Monday, August 18

Different views of sexuality and its impact

As I mentioned in my “Weekend Update” already, I went to the movie theatre to see “You don’t mess with the Zohan” this Saturday. But this post is not about the movie, it’s about something closely connected to Adam Sandler’s sense of humour as it is displayed in the movie. It’s about sex.

Yes, it’s about that terrible, dirty, forbidden word with the three seemingly harmless letters S, E and X. When I was searching for the English title of the movie to write it into my “Weekend Update”, I also checked the page for the movie on Movie Tome. There weren’t many posts in the forum and basically all of them were about how perverse and pornographic the movie was and how on earth it ever got a ‘13’ rating instead of the ‘R’ it deserved. If any of those writing or thinking this are reading this post: In Germany, the movie is rated ‘6’, which means it’s thought of as suitable for children of six or older. This, I think, has a lot to do with a different view of sexuality and its appearance in the movies. Besides, apart from a few rather crass jokes, I haven’t been able to find much pornography or perversion in it. But then, maybe I was too preoccupied with laughing to pay proper attention.

The view the German rating committee takes on sexual references in movies must run somewhere along those lines (I think): If a child can’t understand it’s a sexual reference, then there’s no reason to give the movie a high rating. They’re less relaxed when it comes to violence, though (which is why “John Rambo” basically got the German equivalent of ‘R’). And a lot of the sexual references I could trace in the Zohan movie are of that kind. As an adult, I can understand them – and find them quite funny, even hilarious. But as a child of six, eight, ten or twelve, I wouldn’t have understood them (and any child which does definitely has gotten the knowledge before somewhere, so the movie is not to blame). This actually makes watching some childhood movies again as an adult quite funny, because then you’ll grasp why your parents or other older relatives were laughing during certain scenes you didn’t find funny at all.

Now, why did the movie theatre shake with laughter during most of the movie? Maybe because Germans (most Europeans, I should think) have a rather relaxed attitude when it comes to jokes that go below belt line. “You don’t mess with the Zohan” has lots and lots of them. We find those absolutely overdrawn jokes funny, because we can also laugh about the thing as a such (though usually not while doing it). The jokes were just what I had expected from an Adam Sandler movie, in fact. They were over the edge, crass and a bit distasteful, too. But if I watch such a movie, I don’t expect tasteful, discreet jokes. And I got what I expected - and even more of that.

But why are the views about sex so different between Europe and the United States? Maybe - and that’s the easiest explanation I can come up with - it’s because the States were basically founded by very fundamental Christians. They abhorred sex, even though the recognized it as something that could not be avoided - unless you want to be extinct sometime. Now, Germany surely was not founded by sexual deviants who did nothing but having sex all day, but we’re not that fundamental about religion. There’s two main kinds of Christian belief in Germany and neither of them has a very strong impact on the sexual life of people as a such. Although both the Roman-Catholic and the Lutheran Protestants share the Christian belief of sex as a sin, they had to realize early that people nevertheless liked committing that sin - no matter what kind of atonement there was afterwards. So they basically decided it was okay “as long as it’s between married couples”.

In all kinds of arts - from paintings to music to literature - there’s portraits of naked people (usually woman, although most female visitors of various museums around would prefer some more naked men, if you could be so kind), there operas and operettas that are basically centred around two or more men wanting the same woman (think of “Carmen”), there’s poems and novels filled to the brim with subtle sexual messages (or not so subtle once). That goes for all of Europe, although the degree of sexual references in the various media may vary. During the Victorian age, there was a lot more sex going on in Britain than most people think today (and those who didn’t want to do it ‘at home’ could still go to Paris which was said to be one enormous brothel). Behind the innocent and asexual façade of the Prussian Empire, people were visiting shadowy bars to see women slowly taking off their clothes or dancing provocatively. And American soldiers kept pin-ups of pretty girls wearing less clothes than the ‘good’ women of that day.

Sex is part of the human life - without it, there would not be any human life. And these days, apart from the most fundamental Muslim countries (which are about six hundred years ‘behind’ Christianity, because the Islam is about six hundred years younger), the United States are the only country in the so-called “Western World” where people seem to be more afraid of a naked woman than of a huge gun. The sudden exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast, the dirty little affair of Bill Clinton, the admittedly rather sexist lyrics of some rappers, all of those are only shocking in the States. If, for example, Gerhard Schröder (the former German chancellor, Angela Merkel as a woman would not be a good example here) had had an affair with his aide, nobody would have damned him for it, it would have been something between him and his wife (his fourth wife, if I might point that out). The fact that various politicians have by now openly admitted they’re gay has not shaken their voters at all. First of all, at least for some of them it was quite obvious. (Really, Mr. Westerwelle, who do you think you were fooling all this years, we’ve always known you preferred men to women.) Essentially, a person’s sexuality is their own business in Germany - as long as no children or animals are involved. There are laws, yes, but as long as all parts of the relationship are consenting and are old enough to know what they’re consenting to, it’s basically legal.

So I, for example, have not grown up in a society that tries to keep sexual references away from children at all costs. That may lead to girls losing their virginity sometime during their teens (so do American teenagers, too, don’t they), but at least they’ve been taught about the proper use of the pill or a condom beforehand. Children are kept innocent enough not to understand most of those references, anyway. And as long as they don’t understand them, it can’t hurt.

We are not taught that sex is evil - but we are taught that sex may result in a pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease (which is why condoms are always a good choice for sexual encounters). It does have its risks, but it does have its good points, too. And because we don’t fear it, we can watch a movie like “You don’t mess with the Zohan” and laugh until we’re basically lying on the floor. It’s part of life and so it can be part of a comedy, too.

I would really like to say you should get a more relaxed view on it, but that’s something you should decide. But as long as you fear it, if I might point that out, it’s your weak point, your Achilles heel. All the world knows how to shock you.

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