Sunday, October 17, 2010

So Vile That it Makes the Case for Censorship?

I've never been a fan of slasher films. If I'm going to watch something that falls into the horror category I much prefer suspense over blood. I'll take "The Exorcist" and you can keep "Saw."

Because my sensibilities don't run toward anything bloody, there's been a more than a few films that have escaped my notice. I'm not talking about stuff like "Halloween" or even "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (which is bad enough) but a newer more disturbing trend toward movies that take the "torture porn" genre to a level of grotesque that defies description.

So bad are these films (one in particular) that I don't want to print the names here for fear that you'll look up the descriptions (as I did) and hate me for bringing them to your attention. So I'm going to deflect and mention the post that brought them to my attention over at The House of Sternberg and leave it at that. Call me a chicken-- but let me warn you, even the descriptions of certain movies are not for the faint of heart. This stuff makes movies like "Hostel" look like a Disney production.

And you may think it strange to have a discussion about films that I don't want to mention by name, but it's a discussion I want to have without increasing their footprint-- if that's possible.

Sadism has been around a long time and some of the most offensive content in film today takes its inspiration (if it could be called that) from the infamous Marquis de Sade who put pen-to-paper and brought his diseased imaginings to the masses. But Sade didn't have tools like the internet to help his ideas spread and fester. In fact, his deeds earned him many years in a mental asylum-- not to mention the death penalty at one point.  But his work has endured to be studied and dissected at will, though it's not something you usually fear will fall into the hands of your children. But when film-makers decide to up-the-ante on Sade's fascination with fetishism, torture and rape, even incorporating children into the narrative beyond Sade's sick writings, and put it on film, it's inevitable that you have to confront the issue of whether the slippery-slope argument isn't a good enough reason to stop this garbage from ever being made.

The umbrella of "art" and "free expression" has been the tool-of-the-trade when it comes to purveyors of smut. If something doesn't fall under the heading of one, it can usually be shuffled to the other category. And we let it because we know that we must allow content we don't like so that there will be freedom to distribute content we believe has actual merit. And if that fails to garner audience support, a political justification is often thrown in for good measure. As I scroll through the descriptions and reviews of some of the most aggressively violent and offensive films I have ever heard of, I am frequently told these movies are meant to be an allegory of "societal rape"-- it appears that this is the fall back raison d'etre of these films. And, sadly, there are no shortage of takers who'll seize on that as reason enough to justify the existence of such "entertainment" as they throw around multi-syllabic words in an attempt to intellectualize what the rest of us can't comprehend was even made in the first place.

I've been surprised that I can have such a visceral reaction to films I've never seen. That a description and audience reaction is all it takes to make me feel sick to my stomach. I can't imagine what it must be like to sit through something that critics have said will break your soul, wish they could "un-watch" and encourage readers to never, ever consider watching. It's clear that the world is a worse place because something like this exists and I resent that it's out there waiting to be discovered by my kids. We're not talking about horror films at this point, we're talking about a horror that has been inflicted on society.

So what do we do about it?

*Sigh* Probably nothing.

I've never been an advocate of censorship because I presume the marketplace will put the worst-of-the-worst in the darkest corner it can find. And usually that's the case. But there seems to be a creeping acceptance that comes as more content accumulates over time. We've gone from grainy films shot in secret to movies that are lovingly crafted with large crews of people determined to present them in a way that has critics decrying the substance even as they admire the cinematography. And society at-large doesn't seem to know what to do either as they are banned in some countries and given awards in others. No doubt the creators of such swill pat themselves on the back for having blown our collective minds-- but all I can do is hope that karma has the last word where these people are concerned.

Ultimately I know I have to live in a world where this kind of thing not only exists, but will continue to be made. And it worries me. I worry because it's so easy to believe that we won't be touched by the fringes of society and that, really, it's nothing to worry about. But apathy and complacency are deadly to any society and I wonder how far down that road we've gone. This isn't solely a problem that belongs to any one group as the grossest of the current crop of atrocities are foreign made. So we're globally screwed-up at this point.

The only thing that gives me hope is the nature of societies to go through pendulum swings. It is often observed that as societies go through economic periods of prosperity and austerity, entertainment will go through it's own fluctuations that reflect the economic mood. Though I haven't quite figured out what to call the mood that has led the appalling creations that have led to this post, it's not hard to draw comparisons to the era that gave birth to the Marquis de Sade and the worst of today's degeneracy. But if, as I hope, the pendulum swings back I also have to wonder what the reverse arc will look like-- and face the uncertainty of whether censorship will have been the more gentle option in the long run. I'm not jumping on the censorship bandwagon just yet... but for the first time ever, I'm tempted.


Emma said...

I think I might have heard of this movie you hesitate to describe. One of the biggest horror enthusiasts I am aware of thought it was too much, too horrible.

This is a really, really disturbing trend. I really wish it would go away but I do not think censorship is an acceptable answer. I hope people come to their collective senses and realize that no one should have these images and ideas placed in their minds by "entertainment" or whatever.

SQT said...

Emma-- I'd generally agree. But I never knew it was possible to stoop so low. I makes me long for the days when I thought the snuff film was as bad as it could get.

Sci-Fi Gene said...


I've seen (and reviewed) the first movie you hesitate to describe, and I found it to be less distressing than the trailer might suggest, not because you are wrong about the trend in horror generally away from fear and toward gross-out, but because it's pretty low on production values and arguably fails to have the intended effect.

I don't know what it says about me that I enjoyed some of this film but I didn't think it was so fundamentally different from other horror/slasher films. There are scarier, grosser and also less enjoyable films out there.

I may also be responding a bit to the metafilm - the plight of the indie director who has a vision - even if it's not a vision I would choose to endorse or create myself, maybe there's some sympathy towards the quest.

