You’re watching TV. An attractive couple lies in a bed breathless and obviously happy. They hold each other and whisper sweet nothings. Planting a quick kiss on her lover’s cheek, the woman says she’ll be right back, pulls to comforter to cover her nakedness and slides out of bed. On the way out of the room the comforter slips revealing her bare backside.
People are up in arms.
Two performers are singing a song with subtle erotic intent. It is a song about a man desiring the woman and promising her they’ll be together before the song finishes. With the final assertion that he’ll have her naked by the end of it, he reaches over and strips away part of her bodice to reveal a bare breast, a star covers her nipple.
People lose their freakin’ minds!
A man is being chased by the evil doppleganger of a female character. He has information that she needs to become more powerful. The gap closes and the man with the briefcase is eventually cornered amongst the desks and file cabinets of a dimly lit office building. The event of his death is hinted at just before the commercial break. The next scene is a shot of him lying face up, eyes open. His feet are up by his head because he has been cut in half and he lies in a very red and disturbingly large pool of blood.
No one says a thing.
Jack Bauer chases the badies each week. He gets them every time. Each 24 hour period we see him consistently save the country from becoming a smoking hole. And in the pursuit of that justice he must employ any means necessary. In fact, on a single season of “24” there were 57 graphic depictions of torture.
Barely a peep.
Let’s be clear people. We, as animals, are here for only two things at our core. To survive and to make more of us. The first makes us eat, breath, sense trouble and scamper away or fight back if we get in a jam. The second makes us make love and desire that act in order to further the species (granted this is all an over simplification but it furthers my thesis so I’m going with it.)
All the rest, the cars, money, power, possessions, clothes, power ties, titles and perceived influence over others is all window dressing. If someone kills another person simply to gain something that person has, it is not because of the two reasons above, it is something that is many degrees removed (although might be traceable to, say, survival in some way). But that’s the story that leads on the local evening news.
So tell me, why is it OK for TV to have depictions of violence, very disturbing violence, but not OK for depictions of love and kindness and gentle intimacy? People absolutely love watching boxing or Mixed Martial Arts (and they pay huge sums of money to do it) in which two people go at it with no holds barred, bare-fisted pummeling of each other. Every Sunday we watch as giants slam into each other and slam each other to the ground in order for one team to take the other’s land away (George Carlin posited, once, that it was simply a weekly reenactment of the white man’s treatment of the Indians. Maybe, maybe not.) My wife and I have speculated that it is only a matter of time before the days of the gladiators are brought back. And MMA is pretty close as it is. Such hostility, such anger, and such seeming violence.
Where does this come from? A romantic comedy about two friends who are in love but don’t know it yet, and decide the only way to get out of the financial hole their in is to make an erotic movie gets an “NC-17” rating (Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Oooh, it has porno in the title and shows naked people.) A movie, the fifth in a wildly popular series, about a guy who wears someone else’s facial skin as a mask and tortures people in a serial rampage gets a rating of “R” (Saw V. No questions asked.)
Does anyone else see the madness in this? The sheer and absolutely stunning imbalance? Last time I checked no one was walking around in tall hats with buckles on their shoes, but holy shit it seems the puritans have come home to roost. As if the crusades were OK, but making love to someone is, oh heavens me, something to cover up, close a door on and make sure you never discuss in public. Just last night we saw three ads for video games that were rated M and had quite a bit of violence. One actually showed an image of a hand with only a bloody stump where the thumb used to be. All before 9 pm. I saw no naked butts though. My land o’ Goshen, no.
We are all naked under our clothes and we all grow up wanting (needing?) to make love with someone. But we are not all serial killers, torturers and violent to our core. I, for one, would much rather see someone naked on television than see a man cut in half in a pool of his own blood. And I would definitely prefer that over watching two guys beat each other to a bloody pulp for sport. OK, full frontal nudity might be taking it too far, especially if it’s a guy, because, face it fellas, women have the upper hand on this one. And too, it could be disturbing to young children so some decorum and logic are necessary here. But come on. What’s the appeal of all this violence?
There is enough violence in the world in reality and enough people willing to use that violence or the threat of it to bend the “people” to their will. Despite all that, for some reason, people love to go see more of it in fantasy. And when Cher says “F**k ’em” about the critics who said she wouldn’t last (a case currently before the Supreme Court) or a naked breast is shown for but a second and then quickly covered, people lose their minds, the FCC is all up in arms and the telephones at the complaints departments light up. Lawsuits are filed and there’s all this pearl clutching about how offensive a word or naked body part is. And a bloody thumbless hand isn’t?
We live in a society where it’s shocking when a rich heiress is seen naked and sexual on a video tape (but oh, how the networks love to show snippets and how people love to search the internet for it.) but it’s not shocking that Blockbuster displays incredibly disturbing DVD covers throughout its stores. DVD covers for the Saw series and other violent horror films. Images of a girl being tortured, realistic dead people or knives with copious amounts of blood dripping from them. Images of pale hands with broken and bloodied finger nails. Images that, when seen by a young boy of 9, produce nightmares for a week. We don’t sit in wonderment when those DVD covers are willingly displayed, but covers of DVDs that depict a lot of naked people are relegated to the back room or not carried at all. And while we’re at it, I am not sure if it’s more disturbing that it’s being shown or that there is someone in the world who is capable of actually thinking this stuff up.
Let me pause here and say that 99% of adult videos take it way too far, are fantastically unrealistic, and have a tendency to debase the actors or treat both the men and women as simple objects and not humans. And they’re kind of silly, but this is not what I’m talking about here, and although I have not seen many of them, it doesn’t take a genius to see a pattern. This particular genre is a study unto itself.
There is a story about an anthropologist who goes to visit a tribe of Indians in an arid part of the southwest. Every morning the shaman goes out to the rim of the canyon and sings to water. Without fail, as the sun rises, his songs in praise of water drift out over the vast expanse. Every song is different. The anthropologist thinks this a bit odd so asks the shaman why there are so many songs about water. The shaman answers that it is the thing they would miss the most if they were without it. It is the one thing they most need in their lives but have very little of. The shaman also mentions that he’s noticed a lot of the songs in America are about love and that seems odd to him.
So if we crave the affections of others and need love and tenderness so badly that we create song after song after song about it; if we work so hard to connect with others and connect with that special person with whom we wish to share the joys of intimacy; if we step back a second and realize that physical intimacy tends to be the underpinning of many of the things we see around us, how is it there is such a celebration and popularity of the violent, the angry, the visceral. Why are horror movies given a rating of “R” without a thought but when a movie depicts a little more than general nudity, anguished decision making, wringing of hands, and arguing between the director and MPAA ensue? Movies are boycotted even. Kids are taught that sex and intimacy are dirty and are things to be embarrassed about. That the human body should not be celebrated but covered up and hidden. It just seems all so skewed to me. So out of balance.
Would that our songs could be about water…
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen