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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No sex or violence/No morbid silence

How is ballroom dancing a step down in television programming? You'd think this would be catnip for my parents' generation. Aren't they always talking about sex and violence being the signs of the media apocalypse? I don't get it.

So asks fellow blogger Donna about a criticism of Dancing With the Stars. She has an excellent point. I don't get it either.

I'm not a regular watcher of Dancing With the Stars, but I've seen enough episodes to understand its main draw. No, it's not just seeing faded stars try to dance; it's all that physical sexual innuendo. Whether the dancing is like choreographed foreplay or not, this is definitely not the kind of formal dancing you learned in cotillion.

Since this dancing has been considered a "forbidden" activity in public, it can ruffle some feathers. Remember the Lambada, The Forbidden Dance, in the early Nineties? So couple sex with violence and you have some of the most-targeted matters by media watchdogs that think for others. Well, while some think we're on a slippery slope destined for eternal damnation, I see this as an acknowledgment of what's always been around in some form or another.

With sex, there was a time when the most that could be shown was through loose implications and innuendo. Seeing a bare-chested Joe Gillis swim in front of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. implied the two had consummated their relationship at least once. But the censor codes were so strict that an exchange like "You should take a vacation in Las Vegas, playground of the world!"/"Thank you, but I think I'll spend this weekend in bed."/"Only playground to beat Las Vegas," had to be deleted from Psycho's script. The rules on violence were as strict. The most you could see was a man firing a gun in one shot and then a shot of a man falling over.

Still, with the kinds of sex and violence seen in mainstream movies since the Sixties, you could argue the rope has been loosened too much. But you can't go blaming the prevalence of explicit sex and violence for the media's apocalypse. In my eyes, it's about what I want to watch and what I don't want to watch.

A very timely case in point: the soon-to-be-forgotten The Hills Have Eyes 2. The film opens with something so wretchedly violent that I'm not going to even state it here. (Read the second comment in this review if you're really curious to know what happens.) Is this entertaining to me? Nope. Do I wonder about what passes for entertainment for the popcorn horror film audience? Yes. Do I think we're on a one-way ticket to hell because of something like this? Hell no. I choose to not watch this movie for several reasons. But if I were, I highly doubt my morals would be lowered.

There is still some notion that entertainment should be squeaky-clean and family-friendly. Entertainment should entertain right? We should turn our brains off when the TV turns on or when a movie starts in a theater, right? Not for me. If anything, people who turn to entertainment to escape their problems are compounding those problems in the process.

I can name plenty of other social ills plaguing us that have nothing to do with the sex and violence we see on TV and in movies. I'm talking basic, open communication between family members, lovers, friends, co-workers and so on. What we watch for entertainment is so much of a surface matter when dealing with this. Sure, there was a time when shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best portrayed a squeaky-clean existence, but this was also around the time that segregation was in schools, women were considered sub-human servants to men, and homosexuality was considered a horrific sin/disease. If people were so oblivious to thinking that everything was totally fine during the initial post-World War II years, I gotta wonder what people my age will be saying about the Eighties and Nineties when I get older.

I guess for people who remember a time when society's ills were kept at bay by censorship boards, the gyrations seen on Dancing With the Stars are shocking. But come on, when it's a nod to something that's always been a part of life, the shock should be turned around to the shocked person.

1 comment:

Donna B. said...

Interesting take, Eric. There is something weird -- compellingly weird -- about the fact that celebrity dancing is now the hottest thing on TV. It's a curious throwback to the days of celebrity bowling and the Superstars (the latter of which I loved like I cannot describe during my adolescence).

I think my mom's reaction is pretty much the standard "everything that's going on is a sign of the world's decline and the imminent return of Christ" response to all popular culture. What puzzled me was how unthoughtful it was. And how apparently easy it is to fit anything -- ANYTHING -- into a premillenial dispensationalist framework.

But yes, you're right -- ballroom dancing is sexy, has been for decades. One remembers that in Jane Austen's day, the waltz was scandalous. Apparently one cannot go far enough back for some people -- only in Calvin's Geneva would some people feel comfortable with the culture.