Sex and Violence

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So, like most of the civilized world that’s ever picked up a YA book, I saw the Hunger Games film last week. I was intending to see John Carter (it’s also based on a book people – a book no less ground breaking than HG in its day, but whatevs) but the traffic gods conspired against me. You know that scene in the old Clash of the Titans film where Zeus has his little action figures, all fucking relentlessly with the lives of mortals and whatnot? He does the same thing these days, but with a model of my car instead of Pegasus.

So tHG is about a bloody gladiatorial contest between children for the amusement of a callous, bloodthirsty mob. To me at least (and maybe I overthink things) it’s about dehumanization. It’s a statement about our own society and our desensitization to violence as a concept. We have no problems turning on the TV every night and seeing dead bodies being pulled out of smoking rubble. Bloodstains and chalk marks and spent shell casings. Street hardened cops solving the brutal murder of the week through SCIENCE!™ Real life bloodsports like UFC bigger than ever.

And that got me to thinking (run while you can, my pedigree chums). Because while my own personal issues with HG stem from Katniss really only deep-sixing a SINGLE competitor with any real intent, it’s still a reasonably violent film. We see heads bashed open with bricks. People torn apart by wolfthings. Death by throwing knife, hatchet, arrow. A girl being stung to a screaming, agonized death by genetically altered wasps. And of course, a 12 year old girl getting stuck like a pig with 6-foot of spear. Weirdly, I think the film perpetuates our callousness to violence as a culture, rather than doing anything to actually address it.

Case in point? The Hunger Games is a PG-13 rated film in America.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America website, here’s what PG-13 means:

A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children… There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.

So essentially “You should check this out before your kids see it, but if they front up with their money, we will take that money and not think twice about it. BAM.”

Now in the other hand, I’ll hold up a documentary called BULLY, which recently wore an R-rating from that same rating body. For your edification, from the MPAoA site:

An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian… Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

There is no murder in BULLY. No intense or persistent violence. No sexually oriented nudity or drug abuse. Just conversation. Some talk of homosexuality and the abuse/bullying suffered because of it. Some F-bombs. And it wore an R rating. The Hunger Games, a film in which 24 teenagers set about brutally murdering each other for the amusement of the bloodthirsty mob, is rated PG-13.

What does this say about us as a society? That its cool for an unaccompanied child to go see a 12 year old get spitted, heads bashed open, popped with arrows, but it is simply ILLEGAL for a child to go alone and see a film about an issue that any school teacher will tell you is a persistent and growing problem in our school system? And the MPAoA makes a big frowny face in your direction if you decide ‘No fuck you, this film is important and I want my child to see it’?

“Generally, that is not appropriate. We glower at you now. Grrr.”

Is BULLY’s message any less valid than HG’s? Doubtful. Is BULLY going to strike home harder because it’s a documentary rather than a Hollywood spectacle? Probably. Is it more threatening to a conservative right wing establishment? Definitely. Is being exposed to violence and murder perfectly acceptable, but being exposed to the notion of homosexuality and profanity somehow not? Apparently, yeah. It is.

This makes no sense to me.

And this isn’t a phenomenon limited to the world of film, either. We live in a world where it’s cool for Author X to write a book where people are beheaded, eviscerated or dismembered, but some stores won’t stock it and some librarians won’t recommend it if it contains a kid smoking pot. Or swearing. Or being gay. This is the reality of the society we live in. I know authors who’ve been warned ‘stores won’t stock your book if you use profanity in it – you can keep the bad words in there, it’s totally up to you, but ya know… sales and stuff. Hint hint.” I know other writers who’ve been told point blank, flat out “Take out the profanity” by their publishers. “We will not print this book with the word ‘ass’ in it. Change it. Now.”

I’m not fucking with you here, people. This is the world you live in. Violence is okay. Murder is okay. Spent shell casings and chalk lines and children killing children – IT’S ALL OKAY.

But bad words? Sex? Drugs? No, we’re not having it. We can’t. We won’t.  Take it out. Cover it up. Hush it away. Slap it with warning labels and overly-harsh ratings so nobody will see it, hype up the new Hollywood blockbuster with buildings disintegrating and mass carnage and kids killing kids, because the world as we know it will end right this second if a child smokes a joint on film or says ‘ass’ in a book.

Books and films containing drug use or sex (straight or not) do not condone/encourage drug use and sex, any more than the Hunger Games condones/encourages the spearing of 12-year old girls. Saying the word ‘ass’ or ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ will not cause the sky to fall or the world to end, and I have news for you folks – your kids say those words already. In all likelihood, they talk about and experiment with sex. Ditto for drugs. And instead of fretting on it ‘til you shit blood, instead of doing your best to make this a world where entertainment trivializes brutality and murder and hides away every other ‘taboo’ in some R-rated closet, instead of doing that, understand that not talking about the issue will not stop kids having sex, or doing drugs, or saying bad words. It will only mean they do these things without your guidance. Without perhaps understanding risk, or consequence. Without being as informed as they could be. In some arena over which you have no control.

