September 07, 2006

Movies, Sex, and War

A new documentary, it seems, reveals some double standards in the ratings handed out by the MPAA:
For example, scenes of women receiving oral sex… are far more likely to earn a film an NC-17 rating than images of their male counterparts getting similarly serviced. Same-sex couples are also subject to far harsher scrutiny than straight ones. A split-screen montage in the [documentary] makes this point by juxtaposing near-identical scenes from two different films at a time, one featuring gay sex, the other straight; invariably, the gay movie gets an NC-17 rating, the straight one a PG-13.
I'm shocked! A good follow-up question, of course, is whether this disparity merely reflects certain misogynistic and homophobic beliefs and attitudes in this country, or whether it actually reinforces and bolsters those beliefs. I guess it's a tricky thing to figure out, especially since Americans in general seem to be getting less misogynistic and homophobic over time. But again, is that because, for instance, more and more sympathetic gay characters are cropping up in films and television? Which causes which?

At any rate, I tend to fret more about the oft-cited fact that the MPAA cracks down harder on sex than it does on violence. Movies are pretty shockingly and gratuitously violent these days. And I don't think that makes individual people more violent, or more likely to commit crime, or more likely to kill someone. But it could matter on a political level. America, needless to say, has a belligerent warmongering streak ten miles wide. War—at least when we're kicking ass—is appallingly popular in this country. Should we blame movies for this?

Here's another thought. Antulio Echevarria once pointed out that the U.S. military "is geared to fight wars as if they were battles, and thus confuses the winning of campaigns... with the winning of wars." British strategist Colin Gray has argued that Americans "are wont to regard war and peace as sharply distinctive conditions" and during wartime tend to focus solely on defeating enemies on the battlefield, worrying about peace and politics later—essentially believing all that stuff will sort itself out once ass has been duly kicked. That, of course, is a mistaken notion, as Iraq made clear. But it also sounds like the plot of roughly every action movie ever made. And those action movies are pretty damn popular in this country. Coincidence?

I'm just wondering. Then again, Charles Loeffler pointed out last year that, contrary to what experts feared, the popularity of shows such as CSI and Law and Order have virtually no effect on the way people think about criminal law, or how they act when serving on juries, so maybe this semi-Marxist notion that our ruling elites are using Hollywood to foster an imperialist ideology among the masses is totally wrong. Still, it sounds plausible.
-- Brad Plumer 11:14 AM || ||