Monday, March 16, 2009

Lacking historical perspective

On Friday, Margaret put up a post about the slash flick Last House on The Left, which contains a graphic rape scene and garnered only an R rating. A blogger on Missbehave took exception to the post which -- as Jezebel's movie review round-up posts generally do -- featured quotes from other reviewers about whatever the main issue of the film is.
Sometimes I just don’t fucking get Jezebel, they’re pissed that a movie based on a story involving rape includes a rape? That it only got a R rating?

I’m gonna say it right now, I was raped and I’m a feminist and I have no fucking problem with rape scenes in a movie. Are we supposed to pretend that rape doesn’t happen? Will that make it go away? No it won’t. Fuck, I enjoy seeing rapists brutally murdered, don’t you? And also why should rape, be NC17? Unless it’s insanely graphic it’s no different from any other violent act in a film.
I mean, first off, some basic knowledge of whether the rape scene was as graphic as every single reviewer agreed that it was -- more so than the other violent acts in the film -- would have been helpful. Second off, the difference between an R rating and an NC-17 rating is that parents are not allowed to bring children to the latter. Anyone who hasn't seen too-young children in a violent, R-rated movie (Mel Gibson's crucifixion movie anyone?) obviously doesn't go to movies that much.

The other thing comes from me being old. The NC-17 rating was developed in response to the movie Henry and June, for its "graphic" portrayals of consensual lesbian sex. By "graphic," it was meant that the movie portrayed 2 women kissing, one of whom was bare-breasted. It also portrayed one of those women sleeping with multiple partners, none of which was particularly graphic. If one peruses the list of movies given NC-17 ratings, one notices rather a theme, which is that movies that garner the rating for "explicit" sexuality -- usually consensual, usually, frankly, involving portrayals of women engaging in sexual behavior defined as "promiscuous" -- can rarely re-edit and get an R rating, whereas the vast majority of violent movies can and are re-edited to get an R-rating and lose little violence as a result of that editing, which is widely viewed in Hollywood as both a wrist-slapping and a way to generate more publicity for the teen boys which are widely considered to be the audience for ultra-violent movies.

There are plenty of movies out there with graphic and repulsive rape scenes -- The General's Daughter, if one likes exploitative, and Heaven & Earth, if one prefers thoughtfulness in the depiction, and, in fact, a not-particularly-graphic quasi-rape scene in Henry & June -- and very few movies that have them garner NC-17 ratings. However, when a movie portrays a woman having sex in a consensual fashion without heed to the restrictions of society (or the MPAA Ratings Board), or portrays homosexual acts in a graphic fashion (other than in Bound, where both actresses were known heterosexuals), or any consensual act outside of a very limited range of heteronormative masculine sexuality, those movies often garner NC-17 ratings.

For a more mainstream comparison, please compare Pulp Fiction's non-graphic love scene of a woman asking for and receiving oral sex (notably, the same actress from Henry & June) instead of penetrative vaginal intercourse and the graphic depiction of rape. One they cut away from, and one they show in all its horror (in addition to the violence), which sends the message that one is taboo and the other acceptable. That's the problem, regardless of whether it's in the exploitation genre or features an equally graphic portrayal of the Biblical "eye for an eye" after the rape.

Being raped doesn't make one a feminist, and watching movies with rape scenes in them doesn't make a person not a feminist. But neither does a knee-jerk defense of America's movie-industrial complex's right to decide that violent rape scenes are appropriate for children if their parents agree, and to decide that consensual sexuality is not if it doesn't portray sex in a certain light.


4th & 26 said...

That, and showing a dude's unit, either limp or hard, will usually garner a NC-17 rating. Women's bits, not so much. But I think Jezebel covered this ground, too!

Ryan said...

I don't know wangs have been showing up in all sorts of R movies. From Judd Apatow flicks to Watchmen. Of course that's generally comedic nudity.

Arman said...

This is an excellent description of the bullshit that is the movie rating system. It reminds me of Bill Hicks' bit on why drugs like mushrooms and pot are illegal, whereas ones like cigarettes and alcohol are legal. For one reason or another, the government is OK with drugs that are addictive and destructive but not OK with ones that can change your perspective (though obviously both pot and mushrooms have their downsides; I'm painting with a broad brush).

The films rating institute was set up to protect cultural norms, and a healthy, open focus on the sexuality of women or homosexuals is not in line with the preferences of those who dominate our culture.

I mean, can you imagine what would happen if people were altering their consciousness and women in general started expecting and demanding sexual satisfaction and respect? There's be no time for war or the pursuit of material excess because everyone would be too busy giggling and performing cunnilingus! Western civilization as we know it would end!

Shannon said...

There is an awesome documentary called "This Film is Not Yet Rated" that goes into depth about how whacked out the MPAA ratings system is. Examples, much like you cited: Sex is rated far more harshly than violence. Indies are dinged for more questionable content (and given nebulous or no answers about how to edit the film for a lower rating) than are mainstream Hollywood releases. Etc. etc. If you've not seen it, definitely worth a look.