Declaring a subject taboo only makes it more desirable to the average young person.

Your attempts to shield your children only make them more curious, and more vulnerable.

In the words of the immortal Zack De La Rocha:

Wake up.

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About Misterkristoff

Fantasy author of THE LOTUS WAR series, and master of drunken karaoke-fu. My debut novel, STORMDANCER is now on shelves. KINSLAYER arrives September 2013! View all posts by Misterkristoff

22 responses to “Sex and Violence

  • jwbtres

    What an excellent post! It amazes me that the white middle class middle aged people (which I qualify as a member) of the world have relinquished their thinking to someone else. No one wants to take responsibility for their actions anymore. Kinda sad.

    • Misterkristoff

      I dunno. I see groundswells like the Kony 2012 movement and it gives me a lot of hope for humanity. We as consumers have more power than we’ve ever had before. We literally have the ability to change the world, through this extraordinary thing called the internet, if the message somehow finds a way to cut through the haze of bullshit and angry birds.

      And I’m the most cynical dude I know. But I still believe in the power of raising your voice and raising your fist.

      • Hugh Grimwade

        Kony 2012 actually reinforced my cynicism in humanity. It showed how a glossy, cleverly packaged message could so easily make people think they were making the difference that counted, rather than asking more and exploring WHY something horrible was happening, and whether THIS was the best way of making sure it didn’t occur again.

        Also, good post big man.

      • Misterkristoff

        Dunno, I liked Kony. I like that people can be galvanized into action, that an average person with some editing equipment and a savvy media mind can take over the internet. The ability for people to have their message be HEARD is what excites me, more than any particular message in and of itself.

        I like that a single person’s voice can be heard all the way across the world now.

  • lehrhaupt

    I thought I’d leave a brief comment here, since this particular post summed up my weekend. To start with, I have a young son that wife had decided to take to Bully. However, due to the above ratings issues, no theater in our area, the 5th most populous in the US, is showing it. Instead, we ended up taking him and his friend to see the MPAA approved mega-blockbuster, which was showing every half hour from the moment you could wake up until three hours after the local drunks passed out on their lawns. How misplaced are our priorities? It makes my head swim. To make things worse, there wasn’t even one single chainsaw katana in the whole film.

    • Misterkristoff

      Mission successful. The MPAA wanted BULLY shut down. It has been. Even the retro-active ‘no rating’ bullshit they’re putting on it now effectively stops it being shown in cinemas. And there’s a poster for that Battleship film (from the TOY COMPANY that brought you Transformers, that literally has NOTHING TO DO with the toy it’s based on, except for the name) on every fucking corner where I live. City’s being decimated. mass CGI carnage. It’s ALL OKAY.

      Lol, I can’t tell whether the chainsaw katana thing is a dig. If it is, it’s a fair one. There is violence in Stormdancer, absolutely. But it’s violence with a purpose. With a message. I think the world needs to change. I think that’s never going to happen unless people make it change. Unless people are willing to sacrifice what we have for the sake of something better. I hope that comes across in the book. Time will tell, I guess :)

      • lehrhaupt

        Not intended as a dig at all, since they are freakin’ awesome, but now that you point it out my subconscious must have been moving along those lines.

        While I felt that Katnis’ hesitancy towards violence was handled better in the books, the movie does gloss over that major aspect of her character. Therefore, the audience misses out on something that really drives the second and third book growth of her character. While I wish it wasn’t the case, it does seem to be the way Hollywood handles these types of things. If it Bleeds it Leads.

        I can enjoy a movie full of gratuitous violence for no reason as much as the next guy. Machine Gun Girl, the Killer, etc. I would rather see a movie that makes you think. The implied violence in Reservoir Dogs comes to mind. We never see the ear severed. We never see the gun fired. We only see how that violence impacts the characters. That’s not to say it’s violence for a reason, just handled in more thought provoking way. Pretty sure the MPAA hated that movie too.

        That said, and not to blow smoke up your proverbial ass, I am very much looking forward to Stormdancer. As Kevin Hearne would say, “I may have let out a squee when I read your description. But, it was a manly squee, I assure you.”

      • Misterkristoff

        I think you’re always going to get the problem translating a 1st person PoV narrative into film. Unless the Director and screenplay writers really know their shit (and they didn’t imo – and yeah, I know Collins was on board) and write alternate scenarios to highlight the internal struggle, you’re going to miss out on any kind of internal monologue and the character framing and development that goes with it.

        I guess that’s because 1st person PoV, by it’s very nature, makes it EASY to tell rather than show. So when you strip out the internal monologue in film, the character actions don’t portray anywhere near the level of depth the reader was used to, because all along, they were being told “I am hungry” or “I feel bad about killing this guy” or “I am not sure if Peeta really likes me”

        Nothing she actually DOES shows us that.

        The violence in RD is a great example of what you’re saying. And yeah, the MPAA gave that film and R, iirc. But murderfest 2012? PG all the way baby.

