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Running Purity Rings Around MTV

Something mildly miraculous is happening among pop music stars. Several of them, from the Disney-marketed Jonas Brothers to the recent "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks, are showing some extraordinary courage, having decided to serve as role models for teenage virginity and abstinence.

Newsweek recently described the Jonas Brothers "so pure they could be carved from a bar of Ivory soap." They are actually brothers, and all three of them - ages 20, 18, and 15 - wear a purity ring on their left hand, pledging to remain virgins until marriage. "People are, like, 'No way, that's impossible'," 18-year-old Joe told the magazine. "Our parents asked if we wanted to, and we were, like, 'Yeah,' so it's awesome." Their father is an ordained minister.

Eighteen-year-old Sparks told Us Magazine last year about her promise ring, which she's worn now for four years. But announcing this publicly doesn't come without a price, and that price is mockery.

The "Best Week Ever" blog on Viacom's VH-1 website featured writer Michelle Collins bragging about losing her own virginity in a druggy haze and sneering that virginity at 17 is too normal to be courageous. "Now, if you're still waxing ho-etic about your unplowed territory at 30 - and from the inside of your padded cell, of course - then, maybe, we'll take you seriously."

The ridicule of these young pop stars became much more prominent when MTV broadcast their latest Video Music Awards show on September 7. The awards-show host was a mangy-looking British degenerate named Russell Brand, and he mocked the Jonas Brothers for their decision. He noted their promise-ringed fingers and insisted "I'd take it a little more seriously if they'd wear it on their genitals." Brand joked that this decision was "a little bit ungrateful because they could have sex with any woman they want. That is like Superman deciding not to fly and go everywhere on a bus." Yuk, yuk.

Sparks was appearing as a presenter, and when she stepped to the microphone, she let Brand have it between the eyes. "I just have one thing to say about promise rings. It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody - guy or girl - wants to be a slut," she said. Sparks later gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly. "It's something I feel strongly about," she said. "I wish I would've worded it differently - that somebody who doesn't wear a promise ring isn't necessarily a slut - but I can't take it back now. It was a split-second thing, and it came out kind of wrong. Still, I don't regret it."

For their part, the Jonas Brothers were generous in reply, with 15-year-old Nick telling the BBC: "For us, it's cool to see that he recognizes we are gentlemen."

It was expected that MTV's website would promote the controversy to boost Internet traffic. But even they were forced to concede that the sale of promise rings has risen substantially over the summer, well before this dustup. Sales of the rings have apparently soared at the jeweler James Avery, where spokeswoman Sara Hegener said there has been a "huge swell" over the past few months. "There's a lot of buzz with the Jonas Brothers and these purity rings, and I like to think some of it is tied to that," she said. Sales of the company's signature "True Love Waits" ring were up 78 percent in July over last year and up 113 percent in August.

MTV brought on Brand not only to play the scandalous bad boy, but to lob several libertine grenades. Brand also lit into the family of GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. He suggested the pregnancy of Palin's daughter Bristol was a "P.R. stunt" and then lamented that Bristol's fiancé Levi Johnston was being punished for "joyful unprotected sex" with a trip to the Republican convention and "I think that is the best safe sex message of all time. Use a condom or become Republican!"

Apparently, that joke was the tame one. Brand told the London Telegraph he wanted to say Palin "was forcing her teenage daughter to have a baby because she is so anti-abortion. But also, as a Republican she is pro-execution so she is going to give her the electric chair for being a little slut."

What is it about parents with traditional values that make the MTV and VH-1 hordes come so unglued? Maybe it's just unacceptable for the feels-good-do-it lobby to have anyone else threaten to redefine for young people what it means to be "cool."