we adults sleep peacefully knowing that this still exists. I mentioned social impotence and that is also a horrible issue. We all feel unable to act in such cases. It is too inconvenient for us to stop our comfy routine and actually do something about problems that do not affect us only ethically. You talked about survival and it seems that the standards and expectations of what means survival has corrupted how we see each other. It seems that our society does not value enough the right of the young. Sad.
Keep the good work and thank you for your post.

Jairo Geronymo

Thanks for this insightful post. Sex saturates every part of society now, and it's being used to sell everything from perfume to coffee to cds to films, simply because advertisers know that eroticism sells. However, i am skeptical if any care is shown where children audiences are concerned. It was mentioned that voyeurism is justifiable if it hurts no one, but if it leads to premature sexualisation of children, it has consequences that are damaging to society. Firstly, sexual images are being pushed at young boys and girls such that they start to think that shaking their hips suggestively is normal at a young age as they watch music videos. In the display of such behaviour, children allow themselves to be victims of voyeurism. they allow themselves to be preyed on unknowingly, and how ethical is this?

Someone mentioned that "Disney is appealing to the mature audiences but in the process it sexualizes prematurely the younger viewers." Children who consume such images at a young age grow up thinking they should dress or behave in certain ways. Example, in Aladdin, there was a scene when Jasmine approached Jafar in a suggestive manner. Little is said about the consequences this has on children.

What a sad and heartfelt message to the masses. You're message causes one to stop and think about his/her actions and how they impact others. Thank you!

Johanna Lasserton

Dear Emma Lim,

When TV first came out people were afraid that it would steal people's souls. Now we do know that TV has much trash but also some gems. It is a question of choices. Same with the internet...
In the question of premature sexualisation of children, not only by Disney but by every company that manages to do that, I think that it is sad but inevitable. However, we can see that as an opportunity to talk to children about these issues even earlier.
We cannot turn back the clock on anything, but we can empower people (and children) to differentiate what is good and what is wrong. Sadly this creates a trap for uncommitted or unattentive parents. So this should be a lesson also on parenting...
I wish you well on educating the children of the future. They deserve the best and we have the moral obligation to give that to then!

Jairo Geronymo

Dear Johanna,

Thank you for your comment.
You made me a great compliment. To be able to cause people to stop, think and question their lives is the main task of a teacher.
I will leave you with a phrase from Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a brazilian poet that had part of one of his poems printed in the '50 Reais' bill in Brazil.
“Eu preparo uma canção / Que faça acordar os homens / E adormecer as crianças”
I prepare a song / That would wake up men / and put children to sleep.
Take care,

Jairo Geronymo

The fact that child prostitution exists makes me lose faith in our generation. We are all humans, and subjecting the purest form of one's own kind to something such as this is truly monstrous. The fact that not all of us see problems such as this in our day to day lives makes it a topic that is easily overlooked or not even recognized. I feel sick thinking that this issue is far from being dealt with.

Sex-based marketing has infiltrated everywhere. It's almost laughable to think that it has infiltrated classical music, and I do not see things changing soon, they will probably become worse.

Sex based marketing is anything but new. A quick review or Roman and Greek art, architecture, and literature reveals that sex has been a pillar of human culture since before the time of television and Disney. Successful plays like the Lysistrata were written to appease human sexuality and win Aristophanes acclaim in a time before the video camera and musically inclined women were used as entertainment at male dinner parties in Athens. Promoting products through sex is just tapping into a tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Sex is a universal attraction, so when a product is advertised through sex, it merely means that the advertiser is trying to reach a broader audience and reach beyond the niche market.

As for Disney forcing sexualization on children, this is completely precedented by the company's early productions. Snow White was about a queen who eliminated the people who were more attractive than herself. The character of Snow white was meant to be held up as a figure of physical beauty. However speaking as a person who grew up watching Disney films, the moral I remember from those movies was the beauty of true love, not the importance of physical attractiveness. While promoting unrealistic representations of love can also be harmful to children, I do not see Disney pushing for the sexualization of children, but merely designing their characters in a way that appeals to the children's parents in order to boost sales. It is easy to forget that children do have a sexual aspect to their actions. Ask any psychologist or any six year old boy with his hands down his pants and they will tell you that children are not completely asexual beings. Perhaps media exposure to sex will force parents to acknowledge their children's sexual nature and educate them properly about what is appropriate and what is not through age appropriate sex education. There is of course a line that needs to be drawn somewhere. Children should never be taught to offer themselves as sexual objects, or objects of attraction. I firmly believe that child prostitution and pornography are wrong under any circumstance.

Thanks for this great article, right to the point

Thanks for this great article, right to the point.

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