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In sequal to my last post, based on Tish and Matthew's comments - is… - Sally's Journal
March 28th, 2007
11:27 am

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In sequal to my last post, based on Tish and Matthew's comments - is it just that we've sanitised and ritualised everything? No-one sees births, they see christenings. Likewise deaths and funurals. I'm not sure what the direct pairing is for weddings, but I'm tempted to say sex.

Yet the movies are full of sex and deaths - almost as though we're fascinated by these things, but want to push them into the role of fantesy, where we can think about them without them affecting us?

Oddly, you don't get many gorey childbirth scenes in the movies.

I'm not sure if there's an interesting thought in this mess or not.

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From:simont
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:37 am (UTC)
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I dunno about that. I think it's just that these things quite reasonably tend not to happen in public. All but the most sudden deaths happen in hospital wards, which are necessarily not very public simply because they're not very large; births likewise only even more so. Also you don't want the unwashed public crowding into your hospital wards for reasons of hygiene, noise, hassle etc. And sex is done in private partly for modesty/taboo reasons but I suspect at least in part because you want to be concentrating on the other person rather than having onlookers cheering you on :-)

(I suppose, having mentioned hospital hygiene, that you could argue that I've just conceded that we have indeed sanitised birth and death in the most literal sense, but I don't think that's how you meant it :-)
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From:atreic
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:41 am (UTC)
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Yes, you're probably right, it's just that these things are private, and have probably been as private as they can possibly be throughout human history.

The media thing then just follows as people's natural voyeristic streak, or at least as art being a way for us to see the private bits of people that we can't see in real life because they're private.
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From:simont
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC)
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Perhaps, but I'm not sure it's necessarily voyeurism either. The portrayal of birth, sex or death in fiction is surely largely intended to cause the audience to identify with the people doing it, or (in the case of death) the people most deeply affected other than the person doing it, so that we feel their emotions. All of these things are strongly emotionally charged, so they will naturally occur disproportionately in fiction and drama which concentrates on emotionally interesting things.

I suppose if you're primarily thinking about film rather than (say) books, you might see the act of sitting there watching some people shagging on screen as inherently a bit voyeuristic; but for me, even in film, the main point is that you're imagining what it's like for the people depicted; you're thinking of yourself at least partly as being in their place, not primarily as a viewer on the far side of the screen watching them going at it. The people are shown from the outside simply because it doesn't work to do it any other way in film.

(Actual porn, as opposed to drama featuring sex, might be a different matter, of course. Indeed one might plausibly argue that this is precisely what should distinguish the two.)
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From:libellum
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:05 am (UTC)
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The other thing your comment made me think of was about events in film being intended to produce emotional responses in the audience. When we were shown the gruesome childbirth movie at the age of 9, a few of the girls cried, and were soundly mocked for it by everyone else in the class. It occurs to me that the joyful/soppy emotions produced by childbirth aren't cool, and modern films are unlikely to try to produce them in such a full-on, unedited, biological way. Joy in movies tends to be bittersweet, or have a political or melancholy or ironic edge, or be about romantic love. The unabashed, uncomplicated joy of new life isn't a joy you find portrayed in cinema. It's no less raw or personal a drama than grief, but somehow the more masculine emotions of lust and anger and grief have far more screentime than childbirth.
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From:libellum
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:12 am (UTC)
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(Actual porn, as opposed to drama featuring sex, might be a different matter, of course. Indeed one might plausibly argue that this is precisely what should distinguish the two.)

Oooh gosh, that is interesting. I'm not sure it works, though. In my experience, porn is intended to put the viewer in the role of the recipient if that fits in with their sexuality. So blowjob porn is intended to put male watchers in the role of the man recieving the blowjob. In my experience, female viewers tend not to imagine themselves giving a blowjob, but are put into the role of watching another woman perform a blowjob, and are therefore voyeurs.

In BDSM porn, it's the victim which the viewer is intended to identify with. Those viewers who are disinclined to imagine themselves in the role of a victim are put into the role of voyeurs, not the role of aggressor. This is partly a defensive move: focus in BDSM porn tends to be on the victim to deflect criticisms that all people who watch such filth will go out and hurt people (or whatever), and because a very high proportion of viewers do identify with the victim, and the material is catered to its audience.

But I think it's mainly that someone who is inclined to take the active/aggressive sexual role doesn't identify with the active/aggressive partner in a scene because they'd do it differently: if you're imagining yourself as the recipient, your lack of control over the scene is sexy; if you're imagining yourself as the aggressor, whenever the character does something you wouldn't have, the scene jars for you. Sexually dominant viewers do tend, therefore, to imagine themselves as voyeurs of the scene rather than participants in it.

So I don't think that the distinction is as clearcut as you suggest: whether someone identifies with one of the characters or as a voyeur of the scene largely depends on whether they're able to identify with the character whom we are intended to identify with.

