Written by Max Thornton.
[content note: explicit discussion of violence and rape]
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Violent media poisoning nation's soul.”
Is it, though? To his credit, LaSalle recognizes that it's pretty fatuous to blame movie violence for real-life violent crime, but that doesn't stop him from calling for blanket R ratings for movies with “any violence at all.” I honestly don't see how that will help. An R rating won't stop anyone from seeing a film they're determined to see (hi there, internet!), and it definitely won't encourage critical thinking (the trouble is, you can't legislate for that).
Also, you know, Adam Lanza – the motivation for LaSalle's piece – was 20. He could have seen the most brutal NC-17 movie he wanted.
It's an old complaint that MPAA ratings are seriously messed up, mired in disturbing double-standards around male and female sexuality, straight and queer sexuality, sex and violence. However, if you happen to believe that violent movies contribute to a “culture of violence,” age-based restrictions don't accomplish a thing. Except perhaps to make under-seventeens desperate to see movies just because you say they can't.
I really don't think the problem with movie violence is that too many superhero flicks are rated PG-13. I don't even think the problem is the existence of movie violence. I think the problem is the context and presentation of the violence. MPAA ratings, audiences, and filmmakers themselves overwhelmingly fail to distinguish between cartoonish violence and realistic violence, or between sex and sexual violence, and this is what I find truly alarming.
I have a shameful love of really stupid gory movies. I have a dumb but almost limitless enthusiasm for the subgenre lovingly dubbed “splatstick.” Evil Dead II. Peter Jackson's Braindead. Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. Appendages being severed in improbable ways, fountains of dyed corn syrup gushing forth, heads and eyeballs rolling all over the place... That stuff cracks me up, and has done ever since I was an eight-year-old at home with septicemia, watching videocassettes of Tom & Jerry and bringing my mother running with every yell of sympathy that quickly dissolved into peals of laughter.
|And I respond just like Bart and Lisa Simpson.|
Realistic movie violence disturbs me, of course, in films like City of God or Irreversible. These are movies intended to confront you with the utter awfulness of the events they depict, with no interest in minimizing or trivializing their horror. They're hard to watch, and they should be.
Cartoon violence, on the other hand, is outlandish, clownishly over-the-top, and nothing like real life. A scene like the possessed hand scene in Evil Dead II or the zombie baby scene in Braindead is funny in the way that a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel is funny. It's an outlet for Schadenfreude in a really goofy setting.
It really, really bothers me when cartoon violence turns sexual.
When a tree rapes a woman in the original Evil Dead. When a tentacled zombie-slug-man rapes a woman in Slither. When a snowman serial killer rapes a woman with his carrot nose in Jack Frost (no, not that Jack Frost). Most recently, when zombie Nazis turn rapey in Nazis at the Center of the Earth.
Goddammit, it's called Nazis at the Center of the Earth, not Rapists at the Center of the Earth.
I'm watching a movie called Nazis at the Center of the Earth because I want to laugh at a lousy special effect of Zombie Josef Mengele ripping a guy's skin off in one elegant motion. That's funny to me, because no one in real life gets their skin ripped off by Zombie Josef Mengele, and if they did it wouldn't look like that. The sudden inclusion of sexual violence is just grim.
We're all feminists here, so I don't need to repeat the stats, but here they are again: 1 in 6 women. 1 in 33 men.
Comical beheadings with fountains of unrealistic blood are funny to me in the way that Laurel & Hardy dropping the piano again is funny. Sexual assault IS NOT FUNNY. Jack Frost (again, the killer-snowman one, not the family film or the bizarre Russo-Finnish fairytale that was on MST3K) is rated R for “violence and gore, language and some brief sexuality.” For “brief sexuality.” CALL IT WHAT IT IS, MPAA.
I get that plenty of people don't find splatstick funny. That makes sense and is valid, and I can respect that opinion. What doesn't make sense, isn't valid, and does not merit my respect is thinking that sexual violence belongs in splatstick humor. Contra George Carlin, Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd is not funny to me. Cartoon sexual violence isn't funny in the way cartoon splatstick can be, because of the whole rape culture thing. The difference is crystallized in the fact that the MPAA doesn't call a nose-breaking punch “brief face-touching,” but it does call carrot-rape “brief sexuality.”
In the end, what crosses the movie-violence line depends largely on your personal taste. A really cheesy special effect of a sharktopus eating a person makes me laugh; others won't find that funny. But I don't think sexual violence is a matter of personal taste. When I sign up for some cheesy splatstick movie fun, I want cheesy splatstick fun, and that does NOT include sexual assault of any kind. What's so hard to understand about that?
If you're more of a words person, this might help.