In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Sex and Violence

One thing that’s always bothered me about Western culture is the fact that we are much more lenient toward violence in our art than we are toward sex. It’s okay to show some action hero running around, blowing holes through people’s bodies with a sawed-off double barrel shotgun; hell, you can even get away with showing full-on autopsies, complete with people’s lungs and intestines getting shoved into the camera. But heavens forbid if you want to show people playing with each other’s pubic or anal regions; that stuff is just “unacceptable.” This has always seemed ass-backwards to me; isn’t sex better and less revolting than violence? Isn’t it better to make love, not war? And if sex is really so “shameful,” why do advertising agencies keep using it to make us buy their products all the time? (For Duat’s sake, even soap commercials do it!)


Mind you, I have no ethical concerns with onscreen violence in and of itself. I prefer that it be both tasteful in its execution and necessary to the plot, and I consider it a bonus when it’s shown to have serious consequences. But I’m not above enjoying the more cartoonish forms of violence that are out there, either; if I see anything that offends me, I’ll just stop watching it. Here’s what really bothers me, though: we can discuss ultraviolent movies like Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) at my family’s Christmas parties, and no one will care. There’ll be little children present, and yet none of the adults will see anything wrong with discussing a movie where people get shredded into flesh confetti. But try to imagine what might happen if I were to bring up something like Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013) in the same situation. (Nymphomaniac is all about sex, and the sex scenes are unsimulated, though they are digitally enhanced with body doubles.) I’ll tell you what would happen: my in-laws would be morally outraged, that’s what!

Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss sex or violence around little children. My personal rule is that I won’t watch or even discuss R-rated stuff in the presence of anyone who isn’t at least 11 years of age. However, I honestly think I’d have an easier time explaining sex to a kid than violence. At least the human reproductive process makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things; but no matter how much I read about it, the Holocaust never will. If it weren’t for sex, none of us would be here; if it weren’t for violence, many of us still would be. So as far as I’m concerned, violence should always trump sex in the hierarchy of taboos.



2 responses to “Sex and Violence

  1. Aleph July 7, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    I think things are slightly different these days, where people actually get “triggered” not simply by violence but by the wrong kind of violence. Increasingly, people think the idea that a female fictional character can be a depicted in a violent or threatening situation is considered unacceptable, while the same standard isn’t applied to male characters. Just look at the controversy surrounding the cover of a Batman comic where Batgirl is depicted as helpless, or the more recent one over a billboard of X-Men Apocalypse where Mystique is depicted as being grappled by the neck by the main villain. It’s petty, but the outcry speaks to a mentality that some violence is acceptable to depict but others not so. It’s the same with sex and “objectification” to a degree. We have a gender-based double-standard to these things as well. But this may well also be a symptom of how easily offended, not to mention insulated, people seem to be becoming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian July 7, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      I think the issue for many of the people who single out those examples you’ve cited is that they can be construed as depictions of sexual violence, which ranks even higher in my personal hierarchy of taboos than “normal” violence (if I may call it such). The argument is that whether such an evocation is intentional or not upon the part of the artists, it is inherent due to the prevailing patriarchal basis of Western culture. Indeed, whenever sexual violence is depicted in commercial art, it is almost always perpetuated against female characters who are shown in varying states of undress. (I literally can’t think of any exceptions at the moment, though I’m sure there’s probably a few.) And inevitably, such imagery is always targeted at heterosexual male viewers – specifically in the 13-25 age range, or thereabouts – who pretty much dictate what the most successful films, TV shows and comic books will be. (Hence the sheer volume of such imagery.) Admittedly, the reasons for this are more complex than even I currently understand, but I can at least identify some other symptoms of the same problem – just one of them being the fact that female screenwriters, directors and producers continue to be outnumbered astronomically by their male counterparts.

      Now I haven’t paid attention to the works you’ve mentioned myself, so I’m not in any position to defend or criticize them in particular. There are films I enjoy that contain sexualized violence and that the women in my life also enjoy – usually because the violence is pretty tame, or the intended audience is clearly for adults and not children. (Perhaps the issue here is that the X-Men are supposed to be family-appropriate?) So I’m not arguing that the presence of such content is intrinsically problematic across the board. I do feel it’s important to listen to women when they offer criticisms thereof, however. I would like to see more feminist commercial art in the world, and preferably some that men can enjoy too. (This is one of the reasons I really enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road last year.)


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