December 4, 2012
This post was in the pipeline before the murder over the weekend of Kasandra Perkins by Jovan Belcher, newsworthy mainly for its impact on professional football; such an occurrence is otherwise so unremarkable as to be relegated to the commonplace by the label "domestic violence." It's a private matter, really, unless it interrupts our Sunday sport. From Futures Without Violence: "Nearly one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were murdered by a current or former intimate partner. In 2000, 1,247 women, more than three a day, were killed by their intimate partners."
Not too long ago I heard a passing reference to The Man Who Fell To Earth, filmed right here in New Mexico, and decided I had better see it. This 1976 movie is sufficiently flawed to make me hesitate to recommend it, but at the same time it contains such a sharp, prescient, uncompromising critique of America culture that I feel obliged to encourage everyone to have a look. There are a number of aspects worthy of discussion, but one scene in particular demands to be addressed in the context of this blog, as it contains an explicit depiction of exactly the joining of violence and sex that I and many other feminists have been writing about.
The climactic scene comes near the end of the film (though the end at that point was not as near as I had hoped). Our doomed alien hero has not succeeded in returning to his drought devastated planet. He has been trapped by (presumably) government agents, and is alternately tortured and pampered, numbed by booze and media. When the woman who loved him (for being so different, until she found out how really different he was) is sent back to him, their sex play starts anew. Suddenly he pulls a gun on her, taunts her... And... Pulls the trigger... And... BANG!... Big noise, but no blood! Hysterical relief from both of them. He explains that he had asked his keepers for a gun with blanks and they obliged. BANG! BANG! He shoots at her, she shoots at him. They giggle and squeal, wrestle and lick and kick. BANG! BANG! Two slim, pale, naked bodies and a shiny, heavy pistol. BANG! BANG! They are literally having a blast. I found it so disturbing, I had to look away.
Of course, with today's sensibilities - that is, if I were watching a movie made recently - one or more of those bangs would probably not be a blank and the scene would end with white sheets and pale bodies drenched in blood and gore. This is what one has come to expect. But here, they are all blanks. The fun is genuine if desperate, and apparently heralds the release of the stranded alien, as if he has proven with his debauchery his full assimilation into the human species. All the way fallen, reduced to a state of lethargic impotence, he is no longer a threat; all stirrings of desire can be pacified with violent fantasy sex play, actual or vicarious.
That scene is one helluva statement. It is not sexy. It is scary and sad. If the movie were made today, the woman's body would be much fuller and bouncier - a veritable sex bomb that would heighten the prurience while lessening the realism and intensity of the scene; and the male body would either be really ripped, or hardly shown at all. More likely, the entire scene would be cut for fear of adult ratings and reduced revenues.
Everything today is so much more polished and self-conscious than the gritty works of the 70s. Hollywood is very careful to isolate elements even as they are being combined. Guns here, girls there; shooting here, screwing there. It's like the latest in haute cuisine - everything deconstructed into separate tasty bites. We put the flavors together as we eat, just like when we watch TV and films. Violence and sex may come in alternating waves, often presented in alluring proximity to each other (our half-clad hostage cowering before a male with a weapon, or the half-clad warrior woman actually wielding the weapon) but the stimulation is all of a piece - arousal - and we know they are meant to go together. It's the mass media's great orgiastic fantasy feast of Gun Sex! The Man Who Fell To Earth gave it to us bluntly, literally and surely sarcastically - but I could not look at it and laugh.
Guns and sex do not go together. Sex is a healthy, natural act that one can hope to take part in with affection, pleasure and some regularity. Guns have no place whatsoever in my life and the daily lives of most civilians, yet we see guns and gun viloence on TV routinely verging on monotonously. Maybe if the networks could show more sex, they'd show less violence. They're just looking for ways to get and keep our eyes on their product. But think about it: Sex is more appealing in person than on the screen, while gun violence is not at all entertaining if you are actually in the middle of it. Putting the two together - unlike mixing your peas and potatoes - does not make a happy or healthy or desirable combination.
The Man Who Fell To Earth suggests that we needn't worry too much about defending Earth from extraterrestrial invasion. If we lack adequate technology to fight the aliens, we'll still be able to kill their souls with our culture.
Copyright © 2012 Zelda Gatuskin