“Adult” media: add violence, sex, bigotry, subtract plot

One thing I like to do is be meta. I’m meta like woah. You see that shit over there? I can relate it back to five social trends you’ve never heard of, then I’ll make a sarcastic joke about it tomorrow. In other words, I’m a kill-joy and I point out how deeply unoriginal shit is.

Know what is unoriginal? “Darkier and Edgier” plotlines. In the space of time between the ages of twelve and eighteen, shit gets real. We trade in cartoons and cute time-wasters for two-hour long epic movies about violence, violence, sex, how cool shit can look with CGI, boobies, violence, and more sex. If you follow this completely transparent and overdone formula, you’re guaranteed a high-grossing block-buster or an action movie so predictably awesome that the Oscar committee will totally suck your dick.

In short, as we age it seems that we demand our entertainment “age” with us. We want it to be more “mature”. What results is anything but. Advertising usually promises that reboots of old classics will be edgier and darker. They’re supposed to be more cynical, and acknowledge the complications and moral ambiguities of adult life. But time and time again, this isn’t what results. What we typically get is pure escapism: immature, fantastic, and utterly decadent satisfaction of our most infantile impulses. Jungian psychoanalysts could have a field-day with this shit.

As with Michael Bay’s clusterfuck of the Transformers reboot, the finished product is something that takes out the emotional and complex parts of the plot-lines that we all loved as children and replaces them with asinine dick jokes that only impress the likes of Beavis, Butthead, and their cabal of like-minded dude bros.

Sure, there’s movies that do touch on the many nuanced difficulties of adult life. These used to be Oscar-bait, but now they’re typically side-lined into the category of “indie” and never heard of again. For instance, the indie flick 500 Days of Summer offers a very realistic portrait of the life of a relationship, and includes a meaningful ending far more poignant than the typical rom-com. Instead, accolades are now showered upon movies like The Departed — an orgy of mobster violence — Avatar — a CGI masterpiece of a guilty liberal white fantasy — and The Blind Side — the story of a rich white woman and her large black plot device.

Sometimes, a plot will get a makeover by having several bad things happen to characters that are totally unlikely. These bad things are then used to force emotional tension and ham-handed character growth. A perfect example of such a Deux Angst Machina is the latest Spider Man’s veritable orgy of super villains packed into a single movie, or basically every disaster movie ever made. This may or may not be coupled with the usual Stuffed in A Fridge plot line, where the death or rape of a character, usually female — seen briefly or never on camera — is used to facilitate the character growth of another. Take Avatar, in which the male protagonist is motivated to go to Pandora because of the death of his twin. The twin, on the other hand, and his mourning for the loss of such an important figure in his life, is never fully developed. Actual emotional responses to death that don’t inspire gratitude displays of violent heroic angst — such as, you know, actually crying — have no place in “adult” media. Only fags cry.

Probably the most offensive manifestation of the larger phenomenon is the tendency to simply turn the sex, violence, misogyny, racism, and homophobia up to 11 and forget to hire a good writer. Bay’s Transformers is probably one of the best examples of this, but others include women-hating gun-happy action fests like Wanted, Dude Bro comedies featuring Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Judd Apatow, or Tucker Max, and every single James Bond movie ever made.

In the end, what separates adult entertainment from family-friendly fare is the level of maturity. If it features even slightly plausible writing, advocates some sort of positive ethics, and requires protagonists that are more than one-dimensional manifestations of massive self-entitlement — chances are that you’re either watching a movie rated no higher than PG-13 or some sort of artsy indie flick. If the bigotry is palpable, the plot nonexistent, the gore plentiful, the CGI gratuitous , and every single cast member that isn’t white, male, and heterosexual is used as a plot device, villain, or reward, then you’re watching a “mature” and “adult” movie.

Bottom-line: when you’re a kid, you’re expected to work hard, play fair, and learn things. When you’re an adult, you get to do whatever the fuck you please, cuss a lot, have sex with unrealistically good-looking women who only exist to further your shallow development or reward you for your self-entitlement, and reduce moral dilemmas to just doing incredibly illegal and totally immoral things because they look really cool.

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Posted on February 10, 2010, in Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Good points, Jenn. I’ve certainly noticed the thing about how, even though the stakes get so much higher in the “adult” action movies — characters die, kill, get grievously wounded and lose people they ostensibly love — the protagonists shake these things off as though they were nothing. I get that the Western heroic ideal involves stoicism, but to be stoic you have to actually have feelings that you’re keeping down. I don’t think most of these characters ever reach that level.

