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AMERICAN FILM RATINGS MAKE VIOLENCE SEXY

From Wayan's 1996/4/9 journal


When I hear American politicians complain about "sex-and-violence" in the media, I feel creepy. They themselves invented this hyphenated beast, with the American movie-ratings code. If you set out to TRY to encourage violence, the cleverest ad campaign would be to constantly link sexual freedom with the freedom to lash out and hurt people--and this is EXACTLY what you see in American film! But are audiences or filmmakers to blame? The American rating system equates even moderately explicit sex with extremely explicit violence, so ANY movie with a lot of sex gets a restricted audience. Putting in violence doesn't restrict it any further, it's cost-free. Violence alone is tolerated a lot more, so it's low-cost in terms of limiting your audience. Sexual images or issues WITHOUT violence, however, still get rated relatively strictly.

Therefore, few movies are made in America that deal with sex WITHOUT violence. So sexual freedom becomes linked with the freedom to kill! Violence is MADE sexy. The rating system shapes attitudes, not just the other way round. Sex-and-violence has become one word, but the link's as culturally arbitrary as apples-and-gravity.

That link is a mindless linguistic surrender to fundamentalism, but it gets to be a habit. Even though I was raised by leftists and live in San Francisco, I often see my own sex-positive ideology as proof MY upbringing was weird. At least my parents' beliefs make SENSE; in Europe they'd be mainstream. Sexual movies without violence are made all the time, and it's okay for kids and teens to see them. Europeans, sensibly enough, think what's toxic are films treating violence as fun. After all, even if sexy movies do encourage audiences to have more sex, whether that's good or bad depends on your culture, for sexual mores vary tremendously round the world. Not so with violence--we really, really, really do NOT need more beatings, bombings and shootings. No matter where you go, a show that provokes audiences to go out and kill is a problem. There's a real difference between the culture-bound way some viewers are threatened by images encouraging sex, and the universal way all viewers are endangered by images encouraging violence.

Yes, there's a secondary argument over whether art EVER changes behavior, and if so, how much... but I'm pointing out that that's irrelevant, until we can all agree on what'd even BE a social problem if the media DOES encourage it. And sex is NOT something there's consensus on. Violence IS.

The practical thing to do is to change the film ratings system to the type already common in many countries, in which the ratings code is made up of quite separate flags for violence, sex, language, drug use, and any other content of concern to segments of the audience. This would be equally useful for those who like action flicks but frown on sex or depiction of drug use, or those who like sex but hate violence... or whatever.

But when it comes to legally restricting audiences, particularly children, violence is THE only issue everyone can agree is a problem, if it affects behavior. Limiting audiences based only on violence, while making the rating codes more informative, would free up filmmakers to explore other controversial areas without losing the big chunks of audience they do now.

Even doing away with audience restrictions entirely might be better than the present system. Now, sex-and-violence are forbidden fruit, and the main effect of this coupling (pardon the pun) is that violence gets associated with sex. In a real sense, the current ratings actually MAKE violence sexy.

Sex, in case you hadn't noticed, already is.



LISTS AND LINKS: politics - social issues - free speech and censorship - the media - violence - movies - kids - sex

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