Of course, I could be wrong: there could be a lot of people out there who identify with the active/aggressive partner in a porn scene. In which case ignore me. But in the case of kinky smut, I definitely think that identification with one of the characters is almost always intended - usually that of the recipient. And I don't think this stops it from being porn. (Not that I think there's anything wrong with porn. Porn is material intended to aid sexual arousal/gratification: drama with sex in has a whole host of other motives. Porn is also sometimes dramatic, or funny, or even moving - certainly the films I've helped write and produce - but we still very much identify it as porn. Possibly this is just a defensive reclamation of the term, however...)
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From:simont
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:23 am (UTC)
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Fair enough. It was a throwaway comment anyway, which occurred to me just as I was writing my comment and I thought I'd (ahem) toss it into the discussion to see what it provoked. I don't regret saying it, though, given that what it provoked was this very interesting and well thought-out response!
From:tamsinj
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:35 am (UTC)
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i'd disagree that sex was private until recently when people became rich enough to afford dwellings with internal walls.

and death was pretty un-private too (corpse carts for the plague, public execution). it's only recently (relatively) that these things have disappeared behind walls of privacy.


hmm. maybe that's why it's ok to display peatdown man, but not someone who died 100 years ago. the former would have no expectation of privacy, and the latter would.
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From:atreic
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)
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But do you think that it was as private as it could be, given limitations in dwellings, transport etc, or was there no attempt to make it private at all?

Public execution is a different thing, because you're deliberately doing something nasty to someone. So taking their privacy away when they die could just be part of that.
From:tamsinj
Date:March 28th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
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in a single-room building/tent, with potentially 10 people sharing.. assuming a private family dwelling, it's hard to see how private it could be :)
but that's family/others. maybe if it was kept to just family, that was private for the time.


hmm. i wonder if coffins are to make carrying/containing corpses easier, or to provide a last piece of privacy for the occupant. [originally of course]
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From:libellum
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:43 am (UTC)
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because you want to be concentrating on the other person rather than having onlookers cheering you on :-)

*coff*
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From:simont
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC)
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Insert "in most cases" in my post as necessary :-)
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From:libellum
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
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*grin*
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From:libellum
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:46 am (UTC)
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I occurs to me that out of birth, death and sex, the one which I saw on screen first was birth - a very gruesome, very hairy 70s film we were shown in school at the age of about 9.

Small children are familiar with birth, in my experience. All the newborn babies I've seen I saw before the age of 10 - my little brother and the children of family friends (although I wasn't present at the birth of any of them). It occurs to me that because we're quite exposed to birth and newborns when we're small, but sex and death are such taboo subjects until we're adults, those are the ones more associated with a voyeuristic/sensationalistic thrill?
From:ex_robhu
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:03 am (UTC)
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I found it an interesting thought just because it had "sex" in it.

atreic I just made an important post, and I used an LJ cut and everything! Please comment saying lots of interesting insightful amusing things in it :-)
From:ex_robhu
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:28 am (UTC)
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Is the spelling in the title a bit iffy?
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From:arnhem
Date:March 28th, 2007 11:46 am (UTC)
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gorey childbirth scenes in the movies.

"Alien" ...
From:tamsinj
Date:March 28th, 2007 12:28 pm (UTC)
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Xbox advert

which actually has both birth and death.but no sex :(
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From:emperor
Date:March 28th, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
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I've heard it opined that traditions where people see the dead body are more helpful in getting closure; those I've heard about are the deceased attending their own wake, and open-coffin funerals (the latter is part of the Orthodox Christian tradition).

To drift dangerously close to theology, Joe sometimes says that the key thing is not whether or not you have a faith you can live by, but whether or not you have a faith you can die with. Maybe the absence of the latter contributes to a general denial of death, and a wish to keep it tightly locked up in a wooden box?
From:mtbc100
Date:March 28th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
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I was surprised when it turned out that Dawn and I were the only ones interested in seeing her father actually getting cremated. (Well, pre-cremation, and into-the-oven.)
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From:robert_jones
Date:March 28th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
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I've heard it opined that traditions where people see the dead body are more helpful in getting closure

That would coincide with my own (very limited) experience.

I've no idea who Joe is, but he seems to have a rather morbid view of religion.
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:March 28th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
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I think there are other ways traditions that can help mourners gain closure. In Jewish funeral traditions the main mourners tend not to see the body (it is prepared for burial by team of volunteers) but there are lots of other rituals which aid mourning such as the mourners filling in the grave, the period of mourning being divided into sections of different degrees of mourning so that the mourner gradually transitions from complete mourning to normal life over a period of up to a year, obligatory religious duties during the mourning period etc.
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From:illusive_shelle
Date:March 28th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
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Look at soap operas though; there's plenty of all three in the average soap.
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From:doseybat
Date:March 28th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
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The biggest money making audience demand is for sex: everybody is interested in it because we have evolved under enormous evolutionary pressure to be interested. I would say in addition to this there is a corresponding pressure to not think about birth: that would really put you off the sex. Christenings do not put people off sex though, its pretty and happy and inclusive.

There is very little portrayal of painful death from illness, that is a huge chunk of life just not represented.

Maybe its funerals not deaths, because you can put a positive community based "celebration of their life" spin on a funeral, but this is more difficult to do with an actual death?

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From:doseybat
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I was reading about something called the "self serving bias" the other day: healthy people's interpretation of events is biased to attribute successes to themselves, and attribute failures to external circumstances (this bias was absent in depressed people whose attribution was a lot more realistic!). Maybe it is very simple: there is demand to see positive things, part of the healthy mechanism of keeping yourself positive and optimistic.
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