    With “Avatar,” the one thing I noticed about characters’ emotionality was kind of the opposite of what you saw; when the Na’vi characters lost someone dear to them — human(oid) or animal — they grieved. They slumped down on the ground and wailed. They cried, the men and the women. But you’re right that the Earthling characters were not like this. And having the aliens be like this, but not the Earthlings, joins up in a somewhat messy way with the racism in “Avatar,” where the aliens (who represent indigenous peoples) are these innocent, childlike Noble Savages who might be morally superior to the White Man but still need his help (in the form of Jake Sully) to keep their land and way of life.

    • I noticed that too about Avatar! It was really bizarre: I identified so much more with the Na’vi than the humans, because the humans didn’t show much emotion other than anger or stoicism.

  2. So, what I gather here, is you’re basically upset that in a movie, a male character that males are meant to identify with, doesn’t react to situations like a female.

    If Sully found out his brother was dead, then broke down and whined and cried for 3 hours, well, that’s not much of a movie. It’s also great if you want to alienate the majority of your male target audience, and then make another large percentage of female viewers uncomfortable, satisfying only a scant few feminists, who have this insane desire to see men act like women.

    The majority of men don’t react to situations with blubbering. If you want a woman’s reaction, watch a movie about, and/or for women. His reaction is believable to males, and not you. Why? Because to males, that’s how they’d respond. I know this might be shocking to you, but most men won’t just sit around wasting time crying. And it’s not because mean ol’ patriarchy “doesn’t let them”, like feminism would have you believe.

    • If you read my post, my problem is not that he didn’t break down and cry. I used the example of crying to bring up the point that he showed no emotion to the death of his twin. Also, your strawfeminist argument that I would appreciate 3 hours of a crying-fest has no basis in what I actually wrote.

      Men have emotional responses to people close to them dying. This is a fact. Women — shockingly! — also have emotional responses. Those responses vary according to the individual. I very much doubt that all men abstain from crying or outward displays of any emotion, or that women are always over-emotional wet blankets. The realm of off-hand generalizations about the grieving behaviors of individuals decided solely by genders was not a point that I touched on, at all in my post… which you would have caught if you were out to actually discuss the points I did raise, rather than the straw-feminist that is a figment of your imagination.

      My point, again (and you really should thank me for this, I have absolutely no obligation to re-explain what I have already explained, and do so as a gesture of my own kindness) is that the tendency of movies to use the death of important family members as a plot device is over-used and unrealistic. I have gathered from reality that most people have some sort of emotional response to the death of someone close to them, other than using it as an excuse to do all sorts of shit that looks cool on screen.

      His “reaction” isn’t believable to anyone because he doesn’t have a reaction in the first place! We get a voice-over narration of why he came to Pandora, in which he calmly explains the death of his brother. His brother is only mentioned in the contexts in which his death is useful for making Sully do cool shit. We actually never get to see Sully as a grieving brother, rather we just seem him as an automation of cool that is emotionlessly propelled towards greatness off the dead back of his twin.

      That’s not realistic, and it’s not “a male response”. It’s a plot device, and a lack of a response.

  3. That’s Hollywood.

    World cinema, as a whole, offers much more variety and subtlety. I especially like European cinema.

    A film like ‘Avatar’ is what it is. It obviously is not meant to be a paragon for realism in cinema. Also, all movies require that some practical conventions are imposed because of the time constraints, one of which is to exclude certain details which do not drive the plot. A movie maker has to assume that we as an audience can us our experience and imagination to make certain inferences about characters that they either do not have the time or inclination to put on screen and which are not essential to the plot. Maybe Jake Sully has already experienced the worst of his anguish about the death of his brother and has now calmed down. Maybe it has not hit home yet. Maybe he is so overwhelmed by the transcendental nature of this new experience with avatars that his reaction to his brother’s death has been compelled to take a back seat. Maybe he feels his involvement in his brother’s work brings him closer to his brother. It could also be the case that he was not particularly close to his brother, is not a particularly emotional person or is suffering from post-traumatic stress due to his experiences as a marine. The possibilities are endless. Really, there is no one or correct way individuals react to the bereavement of a sibling. The absence of a depiction of a reaction in a movie does not mean it did not occur in that fictional universe or that we cannot use our imaginations to make our own inferences. That’s part of the process of interacting with art generally. It’s a 2 way street.

    On another note, I think there is room for a particular style of creativity, its opposite and everything in between. Political and apolitical, moral and amoral, realism and fantasy etc. All have a place and are capable of producing outstanding, worthwhile work, but Hollywood is not a good place to look for it.

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