Sex and Violence...
April 17, 2008
... in movies.
Got your attention!
[On a more serious note: Look at the post title and decide whether you want to read the post before going further. This is a very unusual post for me, and I actually hesitated for a few days before posting.]
I've often wondered why some people have more difficulties with violence in movies and others have more difficulties with sex (and, of course, some have difficulties with neither. I really don't understand that). My older kids have friends who've watched more violent movies than my kids have, but whose parents wouldn't allow them to see some of the movies mine have seen because of the sex, and vice versa. As far as the parents are concerned, it doesn't seem to break down by either gender or political persuasion.
I've wanted to post on this, but I never came up to any conclusions. Breakfast with Pandora took up this idea and has both a universal and a personal reaction to the question (click here). I hadn't thought of just writing my own personal opinion - which, you may find, is rather bizarre, or at least quirky.
I'll go in order of magnitude. I'm less bothered by sex in movies than by violence, but for, what seem to be, unusual reasons.
For me, sex is not a spectator sport. Lovemaking (which is always how I think and refer to it) is something to do, not watch. It's all-encompassing - something to throw yourself into, get swept up in, and not think about anything else. Never, never, ever, something to analyze or look at from the outside - more than just about anything else that exists. Which is why, for all that I like bawdy jokes and the occasional off-color comment, this paragraph right here is the most that I will ever discuss the intimate part of my life. Not with friends, not with family - I don't discuss it. Discussion is not what it's meant for.
Sex in movies? You're looking from the outside. I don't usually find it the slightest bit interesting. As far as I'm concerned, in R-rated movies, they could just fade away at the kiss. The R-rated section doesn't add to the plot.
This is to say nothing against romance in movies. I'm all for that. In romantic scenes, characters connect, emotionally, on a deep level. These scenes may even make me feel more romantic, and it's nice to be reminded of that side of life if one has had a very busy, hectic day (and dear husband appreciates my being reminded). These scenes don't have to be the slightest bit risque, however. A regency scene where the hero kisses the heroine's hand and looks steadily into her eyes - very romantic. This is why "Finding Jane" (PG rated and younger son even watched most of it) is, to me, a far more erotic film than some R rated movie where people are boinking all over the place with full frontal nudity. Can we just give these people some nicely placed towels, or, at least, some privacy?!
It's the intensity of the characters and their interactions that create a romance, not visuals of their pelvic activity.
In short, bawdy is fine (eg. Rent) but I tend to fast forward over R-rated scenes. They don't really develop the characters any further. For instance, Alan Rickman in Sense and Sensibility? He played a wonderfully romantic character even though (or because) he was fully clothed the entire time and very self-controlled. Alan Rickman in flagrante delicto (though under covers) in An Awfully Big Adventure (a movie I hated, btw)? Fast forward.
As far as my kids are concerned, however, I go one step further. I want them to know that lovemaking is a wonderful part of life, but I avoid movies with any hint of promiscuity until they're old enough to understand the nuances. I want them to, very firmly, have the idea that sex, while a wonderful result of romance, goes along with a very strong commitment (i.e. marriage) before watching movies (or reading fiction) that presents sex more casually. This goes for any film or TV show even if the characters are fully clothed and separated by volumes of air the entire time - innuendo is enough.
Violence. I have watched more movies R-rated for sex than for violence (which isn't saying much) though with the remote at hand. The ones that are violent, I have to have a really good reason to watch. While not really being affected by screen sex, violence affects me way too much.
Take the first Star Wars movie, back in 1975. At that point, it was the most violent movie I'd seen, and, as much as I loved it, I had difficulties with it (I'll explain - stop scratching your heads). It's not the scene where Han shoots Greedo, though I didn't care for that. It's the violence that many people might not even really notice because it's just the normal course of the plot. The worst part was when they're attacking the death star. Luke's fellow pilots, his friends with whom he was just talking, crash on the death star - their bodies either going up in flames or, being immediately exposed to vacuum, in the few seconds left, feeling their surface bodily fluids boiling away and the air wrenched out of their lungs.
I have too much imagination and/or empathy. I spent large parts of the first Lord of the Rings movie watching the carpet at the theater, as did older son. Too many orc heads flying around. As daughter said, many years later, when she watched it on a very small screen (hand held DVD player borrowed from friends), if those soaring heads had been human rather than orc, the movie would have been rated R. I was reminded of the book, Stand on Zanzibar, where, at one point, a character's head is cut off so quickly that he's still briefly conscious and his last sight was the view, from the floor, of his headless body. I never reread that book, and it's long gone.
We didn't watch the second movie of Lord of the Rings until it came out on video. The only part I wished I'd seen on a large screen was the scene with the ents.
I don't watch war movies. They have far too much violence to picture, and it really doesn't matter whether it's the good guys or the bad guys. I've learned how to watch some Sci-Fi movies - mainly by never getting so engrossed in the story that I forget it's all special effects. "Oh look, the dinosaur just picked up the guy in his mouth. I wonder how they did that?" If I really pictured the absolute fear that the character felt as the Tyrannosaurus head came close, the sight of the huge, wild animal eyes, the knowledge that there is no hope, no reasoning with the creature, the smell of its breath as it comes near, the feel of the teeth as the mouth begins to bite, the vileness of having head and torso inside the fleshy wetness of the dinosaur's mouth, and the agony as its teeth puncture the skin and bisect the body - I couldn't watch Jurassic Park.
Having thought enough to write that - I won't be able to watch it again for at least 5 years.
As far as my kids are concerned? You can't totally get away from violence because there's too much to learn about bravery, steadfastness, and coolness under fire in those situations. However, I'm even more careful about violence in movies, TV shows, and video games than I am about sex.
I don't want violence to seem normal. That's simple. Going further, though, I don't ever want to lose sight of the fact that, unless it's a movie about clones or robots, every one of those bodies, blown up, or bullet ridden, or whatever happens in the movie, is the body of a person with a past, a present, a personality, a community of friends or relatives - a person who hoped to have a future. Yes, I know, it's just a movie, and they're just extras. But, in the story taking place within the movie, they're so much more.
For me, movies are about plot and character. Explicit sex and/or violence aren't necessary for that.
I don't think it's possible to have "too much" imagination or empathy, things that are in short supply in this world. Popular culture is aimed at an audience that is increasingly deaf to feeling empathy for characters in stories, perhaps because of the sheer volume of stories out there, and therefore the huge noise and the trying to be heard. So those of us who do naturally identify with characters/events/situations are going to be overwhelmed.
Nice post. Thanks for putting yourself out there like that.
Posted by: DF | April 18, 2008 at 01:31 PM
You're right in that popular culture - whether movies, TV, or music, seem to be getting "louder" and more extreme in order to gain attention. I think another part of the decreasing empathy in popular culture is that the audience aimed at is increasingly the sort of audience that is not at an empathetic stage of life, but which has disposable income and less restraint in using it. But that brings us back again to the subject of the psychology of the "typical" young man (as opposed to very atypical, very empathetic older son who has never watched Jurassic Park and who, after reading this post, said that he had no intention of ever doing so).
On the other hand, I think it is possible to have too much empathy - for practical reasons. At least that's what I've experienced. But that would be a post in itself...
Posted by: M Light | April 18, 2008 at 10:44 PM