Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hypocrisy in storytelling

In case you don't know already, I love horror movies. Anything even remotely dark, disturbing, or twisted will probably appeal to me. I love morbid, violent slashers -- the higher the body count, the better. But there's something about this fandom that bothers me on a moral level.

Okay, so maybe my own morals are a bit off from what people expect. And I'm certainly in no position to judge others for their taste. But I've noticed something funny about other fans of these violent movies (and even books and TV shows) that I'm uncomfortable with. I'll give a few examples.

-- on a messageboard for John Carpenter's supernatural thriller The Ward, set in a mental hospital, a poster complained about a shower scene that involved naked women but no actual nudity on screen. If they can show blood and gore, why can't they show nudity as well?
-- In an interview, actor Jon Bernthal (who played Shane on The Walking Dead, before his untimely demise) was talking about a sex scene between his character and another. He mentioned that only a certain amount of skin could be shown on screen during a sex scene, so it had to be very carefully planned out for the cameras. He noted how funny it was that the show could depict zombies and humans alike getting killed in horrible ways, but not a full sex scene.
-- In a video review of Catching Fire (which is technically not horror but still decidedly violent), a book blogger I otherwise admire complained that the two f bombs in the movie were bleeped. She seemed to be convinced that this was done to keep the movie's desired PG-13 rating, and noted how ironic it was that they could show children being murdered, but not drop more than one or two f bombs. Never mind that the character who dropped said f bombs was being interviewed on national television, and it's perfectly plausible that her language would have been censored for the people of Panem. Not to mention one, maybe even two f bombs would have been fine for a PG-13, and they could have easily been left in as is. But because they're bleeped, hypocrisy is automatically assumed, with no thought to the fact that it could have been part of the story.

It's not exactly a new argument -- people seem to think that our nation's morals are totally hypocritical and screwed up. Why are we so casual about violence, but not about sex or foul language?

I'll give you another example -- John Green's bestselling novel THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. I was going to use 50 SHADES OF GREY, but it is actually quasi violent and deals with BDSM, so it's not a good example. TFIOS, on the other hand, is a romance. The primary plot line follows two cancerous teenagers falling in love. Not exactly a violent book. Yes (spoiler alert!) there is sex in the book and, as far as I know, nobody has really complained about that. Yet nobody has complained about the lack of violence in the book either.

So, let me get this straight -- it's perfectly okay for a book about love/romance/sex to not have violence. But when a movie about violence/horror doesn't have sex in it, it's hypocritical? It seems like the people so quick to accuse writers and filmmakers and even America of hypocrisy have forgotten what books and movies are really about -- telling a good story.

I'm not morally opposed to sex on screen, or even sex in general. But I don't normally care to see it either. It's just a personal preference -- it doesn't appeal to me like it does to some people. And if it did, I would watch movies and TV shows and read books where the story called for a lot of sex.

But sex scares me. I've always believed, like many people, that it should go hand in hand with relationships, and relationships scare me. I've never been very good at them, romantic or otherwise. The thought of being so close to someone makes me uncomfortable. Yet because I love violence in movies and not sex, a lot of people would assume I'm just a hypocrite or a prude. They don't understand how much that gets to me, that this is a very real fear of mine. It hurts to have it written off or even mocked -- especially in a world where sex is everywhere and I have to pretend like it's totally normal or risk being labeled and judged.

I have read books where characters didn't have sex and it felt contrived and weird to leave it out. But just because a story is violent but not sexual (or even involving other controversial things like swearing) doesn't mean it's hypocritical. It bothers me that people seem to automatically assume hypocrisy because a story has one controversial or inappropriate thing, but not another. Why does a story about violence or monsters have to have sexual content in it? It might -- but it might not, and leaving out a sex scene or lots of swearing because putting it in would be gratuitous and not serve the story well would be silly and not very good storytelling.

As for Catching Fire, I was actually kind of upset when I learned there would be not one, but two f bombs dropped in the movie. The word doesn't appear a single time in the books, which take place hundreds of years in the future -- who knows if they're even part of the normal vocabulary in Panem? But when I learned they would be said by Johanna Mason, I decided to keep an open mind. If any Hunger Games character would use foul language, it would be Johanna. And the way she screams "FUCK YOU" in the middle of her interview is brilliant. Sure, you could argue that it was hypocritical of the Capitol to allow the murder of children but not an f bomb or two on TV. But come on, it's not like you're supposed to be rooting for the Capitol anyway.

So please, before you assume hypocrisy, think about storytelling and being gratuitous. Every word, every scene, every single little thing has to be important. And if someone loves violence but doesn't want to see a lot of sex, don't assume they're hypocrites. You don't know why a person likes what they do, or why they are the way they are. There is nothing wrong with telling a story the way it needs to be told -- even if it's not the way you wanted the story to go.

Rant over.

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