31 October 2006

Sex & Violence

I saw that Saw III was the top grossing film over the weekend. From what I've read, it falls into the category of the “can't be too graphic" horror movies that sound about as appealing to me as a trip to a dentist who doesn't budget for anesthetic. Putting aside personal preferences, it again brings up the question of movie ratings.

We expect our children will eventually engage in graphic sex and hope that they're never involved in graphic violence - either as thug or victim. Even in very violent cultures, on average there are more acts of sex than acts of violence. A sane community will do what it can to eradicate violence and regulate sex. But only a crazed community would work to eradicate sex and merely regulate violence. Such a community would soon disappear. So how is one to make sense of our movie ratings?

Graphic sex is rated X while graphic violence is rated R, suggesting that we're actually less squeamish about killing than procreation. This odd priority impacts policy.

California has a proposition on the ballot (Prop 83?) that will regulate sex offenders, limiting them from living within a certain distance of parks and strapping them with an electronic bracelet. Oddly, such measures are not first taken against those with a violent streak, but sex offenders - a loosely defined group that includes 18 year-old men who've had sex with a 17 year-old girlfriend. Yet someone who is out after serving time for second or third-degree murder, or someone who has a history of repeatedly violent acts, escapes these odd provisions.

Molestation is not a trivial thing, but it is certainly easier to recover from than murder. So why the special provision against the prospect of molestation but no corresponding provision against the prospect of other violent crimes, crimes that leave physical as well as emotional scars? Could it be that years of accepting the values implied in our movie rating system has distorted our perception of threats?


Eric said...

This very thing came up over lunch today. One of my coworkers brought up the point, that your reasoning is exactly right. The only difference is the viewpoint.

Because our children will one day do these things, it's why we don't want to encourage that behavior early, it's something to be cautious with, and not encourage crazy behavior. While violence is in the suspending belief category. Kids grow up knowing they aren't ever supposed to do it, so they view violence as a non-reality thing.

I don't know if I agree with that either, but it brings up an interesting point.

Ron said...

That is an interesting point.

I've also wondered if this rating difference isn't a residual of advances in special effects. Years ago, movie deaths were obviously feigned - like kids falling down when playing army. By contrast, graphic sex scenes were obviously real. Today, special effects for acts of mayhem look so realistic that the fact that they are simulated is almost incidental. Today, the simulated killing no longer looks staged.