Bigger shock factors, “mature” topics, darker themes… but there’s something just not right about the trend of sexual violence in cinema.
Mature written content warning.
The first Hunger Games movie for me was a bit of an interesting concept. The centre of The Hunger Games is about a world which has had all war between nations replaced by the selection of representatives from their different factions fighting it out instead. The Games are live broadcast, full of commentary, fashion, and a large-scale production crew aiming to entertain the viewer. The story makes a lot of interesting points about a civilization that would find the notion of children killing each other entertaining… which is always a bit weird that we the viewer engage with the story in order to be entertained by a presentation of children killing each other… Interesting concept either way.
I guess what it is really putting forward is that it is amazing what people will class as entertainment.
I do enjoy a good movie. You probably do too if you’re reading this post about cinema. There’s something about being able to enjoy the story of a powerful narrative, laugh at a well-written comedy, or just even escape from the busyness of life for a few hours and allow your mind to be stimulated by this other world.
In recent years, there has definitely been a notable shift in the content produced on film, and even in television and games. No longer are some of those “bigger” topics taboo – in fact, the number of shows about drug-driven lifestyles, disturbing mental disorders, and sexual situations and conditions has gone through the roof. Content producers have clued into the fact that people enjoy engaging with some of these “more mature” pieces of content. TV companies such as HBO and Showtime have almost exclusively switched over the content they produce for an older market.
Of course, in order to engage an adult audience, story tellers, actors, and networks make a concerted effort to really “go there” and shock and wow audiences with their graphic depictions of these issues. I remember reading an article recently that TV shows were increasing their pursuit of actors and actresses with backgrounds in adult films for their willingness to depict the scenarios the stories being put forward necessitate. And some of the most violent scenes in recent memory have actually come from your night time drama.
I know, I’m not really telling you anything you don’t already know. Where once the older crowd was entertained by shows like Seinfeld, Letterman or Friends, you’ll find most of that market today dominated by Dexter, Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. It’s a different landscape in television.
I’ve been finding myself recently really taken back by the introduction of a rating classification in Australia (and it’s probably the same in your part of the world) denoted as “sv” – sexualized violence. This is usually given to movies, TV shows and games that contain depictions of rape or physical abuse, and usually which do so in explicit detail. Usually if the event is merely inferred or alluded to, the movie (or whatever it is) will just be given a “Mature themes” advisory instead.
I guess there are two trains of thought on the inclusion of these sorts of scenes in our media. The first would be those who see it as something that’s part of our society, or perhaps they even see it as something that’s a good thing. There are those would suggest that such scenes are a reflection of our relationships (with sexual violence being a shockingly increasing statistic between both men and women). Others would say that they provide those with such thoughts a “healthier” outlet for their desires. Others would see these elements as key parts of story telling and necessary to engage a contemporary audience. Such people also have a large volume of sales to back up their claims.
But me personally… I have to say that the trend of sexual violence in cinema really has to stop. Here are some reasons I think so. Feel free to agree or disagree with any of them as you see fit.
We belittle real life scenarios
Let’s just get one thing out of the way straight up – rape is not a laughing matter. In Australia, CASA highlights that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of some form of sexual assault, whether it be violation by a stranger, a partner, or a family member. That’s just startling. It’s a traumatic experience that leaves the victim scarred, many times for the rest of their lives. And yet here we are content to put rape scenes in our films and games that last for several minutes, that don’t necessarily depict the situation as negative, but often as one that empowers the offender.
We allow ourselves to be entertained by a reality which has destroyed so many real lives.
Or take human trafficking for instance. Perhaps the biggest of relationship problems to ever exist – real men and women… and children, held against their will, locked up and used from sun up to sun down, sometimes living this way for the rest of their lives. The depiction of such content exacerbates the root issue of human trafficking and almost encourages the audience to see the behaviour as tolerable (except for films like Taken which aren’t explicit in their negative portrayal of the perpetrators). It is one of the darkest perversions of romantic relationships to exist, and one that is all too often minimized because some TV show needed to flesh it out in detail for you to understand what was going on.
Oh, but we need “mature content” that’s “edgy and gripping”. I don’t think there’s anything mature about belittling and being entertained in detail by something that completely ruins hearts and lives.
We condition ourselves to see it as normal
Cinema is an interesting medium. On the one hand, cinema is often a reflection of the times. Stories told within often reflect the experiences of the authors, and the most successful films usually reflect the thoughts of a majority of their viewers.
On the other hand, cinema can also condition its audience into seeing things from a certain perspective. We’ve all seen those movies that have challenged us and made us think about who we are and what we believe. Films have the power to invade the mind with imagery and stories that captivate the heart and also have the power to alter the mind. Many of us would be able to point to a couple of movies with scenes that have stayed with us forever, for better or worse.
It’s amazing how these issues used to be so taboo to talk about, but are now so normal to see on our TV screens and at the movies. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are being conditioned by the images we invite into our lives, through both the overt and the subtle nuances of storytelling.
I wonder if what we’re conditioning ourselves to are the right things.
We find it altering our sexual appetite
You know what’s crazy is that CASA found that 93 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence were men (ps. the study I’m referencing is from here). Hello?! Does that not alarm you the way it alarms me? I’m a man. Does that mean I’m more likely to commit an act of sexual violence? And if I am, am I aware of the things that can move me in that direction?
Say what you will about rape fantasy, but at the end of the day it’s usually the problem of feeling powerless or unloved in your own life and looking to find what you need somewhere else, and because you can’t get it by doing what you’re doing now (or so you feel), you have to take it by force. And enter films that know exactly what these psychological issues are telling them about what men really want, and you have a recipe for supply meeting demand. And through the power of mirror-neurons, you feel the feelings of the image you see, and you find yourself finding a temporary fix in a darker place than you expected.
Gents, we’ve got to guard ourselves from such portrayals of violence. Think of how many men we have today who have destroyed a woman’s life, or another man’s life, or a child’s life, through a forced sexual act. Consider the ridiculously high statistics of domestic violence.
What sort of man do you want to be? If you really want to be a man who protects others, stands strong and commands respect, you can’t be playing with fire and thinking one day it’s not going to burn you (or someone else).
We’re telling them it has a market
At the end of the day, the main reason why there is an increasing trend of sexual violence in cinema is because there is a market for it. Shows, games and movies with explicit depictions of sexual violence sell like hotcakes. And continued patronage will send the message that it will continue to do so.
What are your thoughts on the increasing trend of sexual violence in cinema? Do you agree with it or disagree with it?