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There's No Sex in The Editing Room
What happened to all the sex in movies and TV?
It used to be a regular occurrence. Not as much as the MPAA or christian conservative groups wanted you to believe, but it was a healthy number. As the blockbuster and Big IP have taken all the oxygen in pop culture, things like the mid-level drama have mostly disappeared; with it has gone a lot of the sex in movies. But it feels deeper.
The lessening of sexual images has been reported on for over a decade. While I enjoy blaming Disney and the infantilizing of culture lead by the proliferation of comic book movies, the problem predates this current moment. Plenty of blame could be placed at the feet of the MPAA, the shadowy council that decides how movies are rated. In the movie, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, filmmakers expose the arcane ways that the ratings board goes about deciding which movies are fit for which audiences and it’s apparent that the easiest way for a movie to achieve the dreaded X/NC-17, all but ensuring a film is dead on arrival from a box office standpoint, is having a graphic sex scene. Things like thrusts or lingering on women’s faces and body parts, portrayals of LGBT sex, and certain sexual positions were mostly not allowed. It’s a reflection of our discomfort with sex as a nation, speaking of which…
Sex is also disappearing in society and no one is really quite sure of all the reasons. Obviously we are more and more living our lives online, we are a less promiscuous society while also getting married later in life. People fear that porn has desensitized us or is leaving problematic impressions of what sex is to young people. Yet, none of these things have been shown as definitive reasons for the decline. It might be just one of those things.
The downfall of education probably doesn’t help. As education is defunded and children are left to learn on their own, so also goes sex education and bad sex education still remains rampant all over the country. One of the worst aspects of the christian right’s chokehold on America is the pushing of their anti-sex agenda which has done nothing but make kids who want to have sex anyways completely ignorant and unsafe going in.
I have no insight really. Maybe I’m worrying for nothing. One of the things that bothers me though about this current era of blockbuster filmmaking is less about the Disney/Marvel industrial complex than it is about the fact that they have become mostly the only game in town. It’s not only taking up all the oxygen in cinema, it’s also affecting the kinds of movies made away from their genre. An action movie like The Fast and The Furious has become more like The Avengers than the Point Break remake it once was. Indie filmmaking is still around but they are obviously out of the mainstream and unless A24 or Neon comes calling, there’s no guarantee your movie will be seen. The mid-level drama film that was once a specialty of major studios has been replaced by expensive action movies; they’re all violent, plot-heavy, and so, so sexless.
The troubling aspect is these movies are training a generation of future filmmakers and scholars to obsess about plot and mythology and dismiss sex and sensuality as useless to a story or even problematic—as though it only exists for the male gaze.
When I argue in favor of sex in movies (and in life), it is not out of some weird fixation or creepiness. It is because sex is a real and important part of life. It’s a healthy expression of love or just a good time between consenting adults, it can also be evil and that evil also expresses something about the world. As Ann Hornaday writes in the Washington Post, “when a sex scene works — when it exists for more authentic reasons than shock value or sophomoric giggles and manages to involve viewers more deeply than mere voyeurism — it exemplifies one of those rare things that movies do best. Well-conceived sex scenes are capable of producing a spontaneous physical frisson just as cathartic — and gratifying — as a sudden belly-laugh or a good cry.“
I am also aware that there has been plenty of irresponsible sex in movies. For as long as there has been sex scenes there have been questions around whether the participants have been exploited or put in uncomfortable, unfair positions. There are certainly horror stories about the behind the scenes process and there have been juvenile attempts to use nudity and sex to sell movies to young boys in the era prior to easy access internet porn. There should always be responsible and consenting methods to showcase sex in entertainment. But to take it away from our media completely is almost like the way parents and teachers in the religious south want to convince you it isn’t real or is to evil to speak of. But even still, I might actually be open to an argument against sex in art if art wasn’t actually increasing its output of violent images.
Violence has only grown in just about everything you watch. Even the arthouse low-budget indie you like to watch will likely have at least one scene of intense violence. And in the Big IP movies? That violence is even more insidious because there’s this misguided notion that if you take the blood away that makes things seem less violent. This kind of thinking is even more dangerous because it trains children to be numb to violence because now they can’t see the real consequences. To argue that violence is fine but sex isn’t is shocking to me and is potentially dangerous.
I’ve been trying to decide how to verbalize what makes certain songs/albums work better under quarantine. It’s not a question of mood because different songs with different vibes and atmosphere have worked. It’s also not a question of subject matter for the same reasons. It’s hard to listen to an artist like K Camp because I feel like I should be hearing this at a club or party instead, and yet the most recent Weeknd album—which has big club sounds and production—could only work while under lockdown in your house, trying to recreate a party vibe. Solange’s last two flowery, elevated “artistic” R&B is perfect while in quarantine, so is Frank Ocean, and Sufjan Stevens. An album that I didn’t like very much before has grown a lot in my estimation while stuck inside: Vampire Weekend’s Father Of The Bride. My best guess for what the key is: music about longing and connection seem to fit the moment and sonically, records that feel warm, spacious, and orchestral tend to help fill the void. On the other hand, cold, intense, isolating songs also capture the mood of how it feels to be alone and I’ve always been comforted when music feels the same… in moderation of course.