Why Less Sex in the Movies is a Good Thing
Happy Valentine's Day! It's time to get together with that special someone in your life and spend money you don't have on garish rituals that would probably be much more romantic if you didn't feel compelled to commit them out of obligation to a calendar and/or greeting-card manufacturer. I mean! It's time to get together for a nice dinner and a movie -- hopefully one with some intimate, even sexy moments between the characters onscreen. If you can find one. Which might be difficult. Thank goodness.
The very deficit Manohla Dargis lamented in yesterday's NYT -- that of "serious or serious-enough movies, domestic and imported, in which sex mattered as much if not more than violence" -- is one I think a lot of people consider a relief. That's not to say the cinema of violence is any more culturally redeeming or gratifying than the cinema of sex, or that there's often much for adults to cheer about in, as Dargis' describes them, "corporate blockbusters aimed at teenage boys, with their sexless superheroes and disposable pretty women smiling on the sidelines." But it is to say that there's a very simple reason movies contain less and less sex: It's jarringly, miserably awkward -- awkward for actors, awkward for filmmakers and ultimately awkward for audience members.
Right? Can you really sit in a movie theater and watch explicit sexuality depicted without thinking, "Hmm. I wonder how the complete stranger next to me, or behind me, is judging my reaction to this. And how am I judging him/her?" After all, the communal experience we celebrate in filmgoing necessarily confers screen intimacy to the viewer; horror films resonate among opening-weekend crowds because subconsciously or not, that community is essential to the enjoyment of the experience. Knowing one's not alone in the face of graphic violence, torment, mortality and/or oblivion provides a reassurance that we don't instinctively seek as sexual creatures. We are not "neo-Puritans," to use Dargis' term; we are just selfish, repulsed by the idea of sharing (let alone evincing) anything close to arousal.
Obviously it wasn't always this way. T&A was once as integral to the slasher genre as masked killers themselves. But the context of such prurience -- sex as a prelude and perhaps even a catalyst to violent death -- is pretty outmoded today. Jaded younger audiences don't recognize that morality, and studios and filmmakers are smart to evolve (devolve?) to the purely visceral pleasures of bloodshed and flesh-rending. We don't have to wonder what our neighbors think of the ghastly demises in the Saw franchise, for example, because to the extent those viewers make up a support network of sorts, the absence of sex (mundane human behavior) adds a further degree of removal from the inhumanity onscreen. This is truly the movies' New Intimacy: Unknotting sex and violence for a generation for whom violence is fantastically sexy enough. And we don't have to squirm with discomfort over nudity that's so gratuitous as to be insulting.
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