Media

Sia Video Featuring Talented Young Dancer Is Inspirational, Not Pedophilia: One Parent's View

The controversy over a new music video tells us a lot about how we perceive sexuality.

The modern music video has been drastically dumbed down over the past 30 years. Once an art form, the music video has devolved into images of women thrusting their pelvises at alarming speeds. Pop culture doesn’t have to be high art; it's allowed to be entertaining. But images of half-naked people has gotten old. 

Sia’s controversial video for "Chandelier" is the first music video I'd seen in years that actually made me feel and think. The choreography is brilliant, the dancer Maddie Ziegler is impressive, and the vision behind the piece is deeply compelling. I watched that video with my daughter over 60 times. She eventually demanded I buy her the same leotard as Maddie’s so she could practice her modern dance moves. My kid is only 4, so she definitely has some work to do on her coordination, but I appreciated the fact that she was inspired.    

When Sia’s new video "Elastic Heart" was released, starring Maddie and Shia LaBeouf, I was eager to see it. I am going to admit, my first time watching it I thought, “uhhhh what???” It was hard for me not to compare it to the other video because Sia used the same dancer. Yet that wasn’t my real problem. Initially, I was uncomfortable with the concept of a 12-year-old girl doing anything around a 28-year-old man – especially when a lot of flesh is exposed. As adults we tend to see the world through the lens of sexuality, but that does not make everything sexual. Do I really believe that a halved pitted peach is trying to look like a vagina?

I watched the video again, this time with my daughter, and I had a very different reaction. I was incredibly moved, and actually teared up at the end when Maddie tries fruitlessly to pull Shia out of the cage as the life leaves his eyes. My kid and I talked about who she thought Maddie and the man represented. My daughter didn’t think the imagery perverted. Instead, she saw the man as the little girl’s father. In her mind, the video was about how parents and children struggle with hearing one another.   

There are many ways one can interpret “Elastic Heart,” but the fact that people are ripping it apart for promoting pedophilia is pointing the finger at the wrong culprit. You know what promotes pedophilia? Child brides and sex trafficking. Perhaps we can direct our attention to ending that horrific epidemic rather than demonizing artistic expression. 

We live in a society that still values women for their sexual organs more than their minds. There are many cultural triggers that impact sexuality, but blaming Sia’s video is hardly going to make any difference when it comes the horror of child abuse. In fact, if this video does incite people to talk about pedophilia, that is actually a positive thing. The more open the conversation, the less shame for the victims who are too afraid to come forward.   

Criticisms of this video come more from the fear of a young girl’s sexuality than from actually believing Sia would promote pedophilia in her work. I mean, who would make that career move? There is nothing sexy about what Maddie is doing, and if we see it that way, it’s because of our own assumptions.

The panic around pre-teen sexuality is actually a huge problem because they're made to feel embarrassed about their sexuality. It's common for dads to joke they'll be warning off young suitors with shotguns, but that is actually a really detrimental message. When a father can’t deal with his little girl becoming a sexual being, she learns to see her feelings as wrong. The alienation runs deep, and she may start to feel guilty that her body is changing.

There is an impossible standard for girls coming of age to strike the perfect balance between innocence and sexiness. The Madonna-and-whore complex begins even before a young girl becomes a woman.     

If we want to live in a healthy, sex-positive culture, we can’t treat every man like a creepy sex offender, nor can we sweep atrocities under the rug when they do take place. A man isn’t going to become a pedophile just by seeing a music video, and even implying that is insulting to the billions of men who would never consider violating a child.

Considering that this music video by Sia sparked a conversation about these matters, shouldn’t we be thanking her? Anytime art makes you consider how society functions, it's actually doing its job. While “Elastic Heart” may have made you wince while watching, it also got you talking.       

Toni Nagy writes for Huffington Post, Salon, Thought Catalog, Hairpin, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal. She has her own blog, and is the host of a podcast.

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