Sexting and the Remediation of Teen Sexuality

Dr. Hugh Curnutt (associate professor in SCM) offers an account of ‘‘sexting’s’’ cultural value and social uses by examining celebrities’ production and distribution of sexual imagery on Twitter in “Flashing Your Phone: Sexting and the Remediation of Teen Sexuality” in Communication Quarterly, 60(3).

The practice of teenagers ‘‘sexting,’’ or sending racy photos of themselves via text message, has received a large amount of coverage in the mainstream media. Major news outlets and daytime talk shows have framed sexting as an epidemic in which teenage participants are psychologically traumatized and possibly guilty of producing child pornography. Not all of the media coverage of sexting assumes that the activity is harmful. In the first section of “Flashing Your Phone,” Dr. Curnutt discusses ‘remediation’ as a kind of cultural imperative that fosters the creation of media for the purpose of eradicating the experience of mediation. Sexting is argued to function as a kind of remediation in which the libidinal focus of the media industry is internalized and reproduced by its consumers.

In the second part of the article, Curnutt considers this production process by examining how the use of camera phones by teens to take and distribute sexually suggestive or  explicit images of themselves reflects the unique way in which sexters are able to use the actuality of their amateur image as the means to remediate themselves in a fashion that is commensurate with the conventions that have historically guided the media industry’s eroticization of teenage sexuality.

Dr. Curnutt examines celebrities’ production and distribution of sexual imagery on Twitter and argues that as result of technological convergence and the prevalence of social media, teens and celebrities are using ‘‘candid’’ images of their sexuality to remediate themselves in a fashion that generates a specific form of user-generated capital. This perspective is used to argue that the anxiety surrounding high school-age sexters has less to do with teens documenting their sexuality than it does with the ways that new forms of text-based media articulate the libidinal status of teenage sexuality in contemporary culture.

Ultimately, Dr. Curnutt argues that sexting is, in many ways, a byproduct of our evolving relationship with digital media—suggesting that sexting depicts teenage sexuality using an iconography that is not dissimilar from the media industry’s eroticization of it. Sexting, like other kinds of user-generated media, embodies a new production process for a preexisting product. To understand sexting’s broader significance, special attention must be paid to how its manufacture simultaneously modifies and reinstills the conventions that guide our culture’s mediation of teenage sexuality.

[download the full article]

Hugh Curnutt works in the areas of critical media and cultural studies. His research is broadly concerned with evolving communication technologies and the shifting intersection of media producers and consumers. His work has explored the changing televisual landscape, especially reality TV’s role in the ongoing reconfiguration of television’s institutions, performers, and audiences in a post-network era. His current project examines the impact of mobile technologies and self-authored media content on contemporary celebrity and the political economy of digital labor. Follow him on Twitter: @hughcurnutt