You and I and our grandmother’s friends would never think of going together as a group to sit and watch a live sex act. We wouldn’t enjoy it — and if we did, we would feel like perverts (for good reason). It would disgust us to learn that a group of coworkers had gone to see such a thing. But many Hollywood producers want us to believe that getting together to watch a sex act in enhanced form — in giant color images, intercut with close-ups and punctuated by music — is a perfectly normal way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Which is to say, many Hollywood producers are perverts, and want us to be perverts, too.
The real difference between watching the live sex act and the simulated sex act on the screen is that after the first, you need to confess voyeurism; after the second, you need to confess pornography. The lasting impression the image makes on our brain is very similar: It’s the chemical stimulation of a hormone, not the excitement of emotions by human drama.
Nudity tends to crowd everything else out in our minds. Ask a group of people — and not just guys — what they remember about the movie Witness, for instance, and they’ll say, “Harrison Ford in an ’80s Amish mystery.” Ask them if they remember a scene in the movie, and, if they remember anything at all, they will remember, “He looks through a keyhole while a woman takes a bath” — a gratuitous scene in the film, which did nothing to advance the plot.
Gore also crowds out drama. If you or I saw a person get shot or knifed or blown up in a movie theater parking lot, we wouldn’t simply remember it for the rest of our lives, it would become a focal point of our history. If it came up in conversation, we’d tell people “we’re dealing with it.” But movies assume we can watch the same thing in billboard-sized slow motion without consequence.
War movies in the old days had a lot of guys clutching their breasts and falling, dying in a way that seems quaint by today’s standards. But I remember being just as inspired by The Longest Day as I was by Saving Private Ryan; ironically, the old D-Day movie actually told the tale of human dignity better by not continually shocking my system with so accurate a depiction of human road-kill.
The fact is, images do count. They stay with us, and it’s important to keep the harmful ones out.