Sunday, January 30, 2000

Why does movie sex scare parents more than movie violence?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When he was 12, I took The Kid Down The Hall to see Scream. You know: The movie that winked at slasher movies while slashing half its cast? That one.

        I lost count of the number of mutilated teen-agers in Scream. To paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs, my favorite drive-in movie critic, here's a random list:

        Decapitations: 1.

        Impalings: 2.

        Hacked extremities: 6.

        Buckets of Blood: 14.

        It was great fun.

        When he was 13, The Kid inquired about seeing Eyes Wide Shut. That was the one in which Tom Cruise indulged his anger and sexual fantasies in the usual way: With a midnight trip to an orgy.

        The Kid had heard the buzz. He figured he might like to check it out.

        Not in a million years, I said.

        It was a good decision. But I thought: How come parents are much more uptight about their kids seeing big-screen sex than they are big-screen violence?

        This comes up now after a quote appeared in USA Today, from a fan at the Sundance Film Festival. He was talking about a new movie called American Psycho that had received an NC-17, adults-only rating.

        “If the reason they are rating it NC-17 is because of that sex scene, instead of the scene when he hacks up that guy with an ax, that is scary,” the moviegoer said.

        He was right. A little goofy, but right. Many more movies are rated R for sex than for violence. Which is crazy.

        Why is it more offensive to watch people mate than to watch them kill each other? If we're going to worry about our impressionable kids, shouldn't it be the other way around?

        I'm as guilty as anyone. I've let my kid see any number of Schwarzenegger meltdowns and Stephen Seagal blowups, without a twitch. He owns a copy of The Rock, and one of the Matrixx, movies in which people die savagely. But if I'm watching my copy of Animal House, I make him turn away when Belushi climbs the ladder to look in the sorority window.

        Make sense to you?

        “It's because he's more likely to have sex than to kill someone with a chainsaw,” my wife explains.

        I hope she's right.

        But still. We get angry with saucy Cosmo covers at Kroger, but not with ammunition being sold at hyper-markets. We take offense at Jerry Springer, but not at Tony Soprano.

        Springer is told to tone down his heavy-on-sex act; James Gandolfini wins awards for portraying the head of a kill-happy crime family.

        (Guilty again: I don't watch Springer. I don't miss The Sopranos.)

        One man is real and one isn't, sure. But on TV, the perceived reality they portray is the same.

        Just about every general interest magazine I read — Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, to name a few — has had a woman on its cover in recent months, wearing as little as the law allows, even if she's only marginally included in the issue. The newsstand sales will be better than if, say, Al Gore had been on the front.

        Sex sells because we still think it's a little naughty. We look at Mariah Carey barely dressed on the cover of Rolling Stone and we say, Ooooh. (Guilty again.)

        Sex is forbidden when you're a minor. But it's OK for a 12-year-old to sit in a tree stand with his dad, waiting for a deer to come by.

        I'm not going to ban the Kid Down The Hall from watching “action” movies. It's too late. And probably, I'll still keep him away from movies featuring heavy breathing.

        But I can't tell you why.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.