violence or sex…which is worse?
Sound like a stupid question?
The answer is obvious.
But although many of us would (rightly) knee-jerkingly declare “violence, duh!” this statement doesn’t always seem to line up with the way we interact with the entertainment industry.
For example, my own family is largely unaffected by all but the most graphic forms of violence portrayed on film. Murder City? Cool. Body Count 3: Bonesaw’s Revenge? It’s all welcome. But we’re greatly disturbed by the most meager portrayals of even a healthy, consensual sexuality.
Violence good sex bad.
Kids can watch movies about soldiers, but not strippers. Murderers, mercenaries, but never mistresses (unless they’re the ones getting murdered).
I don’t understand this phenomenon.
We’re pretty okay with what causes pain and death while we forbid mention of the one thing that actually brings pleasure and life.
It’s why my dad and I were largely fascinated with the brutal violence (even the infamous “curb-stomp” execution scene) of Tony Kaye’s American History X but intensely discomfited by the brief sex scene that opens the film. I mean, think about it, it’s not uncommon. What’s infinitely weirder than watching a murder scene with your parents?
Watching a sex scene.
And I don’t think this is just my family, it really does seem universal. Even our movie rating system seems to be designed in such a way that two films portraying relatively “equal” amounts (whatever that means) of sex and violence will be assigned very different rankings.
Explicit violence is way more acceptable than implicit sex.
All this to say:
Yesterday, my little sister asked me to drive her to the local video store (apparently they do still exist) to rent a little horror flick to watch with her little friends.
***Fun fact: I later found out that my mom had taken my sister to the very same video store just hours earlier and refused to let her rent a rated R movie…so she (deceptively) turned to her older brother for the in. Little sneak.***
Anyhow, we arrived at the store and my sister pointed out the film she wanted to rent. Thinking I could convince her to rent something maybe less horrific and disgusting, I grabbed her arm and approached the front counter.
I asked the store attendant if there was a film she could recommend that would be scary but not terribly gory or sexual, because it was, after all, for a couple of 15 year old girls. She hilariously recommended a film called “the Divide”. When I expressed mild concern that the back of the box included an R and the words “sexual torment,” she helpfully offered to check the computer for just how much sexual tormenting my little sister could be expecting to see.
“I guess rape would be a normal part of the experience that the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse would have to endure,” I tried to rationalize in my head. The store clerk spoke before I could give a voice to my idiocy.
“well,” she squirmed, “I guess there’s like one scene where the main character sees a girl getting raped from afar.”
“okay,” I tenderly replied, nudging my sister, “I guess just a little bit of rape is okay for a child to watch, right?”
We laughingly rented the movie, bought some popcorn, I dropped her off at her friend’s place, I burned the popcorn in our microwave and ate it alone, and, hours later, picked her up around midnight.
She climbed slowly into my car.
“so how was the film?” I probed, backing out of the driveway.
(I had her write down her response verbatim because I laughed so hard after hearing it for the first time:)
“that was…a weird movie. There was a lot of rape. A lot of rape.”
Dang it. So much for the big brother protecting his little sister from questionable viewing material.
After my shameful laughter had subsided, I was able to ask her more about the film.
“welp,” I stammered, trying to feel out the rest of the plot, “what happened after all the rape?”
She gave me an empty glance.
“well, it was throughout.”
So I totally failed at protecting my sister from the unnatural (but accepted) atrocity of violence and introduced to her a film saturated in sexual violence against women. Way to go.
But this launched a cool discussion about the dark things we are all so regularly exposed to in film. We talked about how although we had largely grown accustomed to most violence (and maybe even some sex), rape is another thing altogether.
We talked about how sexual assault is so disturbing because it is a despicable blend of the brutal (violence) with what was intended to be beautiful (sex). She told me that fists are for creating and sculpting this place, not destroying something beautiful. I said that sex is meant to bring joy and life, not misery and death. We both agreed that violence, the steady perversion of our God-given faculties, and rape, its horrifying apex, all appear with far too much regularity on film.
She’s a smart kid. It was a good talk.
When we got home, I took her in my arms and apologized for inadvertently exposing her to an even worse film than the one she had originally been vying for.
“that’s okay,” she said, smiling.
“why is that?”
“there was this one cool scene where this guy’s fingernails got ripped off.”