Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sex vs. Violence

You know, people have been asking for over a generation now about our society's predilection for violence and aversion to sex. George Carlin riffed rather memorably about this the year I was born:

In the middle of this 'Seven Words You Can't Say On Television' routine, Carlin says

"People much wiser than I have said 'I'd rather have my son watch a film with two people making love than two people trying to kill one another'..."

Where are these wise parents, anyway? Forty one years on, they'll still a distinct minority. Or so it seems.

What brought this on? A post by Mark Frauenfelder on regarding my favourite television show, Game of Thrones, the third season of which is coming up in a little over a month. Apparently there are multiple censored versions out there for the pirating. One of them has the sex and nudity removed, as well as the "extreme" swearing. No word on whether the occasionally graphic violence has been  nixed as well. Somehow I doubt it.

Fruenfelder says of his nine year old daughter

She begs us to let her watch the show. I wish she could watch it, too, but I don't want her to see the sex and nudity scenes. (I don't really mind her seeing the violent scenes.)

It's the inconsistency here that I don't get. Game of Thrones is inspired by the Wars of the Roses, in the 1400s...not a time you'd want to try and live through. The violence was (and is, in the show, frequent, and often brutal. As for sex, well, we're human beings, right? Sexual creatures. There's this tendency I've noticed: a lot of people seem to believe the Victorian era's prudishness extended back into prehistory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hell, the Victorians themselves were only prudes in public. And sexuality goes back much further. Much, much further. Don't believe me? Check out the
often filthy graffiti from Pompeii, ca. 79 CE; recall that the Kama Sutra was collated into its present form not much later in a different part of the world; going back even further, here's an ancient Egyptian copy of Playboy (ca. ~1150 BCE); hell, you could find sex all over the place in Paleolithic cave art.
We've been sexual creatures for a long, long time. It is, after all, how we make more of us.

I find it odd that any parent would willingly subject their nine year old to graphic violence, yet get all squirmy as soon as the skin comes out. Is it because I'm not a parent myself? If a stork magically dropped a bundle of joy into our house -- and at this point, that's what it would take -- would I suddenly turn into an overprotective prude?

I'd like to think not. I'd like to think that my mindset is based on reason. Reason has shown us over and over again that if you're looking to audition your teen for 16 and Pregnant, the best way to do it is to withhold as much information about sex as you can.

Now, I'm not suggesting I'd load up some hardcore porn site and let my hypothetical nine-year old, girl or boy, run amok on it. Nor would I necessarily want my kid watching something like Game of Thrones alone. There's bound to be questions, and I'd kind of want to be there to provide levelheaded answers. In the case of the porn site, "no, honey, that's not typical" (where "that" is any number of things). As for Game of Thrones, I'd be there to put the violence -- and the sex, for that matter -- in context.

A comment to that BoingBoing post, by "Ethan Holman", is so good I believe I'm going to steal it:

It's like I always say: Only the most disturbed and broken of children will grow up to participate in acts of a sexual nature, but virtually every well adjusted human being will commit multiple gruesome acts of violence over the course of their lives. So it just makes sense that we protect our children from nipples and moaning.


Vic 2.0 said...

I would say the sex/nudity is infinitely worse, generally speaking, than the violence. Here's why:

Young kids are more ready to see violence in the media than sex. Yes, that's right! I just said I'd rather my three-year old son see someone getting their head blown off than to see two people having sex. Why? Because while neither image is necessarily good for a child to see, violence in general is a very simple lesson for kids. "You don't hit", sometimes "You don't hurt people". This is not only simple but consistent with his understanding of the world as he grows up. Telling him "Sex is bad" is not only untrue but a very literally Puritan way of addressing the topic; yet it's the only way of addressing it to a toddler who needs to somehow know what they're doing on screen he's not supposed to do.

There are a great many societal and legal deterrents of violence. It is almost always frowned upon if not punished in a big way. People understand (again from a very early age) that if they are violent, they almost certainly will be made to regret it. Sometimes even self-defense is punished, which is a testament of many things but one being our general intolerance of violence. Compare this to our general acceptance of sexual activity, including activity we can almost guarantee we'll regret! The media is chock-full of promotions of sexual promiscuity, or at least the promotion that it is normal, and so it is closer to being normal in the "real world" today than violence ever will be. This is why among both kids and adults, sexual misadventures are more common than acts of serious violence. Violence in the media stands to have far less influence on its viewers than sex/nudity. Because the former is consistently given less opportunity to be influential, seeming promotions of something horrible is actually better than seeming promotions of something merely bad.

Sometimes the first set of priorities is in fact the right one.

Ken Breadner said...

This is a very thoughtful comment, and thank you for it. However, I disagree with it.
First of all, there is a difference between violence, which as you note is very rarely permissible in any context (even though it is relentlessly glorified in every medium you can name) and sex, which is nearly anything goes if you're an adult. We can teach kids that sex is a grown-up thing, kind of like swearing: nothing wrong with it at all...when you're grown up. That's the attitude I'd make every effort to instil in my children if I had any, not that sex is bad or wrong.
We can argue until our faces are blue about whether violence in the media influences violence in real life. I say yes, it does, and as evidence I will go and try to find the study I read years ago showing what happened when the Inuit were exposed to television for the first time. Suffice it to say that acts of violence skyrocketed. Contrariwise, countries with sexual education starting in kindergarten--education that we would probably view as pornographic and obscene--have the lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, abortions, and STDs.