Sex and the Cinema
I'm becoming quite fascinated by the role of the mass media in shaping and changing culture and beliefs. The above scene is taken from a delightful Italian movie called Cinema Paradiso. It charts the rise and demise of a local cinema in an Italian town. In the classic scene above, a Priest goes to the cinema to watch a movie and rings a bell to make it known to the projectionist that a scene has arrived which could injure his purity. The projectionist duly acknowledges this and censors the scene.
Of course, the scene makes the Priest look a bit ridiculous because, after all, 'its only a kiss'. It's all too easy for us to forget, however, that public standards of decency and modesty were very different to those of today. Purity was esteemed, or at least valued, the Church's place in society then more secure. The film tells well the story of cinema and how the media has been a vehicle over the course of the recent past, to mollify, modify, loosen or change public attitudes to sex and sexuality among other issues.
There's something rather prophetic about the Catholic priest ringing the alarm bell over scenes which could injure purity and lead souls astray, even when they appear innocuous, certainly in the movie and for our sex-soaked modern media reality. The longer the film goes on, the more debauched become the films shown and the behaviour of those in the cinema. Soon enough the town cinema has become a semi-brothel with young men masturbating over a Hollywood starlet, the town bike taking men into a back-room for sex and couples discreetly shagging in the noisy, sweaty, smoke-filled movie theatre. By the end, the town watch it being demolished, its work, in a sense, done. By that time, people have video players and can watch movies at home on TV.
What started out as a place of light entertainment quickly degenerates into something else, the Devil taking something good and twisting it into something contrary to good. Then, you fast forward to today, in 2012, when sex and sexuality are discussed, portrayed and even The Archers (The Archers, for Heaven's sake - it's a radio drama!) receives criticism for being too racy. You hear that children are growing up addicted to internet porn, the cat well and truly out of the bag.
Part of the liberal agenda over the past two centuries has been about the destruction of taboo and the flourishing of sex and sexuality in the public sphere. Hollywood has been and still very much is a driving force, a catalyst in releasing the glorification of unbridled sex and sexuality in the West, divorced, as it near always is, from the sacred union of marriage. If Hollywood tries to make a film about marriage, it would be about a marriage that breaks up because of a steamy adulterous affair because the sex is just so much more exciting and better than in a marriage. How will Hollywood tackle 'gay marriage', I wonder? Loads of Hollywood actors are in favour of gay marriage, of course, but few big names seem to want to damage their own reputations, careers or finances by speaking honestly of their real attraction.
We're so far gone in the sexual revolution - who knows what phase we are currently in and where it will end? - that we often think of it as something that just happened. We think it was something that was bound to happen because sex is so bound and and rooted in our human nature. But that cannot be true because marriage and the family has served humanity so well in terms of real happiness for so long. The revolution that has led us to where we are today - with the Church pilloried and despised - didn't take place in a vacuum. The public in the West has been bombarded by sex and had its attitudes to it changed by a steady stream of images, video, visuals, sounds, music, cinema, books, TV programmes and now internet sites. Watching Cinema Paradiso, I was reminded that public attitudes to sex and sexuality, morality, public decency and the rest were changed dramatically by a powerful force in society, in which cinema had its place. The Mass Media. The media is now so all pervasive that were society to reject it entirely, you wonder what any State would do.