Monday, October 3, 2011

Cringe, Nausea, and All

by Sophie


I'm going to take an unexpected liberty today, and talk about censorship, the inevitable stepchild of Art and her public. (ha! I see that I'm clever already. This is gonna be good.)

I largely missed out on Banned Books Week this year due to a deadline that sucked my soul out through my eyeballs, but I did give it a cursory passing thought. "Oh, good," I thought to myself, it's that time of year again to remind grade school parents everywhere that Kesey/Orwell/Bradbury/Salinger are not the enemy." Yawn.

I didn't dig in intellectually at all, and now I want to make amends. Here's the thesis of this post: we don't really get to oppose censorship in any genuine fashion unless it makes us hideously uncomfortable. Otherwise it's meaningless.

I was reading the paper this morning with Junior and her dad, and I came across an article about a film banned in Britain. I don't recommend you read this article; its subject is simply too disgusting for contemplation. Let's just say that the film in question offends my sensibilities, something that is - no joke - seriously difficult to do. I have a very high tolerance for artistic extremes, which has always made it easy for me to wave the censorship banner, because I don't much suffer when the books (films, art, whatever) win.

But - trust me, I'd suffer plenty if they were showing this film down the street at the local cinema. Which is exactly why I must agitate most strenuously for its freedom to make its way around the world, not just in movie houses but in the popular imagination. (See sidebar below, please, for a related thought I had this morning.)

The British equivalent of our film board tripped over themselves trying to explain why they banned the sequel but not the original film, saying the first "was undoubtedly tasteless and disgusting, it was a relatively traditional and conventional horror film" but the second "there is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalized, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience." You know what, that sounds suspiciously like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous "I know it when I see it" condemnation of porn, something I think we can all agree is an absurd yardstick.

(If I end up in hell, serving on a film board might be a good occupation for me.)

The filmmaker himself - who, I might point out, I think I would like very much based on his comments in this article - says "I think my film is a torture porn with European art sauce or something."

You know, it's very easy for me to sit in my suburban living room and say, earnestly and with my mom-lipstick firmly in place, "Every girl should be given a chance to read WINTERGIRLS - it may very well prove life-changing for a generation."

It's quite another to say that the makers of "The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)" have a right to distribution and audiences have a right to see it. But that's what I'm sayin', folks, cringe, nausea, and all.

"The Human Centipede," the subject of the article referenced above, is the first example to take place in this household of a phenomenon that is key to every generational gap: the ignorance of the senior generation to a concept that has completely proliferated the younger generation.

Imagine, in 1962, mom and pop at the breakfast table saying "So what are these 'Beatles' I'm hearing so much about?" Can you picture the painful cringing on the part of the kids, the utter confusion - and the associated feeling of popular culture slipping rapidly and inexorably away from them - of the parents?

Well, something akin to that took place this morning. Reading along, I came to a paragraph in which the writer discusses a South Park parody of the film in question, that made me laugh out loud. (Seriously, NYT writer Dave Itzkoff has a way with words, which if you know me at all, you know is just about the highest compliment I can pay.)

What followed went like this:

Junior: What's so funny?
Me: Oh - well - have you watched the South Park Episode "The Human CentiPad?"
Junior: Yeah. Of course.
Me: But you don't get the reference, right? Like, what it's parodying?
Junior: (eye roll) Yeah. "The Human Centipede." The horror movie.
Me: But you don't know what it's about, right?
Junior's Dad: What? What?
Junior: I'd rather not talk about this.
Junior's Dad: What? What would you rather not talk about?
Me: (in growing horror) But you haven't seen it, right? Wait, does everyone know about this movie? Who told you? Did your brother tell you? Was it one of your friends? Which friend? Who have you been hanging out with, anyway? It wasn't the band kids, was it?
Junior: Every. Kid. Knows. I'm not talking about this any more.
Junior's Dad: What? What?

The point is that this is the first instance I can remember of a complete generational disconnect in our house. I don't kid myself that I'm a particularly hip parent - in fact, I am painfully aware that the opposite is true - but I do try to listen carefully to the young adults in my life, I write young adult literature, and I have a professional acquaintance with media trends. And yet I completely missed this. I'd be interested to know if the younger members of the Pens knew about it; it might be possible to pinpoint the exact cutoff, whether age or life-station related, between familiarity and ignorance.

Anyway. Just a passing, if longish, thought. /Sidebar off


Rachael Herron said...

No! I have no idea what you're talking about! (I mean, the post, yes, but the Human Centipede thing, no.) So interesting!

Gigi Pandian said...

I had never heard of the movies either, BUT the husband, who's 3 years younger than me and on the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y, knew all about it. Interesting.

And even though I wish I didn't know as much as I now know about the movie, I believe it shouldn't be censored.

L.G.C. Smith said...

I'm just reading, yes, this late in the day. I'm the oldest among us Pens, and I know what it is. I think I might have heard about it from Lisa? I was disgusted and moving one. I had put it out of my mind, but now that you mention it, I remember.

Sophie Littlefield said...

well, it appears i owe you all an apology for bringing your attention to this horrid thing. censoring.

Adrienne Bell said...

Ya, I remember all the talk about Human Centipede when it came out, but I didn't have any interest seeing it. Not because I think it's horrible, though it probably is, just not in the way that creator was hoping. But because I don't believe that there is enough there to make a horror movie out of. I already know the horrible bit. It's right there in the title. So...that kinda kills the shock value.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know people hadn't heard of it... 23 here and young enough to know of the movie. Never seen it, tho.

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