I’m a guy, and as you know my people are genetically predisposed to preferring that which is visually pleasing (If you don’t like that, ladies, take it up with God). In Hollywood especially, there are all sorts of females who qualify as visually pleasing. So sex scenes are just the natural method of showcasing the beautiful and, combined with even a moderately good story, make for better entertainment. Right?
I don’t think so.
For the record, I assert no moral authority in this discussion. I’ve sat through the multiple scenes in Game of Thrones, for instance, to be disqualified from taking the church road against sex in entertainment. My argument centers a bit on the moral but more on making good stories. What I’ve found is steamy scenes starring youthful, well-toned bodies (with the retinal-burning exception of Kathy Bates in About Schmidt) aren’t necessary. You could remove these parts entirely, or recut them to show implied sex, and maintain every ounce of the story.
We know why they’re there, of course: To titillate, and draw a crowd. Basic Instinct, 1992’s immensely successful hit, is a prime example. But would the world have taken as much notice of the Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone movie had they not shown every inch of Sharon Stone? No genius required here but we’re now all thinking about the interrogation scene, aren’t we? Would you have liked the movie less — and would the studio have made all of its nearly $118 million worldwide — if the camera had been behind her?
Literature is the same. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix stopped at kissing, but this and the entire series continue to entertain immensely. Fifty Shades of Gray, however, is almost entirely sex, with only a modest attempt at a story. Here’s Amazon’s description:
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
This book is intended for mature audiences.
Get that? We delve into Grey‘s and Steel’s demons, which may give us a bit of entertainment as far as fiction goes, but can we not do that without sex — and not just sex, but explicit descriptions that withhold not a single detail? Are today’s authors not that talented? By the way, E.L. James, the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, has earned a reported post-tax $43-45 million. Not bad for Twilight‘s college years, but nowhere near the world’s first billion-dollar author J.K. Rowling.
Perhaps we could use children as a metric. In other words, if you wouldn’t want your children watching a movie because of its sex scene(s) and swear words, cut them out and see what’s left. If the story stands, the show gets an “A.” If not, dump it. By the way, Hollywood, if the moral or artistic arguments don’t persuade you, how about the financial? According to Deseret News and Box Office Mojo, nearly 60 of the top 100 grossing movies of all time are rated G and PG. Only five were rated R.
Oh, but then you ask, “What about violence in entertainment? Is that bad?” Lately I don’t mind letting my children watch certain movies with brutal scenes. You might call this hypocritical but — maybe it’s me being a dad of daughters — I have less of a problem with them watching violent movies as I do anything involving sex. If I had to choose between Lone Survivor or Showgirls, it’s not a contest. To me, as long as the good guys win, violent movies are good to go — with the possible exception of full-on, Tarantino-esque blood gushers (again, does it add to the story?). These days, all I want to do is prevent my girls from seeing the tawdry. That, and the Cialis commercials while watching the Broncos. Thanks, NFL.
I am not calling for censorship. I am calling on creators to be more creative.