“Where are you going, Where have you been:” The Media’s effect on youth In this 1966 short story written by Joyce Carol Oates, fifteen-year-old Connie is a self-absorbed teenager who spends her time fantasizing about romance and searching for attention from men. While out with a suitor, a strange man promises her, “I’m gonna get you, baby” (2). Connie doesn’t think much of the incident until one day while alone at home; the man comes to “get” her. The assailant, Arnold Friend, is kind at first then progressively becomes aggressive and violent towards her.
Though at first she enjoys Arnold’s attention, once his demands become sexual and violent, her confidence diminishes. While Connie attempts to evade Arnold’s commands, she becomes powerless against the man and eventually follows him to “go for a ride” (3). While “Where are you going, Where have you been,” appears to simply be a tragic story about the abduction and rape of a young girl, it is more importantly a statement of the time on the over-sexualization in the media.
From the time period the story was written, the 1960’s, we know that society as a whole was exploding with counter-culture and rebellion. In response to the Vietnam War, for the first time in history, music rapidly became highly influential and that of a sexual nature. This first wave of over-sexualized media is what influenced Connie and millions of the time to exploit their sexuality. The youth of the time period are commonly thought of as being extremely responsive to the world around them.
With music being more suggestive than in the past and young people being more expressive and experimental, Connie grew up in a drastically changing world complete with the need to be sexual and to really stand out in order to be noticed. Media became more widespread and important in the 60’s than it had ever been before. When the TV and radio weren’t focusing on the war efforts in Vietnam, they showed the youth’s protest, and push to “Make Love, Not War:” an iconic phrase that illustrates the push towards sexuality during that time.
Connie, an adolescent of this explosive period, is a prime example of sexualization in the media having a detrimental effect on a person. It is her need to be desired that makes her appealing to Arnold Friend, and leads to her demise later in the story. Music is a major theme in the story: Connie constantly listens to music and associates music with pleasure in multiple instances. At one point, she even says she “listened to the music that made everything so good” (2). Upon Arnold’s arrival we see that he is listening to the same music as Connie, which serves as a way to connect them.
Since music plays such a prevalent role in Connie’s life, we can conclude that music is the media that influences her to behave in a sexual manner. From the music that she listens to, Bobby King, we get the impression that she links her idea of romance (that derives from the music she listens to) to the confidence and maturity she pretends to have when it comes to boys. Music plays in every situation where she intends to be sexually desired; while out with boys, out with her friend searching for attention, while laying out in her backyard, and even at the beginning of her conversation with Arnold.
Music and Connie’s sexuality are inextricable tied together–once Connie becomes frightened of Arnold and is no longer exploiting her sexuality, there is no further mention of music in the story. While it is understood that Arnold will most likely harm Connie, he also is whisking her away (or saving her) from a morally loose society–that very same society that made her the over-sexualized girl we see in the beginning of the story.
Everything about Connie indicates that she has been socialized into how the media thinks a young girl should be–from her suggestive clothing to her desperate attempt to be sexually desirable to the male population. Despite what she leads on, Connie is actually sexually innocent. Her innocence is echoed by her child-like naivety of opening her front door to a complete stranger while alone, as well as the fear that consumes her while she could have been calling the police to prevent her murder.
Arnold’s desire for the young Connie may be Oates’ way of portraying how perverse the media’s ploy to sexualize America’s youth is as well. The “Lolita Effect” is even a relatively recent concept. A “lolita” is a young girl who is viewed in a sexual manner, while the “lolita effect” is not only the corruption of a child by an adult, but exploiting an adult by a child that has been corrupted by society. Connie exploits her sexuality so well in the beginning of the story. It is her sexualization at such a young age that causes Arnold to find her attractive and is the real life tragedy that comes from the story.
By the end of the story, as the title suggests, Connie undergoes a major change. She ties to be an adult, but when Arnold challenges her with sexual advances, we see the frightened child she is. Arnold is merely an agent to portray the evils that exist in the media. He illuminates the fact that our culture’s media gives young girls the unattainable idea that they must behave in a certain way in order to be attractive, and that a man finding them sexually attractive is of upmost importance even as a pre-teen.
The sexualization of young girls causes adult men to be attracted to them, creating an even further over-sexualized society. A young girl’s sexuality is such a vital aspect of the maturation process: a process that is malfunctioning or happening far too soon because of the media. It is the evil in the media that causes Connie to fall victim to the media’s harmful portrayal of femininity. Media teaches us that being a typical young woman in today’s society is contingent on the amount of sexuality her appearance exudes.
Connie so perfectly replicates how young girls in America that are being over-sexualized through music or television without even being aware of it. The tragic way that Connie is stripped of her childhood suggests that “where you are going,” is dependent on where you have been. In “Where are you going, Where have you been? ” Oates’ does a terrific job of hyperbolizing the affects of the media’s influence while pointing out the very unexaggerated truth that over-sexualization in the media is detrimental to all aspects of society.
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