There’s always somebody out to control your life. Jack Black addressed this in the 2003 movie “School of Rock.”
Dewey Finn : “Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can’t win. Yeah, you can try, but in the end you’re just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the Man.“
Frankie : ” Who?”
Dewey Finn : ” The Man. Oh, you don’t know the Man? He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall… Ms. Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, and he’s burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man, it was called rock ‘n roll. But guess what? Oh no. The Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool, or pure, or awesome, ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just GIVE UP!”
Is the Man still at it, always out to get us? Are there people who are still trying to control how we think, how we reproduce, how we act at parties, sporting events, college functions, and so on? The answer is, of course, a resounding “yes” on an increasingly global scale.
I’m going to confine my discussion to just one area where the Man is so obviously at work: movies and to a lesser extent, television. I’m 74 years old and have seen media go from the very first cathode ray tube televisions to the high-definition smart TVs of today. I’ve watched movie theaters go from grainy black-and-white motion pictures to today’s iMax and Dolby theater systems. More importantly, the transition from celluloid film projectors to the Sony digital theater displays has made the movie business global in every respect. Nowadays, any famous movie produced here in America is simultaneously dubbed into Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, and other languages so that the motion picture can be premiered everywhere on the same day. To distribute the film, they download it via the Internet directly to the theater in New Delhi. The money to be made in this instant international marketplace is beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.
Today’s mass-market movies (and television) are being sanitized of any sexuality whatsoever. I’m not the first person to notice this. Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday addressed this in a summertime op-ed titled “Sex is disappearing from the big screen, and it’s making movies less pleasurable.” Here’s a link to her piece, though be warned that the Washington Post has a paywall.
In her essay, Hornaday lamented that ” U.S. audiences were flocking to see “John Wick 3,” in-between making “Avengers: Endgame” and “Aladdin” huge hits. One of them a dark, fetishistically violent thriller, one a live-action comic book, one a Disney fairy tale, all resolutely sex-free.”
Now I can understand Disney being resolutely sex-free, that’s always been their brand. Marvel Comics, on the other hand, has always been rebellious, with most of its female super heroes and villains erotically presented. That’s now gone with the wind after Disney bought Marvel lock, stock, and barrel a few years ago.
Likewise for Star Wars. Who can forget the sexiness of Princess Leia in her “slave Leia” costume in the Empire Strikes Back?
So, do we see anything like that in the new Disney Star Wars films? Absolutely not, and I mean no disrespect for Daisy Ridley, who is quite enjoyable as Rey in the recent films.
I’m seeing the same desexualization in today’s television. After the sexual revolution of the sixties, it was commonplace for some TV performers to present themselves as sexually alluring. For instance, consider Farrah Fawcett of Charlie’s Angels and Jennifer Anniston of Friends.
Putting it more delicately, you can observe that these women have nipples, just like you and me. And sure, the “pokies,” as they are described today, are alluring, but so are the actresses’ perfect complexions, prominent limbal ring in their eyes, lustrous hair, washboard abs, and other elements of their beauty. Are we seeing anything like this in today’s television? Once again, absolutely not. If you look at TV shows and movies today, you’ll see the use of self-sticking silicone nipple shields to make female nipples disappear. These things are $25 on Amazon.
It’s not the end of the world if some actress’ nipples are subjected to an invisibility cloak. Still, I imagine that if I were an actress, I’d be irritated at being required to stick these things on while my male co-star was not.
The real question is “why is this happening, who is doing it, and what are the ramifications?”
You might think that this is the result of President Trump’s mob of evangelical red hats. Their leaders have always wanted to keep women home in their prairie dresses, pregnant, and cooking dinner, but I doubt they’re the culprits here. Every year, PornHub reports that, without fail, their best customers are the bible-belt states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and so on. They may nod their heads every Sunday as the preacher rails about the evils of pornography, but they go home and watch reruns of Daisy Duke in her busting at the seams T-shirts and short-shorts, and log on to Porn Hub when the wife has fallen asleep. Nope, I give them a pass here.
More than likely, the culprit is a person with an MBA degree running a spreadsheet for one of the media corporations, like Disney, Apple, Sony, Paramount, et. al. These people are motivated by greed only, never artistic expression. They research what movies will give the biggest rate-of-return. Sadly, the answer is consistently sequels and non-controversial, sex-free movies.
Green-lighting sequels makes good business sense. The sequel has a guaranteed audience, the actors are usually locked into a multi-picture deal, and the special effects department has gigabytes of visual-effects files available. The Star Wars, Star Trek, Avengers, Superman, Batman, and James Bond films are examples of lucrative sequel mongering; they are sure winners. The problem is that sequels are the bane of originality. You sit in the theater and wonder, “haven’t I seen this before?”
OK, so why then are movies and television being rendered sex-free? The answer is simple, China. China is the second-largest movie audience in the world. The potential for profit exhibiting movies in China is massive.
The problem is that China is also puritan. It is one of the most state-controlled societies on the planet. China’s government is heading into 1984 territory these days as there are Internet-connected cameras everywhere, doing facial recognition. If you participate in an unsanctioned demonstration (or refuse to go to a government event), they identify you and enter you into their database. They are creating a “citizen report card” where you are scored for being a good citizen or a trouble-maker. I’ve read that once in place, the citizen scorecard system will come with sanctions, including taxes for bad behavior.
A totalitarian government will always try to control all aspects of your life. This interference is nothing new; we’ve seen it for millennia with religion. The religion I was born into, Roman Catholicism, has a phrase “Your Life in Christ.” They have rules for every aspect of life, like sex and reproduction, foods, costumes, etc.
China may be an atheist society, but they act like any religion. They fostered a “one family – one child” regulation decades ago, and it failed miserably. Mainly, the restriction upset the 50/50 spread of males versus females born, shading to more males than females. Now there aren’t enough females available for men to marry; supposedly, there are over 30 million Chinese men who have no chance of finding a mate.
China is also prudish by our standards. I love Chinese movies and watch them all the time on Netflix and Prime Video. They are epic, with attractive people and dazzling special effects. That said, those movies are devoid of any sexuality (Girls don’t have nipples in Chinese films either). Explicit sex scenes are verboten in China.
So it looks like American movie studios are green-lighting big-budget films that cater to China’s censorship requirements. In effect, they are forcing American audiences to lower our movie standards to the least common denominator, material approved by the Chinese censor.
I believe that there should be movies and television shows for grownups. Films that present people and relationships honestly where characters curse like adults, have sex like adults, and deal with adult problems. These days, you can see this entertainment at Independent Cinema. This summer, a Julianne Moore film, Gloria Bell, played at my local theater for two weeks. It had an R-rated sex scene and only grossed just $11 million at the box office.
Another film I wanted to see, Susperia, only played at one theater 45 minutes away, for five days. Yeah, it had a witch’s orgy at the end but there were excellent performances from Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson.
You can see these indie films on Netflix and sometimes Amazon Prime videos, but they are slowly being excluded from the theater chains in favor of the sure-bet, Chinese approved sequels.
I have great admiration for the Chinese people and their contributions to science, the fine arts, transportation, manufacturing, and so on. I just don’t think they should have any control over what I can watch in a movie theater. If this keeps up, I’ll just quit attending movie theaters with their sex-free Chinese-approved movies and stick to streaming my entertainment.