        Cool! Glad you’re looking forward to it. it’s kinda violent in parts. Very violent, tbh. But I tried to write the violence in a poetic way. And I tried to give it all a point.

        Here’s hoping :P

  • Amy Leigh Strickland

    I think that’s an accurate assessment of the themes– especially as you get into the revolution in Mockingjay. Katniss sees her own allies dehumanizing the people allied with the Capital and has to decide what she’s willing to do.

    • Misterkristoff

      I’ve heard it bends that way in later books. But I’m still not sure the movie pulled it off at all. I didn’t get a sense that the violence was wrong, that the capitol audience were barbarians, that this was all an atrocity. It just felt like a badly shot action film to me. I didn’t feel any intent to it. i didn’t feel any soul. The actors did well with what they had, but the Director was a rookie when it came to shooting action, and I think it showed badly.

      And they wasted time on this Senneca subplot, and President Snow in his fucking garden, and missed the opportunity to give any of the competitors besides Katniss and Peeta any kind of personality.

      1st person PoV narratives don’t translate well into film, imo.

  • neyska

    I’d say amen, but that might imply a religion. :) Instead, I just will say you summed this all up beautifully.

    I remember seeing Starship Troopers in the theater. The guy behind us had his little boy with him (probably about seven). They tore people apart all over the place and he was good with that. Then, during the one rather abbreviated intimate moment, he covered the kids eyes. I really wanted to jump the seat and beat some sense into him.

    • Misterkristoff

      Yeah, that is straight-up retarded. Our values about sex and violence are so out of whack.

      It does go back to religion, imo. The controls enforced in the middle ages. Sex being ungodly and taboo, violence being perfectly ok because the church itself used violence to achieve it’s aims – Crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, etc. And those values infecting the social conscience.

      But yeah, that conversation is a whole different kind of heavy.

      • neyska

        Come to Seattle with your secret agent kung-fu assassin wife. We can all sit around the fire pit and discuss heavy shit. :)

        Disclaimer: Offer only good in summer months when the beauty of the great Northwest is unbeatable. The rest of the time it is really wet, cold, and miserable out.

      • Misterkristoff

        Sounds frackin’ awesome. It’s a date :)

  • EddieLouise

    Jay:

    I raised two teenagers. They were allowed to swear. We talked sex from the time of the first ‘Where did I come from’ questions. We watched ‘R’ rated movies together and discussed the themes. And I was told constantly that I was ‘ruining’ my kids by exposing them to stuff they weren’t ready for.

    But when I wouldn’t let my son play 1st person shooter games, I was condemned as a ‘control-freak mom’.

    In the end-run, my 2 happy and well-adjusted adults prove the lies of popular culture. Still – it was difficult to stand against the tide.

    Now, I write and one of my beta readers got her panties in a twist about a 14 year old male character referencing the boner that is causing him embarrassment in public – GIRLS might read that!

    Fuck ‘em I say. If more 14 year old girls understood the power of the boner, the world would be a better place!

    • Misterkristoff

      You sound like a Mother of the Century Award contender imo. :D

      It’s so fucked up, it really is. Girls might read about an erection – holy shit. Call the police. And yet its perfectly cool for a girl to be running around shooting mother fuckers with a bow and arrow, or beating shit out of/shooting people in a book like ‘Divergent’.

      So. Fucked. up.

  • Natalia

    I had this rant to everyone that was willing to listen when I heard what The Hunger Games was rated. I had read all the books and then to see that it got a PG-13 rating just made me angry. I cannot believe we live in a society where it is not okay to talk about sex and drugs but we are so desensitised that you can talk about killing someone by bludgeoning them and it is all good (well there may be some looks but you get the point). They’ll probably explain it by thinking you are talking about the latest episode of a crime show. Which is my point exactly! Talk all you want about how this guy was brutally murdered but don’t say anything that refers to your sexuality or drugs or, what the awesome mama said above, a boner.

    Finishing high-school last year no one was even allowed to speak of those ‘taboo’ topics in essays or creative writing, because it was ‘inappropriate’, but you want to write a write a story on crime (it was even a topic)? Go ahead!

    My two-cents.

    • Misterkristoff

      I hear ya. We’re essentially still living under the societal controls instituted in the middle ages.

      Violence is fine. You indoctrinate a society with a familiarity and affinity for violence, it makes it easier to create soldiers. Soldiers fight wars, against the ‘heretic’ or the ‘invader’ or whatever boogeyman of the week we have.

      Drugs inspire free-thinking and the broadening of horizons (in certain circumstances). Our only legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) desensitize and kill us. The ones that might squeegee our third eye clean (to quote the late great Bill Hicks) are all contraband.

      And sex? Heaven forbid two people express their affection for each other physically. Hells, no. That shit is DOWNRIGHT UNWHOLESOME.

      Now where’s my gun?

  • Manon de Reeper

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ll leave it at that :p

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