I also don't know what it says about me that a film like THC makes me curious enough to give it a go - while a film like The Serbian strikes me as something I'd never see in a million years.

Answers on a postcard please?

T.D. Newton said...

Hey SQT, I commented over at the other post in effort to sustain the level of discretion you asked for.

I feel like I understand your concerns, but until these disturbing films are being shown on network television where anyone can see them, I hesitate to interrupt. Even though they are "free" and "readily available," they are currently the type of thing a person needs to know about and to seek out. They're definitely not as pervasive as pornography, which is widely viewed as much worse simply because of the volume available.

So just to sum up my point again, my stance is simply that I'd never tell another adult what they can/can't watch, and I would never leave that decision up to someone else on my behalf. If it's a concern for "the children" (and it usually is), I'm afraid it's a much more complex issue, particularly in the sense of who the responsibility falls on.

SQT said...

Sci-fi Gene-- I read your post over at Stewart's and I was actually talking about the one you didn't see. Guess I was ambiguous enough. The first one seems gross, but not to the point where I want to shun the people who made it. The second one though...

T.D. -- The thing is, I was able to find a lot on the internet without really trying. I can find red-band trailers, graphic descriptions and stills. I've seen it made available through Torrent downloads. So as soon as my kids are curious enough to look for it-- it's there. No matter how much I monitor them, it very likely will cross their path and it's nauseating.

It's also bit worrying that some are saying it isn't that bad. How have we gotten to that point? The whole thing depresses me.

T.D. Newton said...

Well, I know part of the movie experience is suspending disbelief... for the film I watched, it was pretty difficult (as it usually is for me in any case) because things looked fake at the moments when having them look real would have upped the disturbing ante considerably. I can sort of be on board with the "not that bad" argument simply because it's not real. If it were real, I think I'd still be throwing up.

I honestly got into a "kids" type argument on Facebook over the weekend so I am loath to tread that ground and be informed that my opinion holds less weight being childless. Not that I'm presuming you'll say any such thing, but it's kind of inevitable. That being said, I will leave the "protecting the children" angle to those who are better informed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Children will forever try to shock their betters. It will go on and on. I'm disgusted by such films too but perhaps the best defense against them is to laugh at their childish booger picking kind of mentality.

Budd said...

censorship isn't what is bad, it is government censorship. Continue being descriminatory in your movie selection, it is your right.

SQT said...

@TD-- I think the reason people who have kids will shuffle your opinion to the side is because you're having a different conversation than we are at that level. We know that our world-view shifted dramatically when we had kids. We're not worried about jobs and education for ourselves anymore-- it's all them now. It doesn't mean your opinion doesn't matter, it just means that we're coming at it from entirely different places.

For me this isn't about one film. It's about the culture that brought it into being. To me the political, social and economic culture cannot be separated. I look at the political culture of the last two years and see how public opinion has shifted so radically from one direction to another. And I wonder what happens when the current wave settles and there's no more push left in that arena (at least temporarily). Then what? Is that when the same people look at the social culture and think, we need to go to work over there. Would they be wrong when they see stuff like the movies we're talking about?

The pendulum swing is a real phenomenon and I think we may end up wishing we hadn't been so complacent when it comes to really bad content in film. There's a price to pay for everything and what will the price be for this?

@Charles-- I'm not sure it's that easy.

@Budd-- That's what I'm worried about. If we don't draw a line in the sand, it's a good bet they will. And I sure don't want that.

SQT said...

@TD-- I shouldn't say parents don't care about our jobs or education once we have kids. I meant to say that we worry what jobs they'll have when they get older. What education we can afford. We worry about ourselves because we worry about how it'll affect the kids. But they come first every time.

S.M.D. said...

Censorship is an interesting thing when it comes to films. The NC-17 rating, for example, is extremely problematic, and our rating system in general for films is full of flaws and almost zero transparency. There's a documentary about that somewhere (This Film is Rated R, I think). Watch it. Very illuminating. The NC-17 rating is used as a political tool a lot of the time to censor certain kinds of material (usually by indie film makers).

SQT said...

Shaun-- I watched that documentary and it was very interesting. What I thought was revealing was how the U.S. market censored sex vs. violence. I do agree that violence is much more harmful than sex to portray on screen and think the rating system is rigged to ban sex but not violence. How weird is that?

It's also like the worst perversions we're seeing these days are all about combining sex and violence because either one or the other is going to be taboo no matter where it's marketed. But there's no artistry in that. Just more attempts and gaining notoriety by being the most depraved.

M. McGriff said...

It's amazing that a lot these movie makers feel that showing and exploiting absolutely everything always makes a great movie. I find that what I don't see makes a movie scarier and therefore more appealing to me. A great example of that is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The first one terrified me because you didn't see him actually cutting up the person. I saw the remake and I so didn't like it. It was just an excuse to have a gore fest.

I'm glad you didn't mention any names. I surely don't want to check these out!

SQT said...

M. McGriff-- You're so right. "Psycho" is a perfect example too. No actual shots of Janet Leigh being stabbed were there, but people thought they saw it. It's one of the great classics and will be remembered for great storytelling well after these other films are long forgotten.

The Fantasizer said...

Darn you should'nt have given that link to the movie descriptions!
There are some serious issues with people if they're spending their money and time to make stuff like that!
UHHHHHHHH!! Just reading the descriptions made me cringe, Fuckin Retards man!UHHHHH!
I'd ask you to remove the link as it may lead some people with issues more towards the edge, leading to more criminally insane people in a world that has too many of them already.

SQT said...

The Fantasizer-- I tried to put a buffer there, but it's tough. I figured a layer between my blog and the other would make people really think before clicking through.

It is pretty awful isn't it? There's a line and they crossed it more than once.