I know I’ve beaten this old horse to death, but I had been seeing ads for a new show called Future Man that looked right up my alley, until I found out that in the pilot it pulled the same sort of stunt Seth MacFarlane did in the pilot of The Orville, only without any plausible deniability. If you want to know what that ‘stunt’ was, read the Hollywood Reporter review.
I have since downloaded a torrent of the pilot and I have to say I am shocked that this kind of thing is now deemed acceptable. The rating is TV MA L which seems wholly inappropriate for something that has been seen only rarely even in R-rated films. I am really disappointed by this to the point of anger in the sense that Future Man is otherwise the kind of show I’d want to watch, and yet because of this kind of thing, and the way the show used it as a stunt in the pilot, turns me off to it. I think it’s because the 80s-centric properties that are being riffed on in this show represents a “safe space” from my childhood and so to replay them with today’s anything-goes sensibility represents a sort of crossing of the streams (pun intended). Let’s just say I like the raunch to stay at verbal innuendo.
Now, given that I don’t watch pay cable, I’m literally a Rip-Van-Winkle when it comes to the boundary pushing that’s been going on for at least the last 10 years. To give you an idea, risque to me would be something like Silk Stalkings. I always treated Silk Stalkings as plausibly deniable exploitation. I feel that with all of the back-patting over how we’re now living in the golden age of TV that the boundary-pushing going on these days is far less “artful” than it’s being given credit for, and far more of a reflection of the saturation of pop culture with porn that has resulted in a very thin line between mainstream narrative entertainment and simple pornography.
To give you an idea how how far we’ve come, when I was a kid, the 80s sex comedy was the ultimate taboo. I didn’t graduate from college until 1988. So I was just old enough to want to watch 80s sex comedies but not old enough to legally get into a theater. To me, that was a golden age. I wasn’t dating, and so the only exposure I had to sexuality were the characters in those sex comedies who were just as hormone-addled and frustrated as I was. I had no illusions that this stuff was oscar-winning fare, but it was my rite of passage. The difference between how sexuality was represented then vs. now isn’t just a case of graphic depiction. It’s attitude. 80s sex comedies were Spielbergian in the sense that they exalted in a sense of wonder. Yes, it was the dreaded “male-gaze” and yet at the same time, it was naive and almost sweet in the sense that it put women on a pedestal.
To Generation X, that entire era can be wrapped up in one scene that everyone knows.
This scene is iconic because it represents the fantasy of adolescence. It’s what all boys wish sex was about. Fast Times also featured a highly disturbing depiction of ACTUAL sex which accomplished nothing but an accidental pregnancy, something I have no interest in ever watching again. But from my vantage point, racing ahead towards the big 50, I miss the days when it was all mysterious and, dare I say, magical.
One of the most famous movie-moments of the 90s came from a fleeting crotch-flash in Basic Instinct. Just think how utterly naive the excitement/uproar was over this scene compared to today’s culture, that here we are and it’s casually streaming on Youtube. And yet simultaneously, while the sexual content has become more and more graphic, there is so much more concern over things like “upskirt” recordings. There is immense cognitive dissonance between the content perceived as “normal” and “progressive” and the horndog behavior that men wind up expressing as a result, something in the news quite a bit lately.
A while back there was a big deal made over the sex scenes in Nymphomaniac being “real” and whether that rendered the film a porno. Note how things like that in the past were exceedingly rare, like Last Tango in Paris where supposedly the butter scene was effectively rape. Also was the infamous Caligula in which A-list stars were snookered into thinking it was an R-rated movie when X-rated content was edited in.
Anyway, back to the timeline of descent into debauchery…
The use of increasingly graphic sex in comedy hit a new high (low) with this infamous scene in Scary Movie circa 2000.
Again, it’s important to note how this particular clip is unflagged on youtube and therefore kids could see something that, back in 2000, you had to be 17 to get into the theater or somehow get the VHS/DVD, etc…
But 2000 is also when the internet was starting to take off, and I think this kind of thing was a sign of how online porn was leading to a more mainstreaming of sexual content, especially in gross-out comedy like this. This therefore leads to your American Pie type films, which are a cruder, more graphic flavor of the original 80s sex comedies.
I’m not even going to mention Sex and the City here, but once we get up towards the modern era, things explode, starting from that show onward. Now male anatomy bodily fluids are used as a joke in comic book movies where kids will see in things like Guardians of the Galaxy. So as genre that used to be the domain of just kids becomes all-ages, no attempt is made to keep things “family friendly”. Instead kids are expected to handle it, since we assume they’ve already seen it all before they learn to walk.
Now I have to get on my soap-box and explain why this is a bad thing…
The problem I see in today’s treatment of sex is that it only serves to trivialize it. It’s used for a joke. It’s used as a shock-stunt. It’s used to titilate. It’s used to sort of make some sort of feminist male-hating statement. It’s used to show F-ing.
What it’s NOT used for is to show what making love looks like.
And that’s where this diatribe sort of ties into my pieces on A.I. This may be tipping my hat to the ultimate thing that is nagging me about modern culture is that somewhere along the line I think love disappeared and only cheap and selfish sex took its place.
When K is attempting to have surrogate sex with Joi in Blade Runner 2049, it kind of symbolizes where we are today. I may be getting a little autobiographical here, but I think while there may be a lot of F-ing going on, there’s not a lot of genuine soul-connecting going on. And I think that lack of connection, which I am blaming in large part on the Internet, is a huge factor in the sorts of social ills we’re suffering from today. And frankly, I don’t know if it’s possible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We’re well within Idiocracy territory already.
Norway’s idea of “sexual enlightenment” – Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK Style.
In the meantime, it makes it difficult for me to get into new programming because there’s no way for today’s writers to separate themselves from modern culture. So even when it’s doing retro stuff, it’s inserting things into it that represent today’s sensibilities, and that goes for sex, violence, language, in addition to the stylistic conventions of shaky-cam and lens-flare that I hate so much.
Anyway, I will probably find a more elegant way to make these points when I write about the other A.I. films on my to-do list, but this is a big reason why I retreat back to older films as a sort of security-blanket.