Friday, December 21, 2012

A note on Sex & Violence in Media Products

Snark about Wayne LaPierre's shoutouts to movies and video games that were released before Adam Lanza was in kindergarten aside, I find myself for the first having some sympathy (that's the one where you don't have direct experience with their situation, but you still acknowledge the validity of their emotions) for the "it's Hollywood's fault!" argument. Clearly I'm #gettingold. But let me try to work through some of this.

Let's state the obvious: there is no connection between the presence of violent video games or movies in a culture and actual, real world violence. In the same way that the overwhelming majority of gun owners understand that "gun control" means hitting your target and not firing willy-nilly, the overwhelming majority of gamers understand the difference between reality and playing a game. The difference is all in what happens when this breaks down. If someone gets drunk and decide to take it out on some n00bs by playing Halo 4, the worst thing that happens is they spew some racist/misogynist/homophobic stuff in voice chat. More people than ever are playing video games, the summer blockbusters have gotten bigger and more explosive, and yet violent crime is down since the days of Space Invaders. Likewise, if I end up channeling my pent-up rage into Call of Duty, no one dies except in a virtual world (NOTE: I don't have any pent-up rage and I suck at FPS's so I don't even play Call of Duty, making me approximately the only gamer who doesn't own a copy). What's more, as the production of media products has been democratized more generally, the need for all content to be produce child-appropriate has declined. In an era where your media options are network TV and the movie theater, it makes a little more sense to have the government set some standards so that everyone can watch what you produce. But today cheap cameras, cable, and the internet have made it easier than ever to produce and distribute video. Why bother requiring network TV to skimp on sex, violence, and foul language, when no one is watching them anyway?

When released to theaters, this farce
was rated PG-13. But there are
two F-bombs and naked lady parts in it,
so today it's R.
But it's true that something has changed in the past generation. The MPAA doesn't publish the reasons for giving out specific ratings, but my moviewatching suggests that the raters have become much more willing to tolerate violence, particularly violence without blood, in non-R movies, but much less willing to tolerate sex. A twitter follower pointed me towards Woman In Red, released shortly after the adoption of the PG-13 rating in 1984. There's brief female nudity, off-screen sex that can be heard but not seen, two F-bombs, and that's it. The movie was PG-13. It has since been re-rated R. On the flip side, The Dark Knight features some incredibly gruesome killings, but hey, there's very little blood shown on the screen, so it gets a PG-13 rating today. I would be very surprised if it would have merited an R rating in the '80s. Likewise for the more recent James Bond movies.

Now, I don't want to cast too much judgement on this cultural shift. It simply is what it is. But surely our resident utilitarian-hedonist has an opinion on whether a high violence/low sex versus low violence/high sex media environment is better for humanity.
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