Over the last few days, a certain Ortega taco commercial has been proliferating throughout the Internet. Showcasing the Hamm brothers and Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson, the commercial features each athlete lauding the greatness of their particular use of Ortega.
"My taco is the best," boasts a smiling Johnson. "Ortega's taco sauce...It makes my taco pop!"
Apparently, Ortega wants us all to know Shawn, 16, likes her taco stuffed with big, fat double entendres.
As she says these words, she sits between Paul and Morgan Hamm, ending the clip by rolling her eyes suggestively. "Boys, always competing," she says, in a line and setup taken directly from "Two Rods Make It Right" or "Twinsex."
And what is in the background while these three gleefully speak of eating tacos? Young female gymnasts, jumping, twisting, and flying about like forest nymphs.
While every Olympic year comedians, vulgar analysts, and male fans claim a night with underage gymnast x - whether it be Dominique Moceanu, Carly Patterson, or Shawn Johnson - would easily be worth reporting themselves to the Sheriff's office, this Olympics has a dynamic that makes the sexualization of underage female gymnasts a more glaring issue.
Four years ago, just months after the Athens games, NBC television began running segments called To Catch a Predator with stern journalist Chris Hansen. The bit became extremely popular with its tactic of setting-up sting operations that convinced men they were going to have sex with horny and willing teenagers only to confront them and, in many cases, arrest them.
Then, at Beijing, NBC devoted a disproportionally-high amount of coverage to a beautiful gymnast who is underage in most American jurisdictions. Ortega - a commercial sponsor of NBC's - has chosen to put her in a lurid commercial.
Unless Chris Hansen and company show up at corporate headquarters and start arresting men in suits, that's blatant hypocrisy. You simply cannot maintain vegetarian devotion when you put juicy prime rib on a plate.
While Johnson's family and advisers certainly deserve some blame, the executives at NBC must be scorned for simultaneously reaping profits from both sales of the drug and prosecution of the drug-users.
While many locations have ages of consent equal or lower than 16, many do not, and the clear motif of the Predator series was that older men seeking out younger flesh are morally-despicable and deserve to be shamed on national television. Many of the men they targeted were the lowest of the downtrodden: isolated, poor, and desperate men forced to turn to insecure anonymous teenage girls for physical affection, if not emotional. Many probably had legitimate psychological disorders. Still, their profiles linger in police records and on NBC-run websites, forever blemishing them as sex offenders.
Meanwhile, the people exploiting Shawn Johnson's status as a sexual object are white-collared, affluent, and mostly psychologically healthy, not to mention anonymous.
When is Chris Hansen going to show up at his own corporate offices and ask them why they helped pimp a 16-year old?
The producers would probably reply that she became "America's sweetheart," a Midwestern gal who captured the hearts of housewives and grandmothers as if she were they own. While this may be true, overblown publicity of a teenage girl inevitably captures the pants of many men, and in managing that responsibility NBC failed on its part.
I understand that issues of exploitation and sexualization are inevitable in gymnastics until the powers that be establish identical ages of consent and competition minimums across the board.
But in the meantime - while we're stuck with a system that showcases talented 16-year-olds in a society that scorns having sex with them - NBC and its sponsors have a social responsibility to curb the exploitation when the individual is a minor, especially when they've profited so much from catching so-called sexual predators. Giving her disproportional airtime aids the exploitation.
At the very least, Ortega, take the little girls in leotards out of the background!
Otherwise, more and more men are going to find themselves not only wanting to stuff Shawn Johnson's taco, but also finding it morally justifiable given the permissiveness promoted by NBC and its sponsors like Ortega.
As for me, I'm fine with Nastia Liukin and Alicia Sacramone; both, I'm sure, have wonderful tacos. I just don't want to hear about Shawn Johnson's until enjoyment of such would be legal.
I also pray no NBC executives live near any of my succulent underage female relatives.