Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“But Professional Actors Aren’t Sexually Affected”

* CONTENT ADVISORY: The specificity this topic requires may be inappropriate for some readers. I will quote from (and cite) a couple articles that, due to their explicit nature, I would not recommend visiting.*

While on the set of an independent film, I overheard one of the actresses talk about a sex scene she had done in a theatrical production. Based on her limited understanding of male anatomy, it was obvious she wasn’t a girl given to immorality in her everyday life. In fact, she might have even considered herself a Christian (I saw her reading a copy of Left Behind during a lunch break). Whatever the case, the way she described the sex scene made it obvious that her male co-star was sexually aroused by the experience—something he apologized to her for.

Now, I’ve heard it argued that simulated sex scenes in works of art (as opposed to real sex scenes in porn) are devoid of any sense of eros. They’re all business and no pleasure, so to speak. So was the story I heard just an isolated incident?

Hardly. The article ‘My mum’s going to see this’: Actors and actresses reveal secrets of the sex scenes attempts to explore what goes on during the filming of a sex scene “when titillation is not the primary ambition.” [1]

Although all the actors interviewed [for this article] claimed sex scenes were unerotic to film, apocryphal tales of male actors who can’t hide their arousal are as old as cinema. . . . Adds [actress Chloë] Sevigny: “There’s the famous cliché where the boys say, ‘Excuse me if I get hard... [and] excuse me if I don’t.’”

The article continues a little later:

[T]hespian lore is full of tales of actors getting carried away while simulating sex, and also of actors suddenly wishing that the love-making was for real. “Sidney Lumet says in his book on directing that when actors fall for each other it will either be in the rehearsal or the shooting of the love scene,” says [actress Natalie] Dormer.

A perusal through the article reveals that emotions and/or hormones can run high during these scenes, often in negative ways—especially for the women (an issue we’ve dealt with before and will revisit sometime in the future). Sexual arousal can be a very present hindrance in times of filming (so to speak). Not only that, but the filming of a sex scene can lead actors to generate emotional attachments to the point of actually falling in love.

As noted above, men are more susceptible to sexual arousal during sex scenes. Actress Maria Di Angelis concurs:

You have to have a sense of humor about filming these scenes. But the men, especially, have to keep themselves in check. [2]

What do men in particular need to keep in check? The answer is obvious: their libido. This makes sense, seeing as how men are generally more visually oriented then women. And since they also generally tend to treat sex more impersonally, they can more easily get hormonally involved without there being any real relationship between them and their female counterparts.

Maria Di Angelis was involved in the orgy scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. Considering that Martin Scorsese was at the helm, she figured this was as good a time as any to do a nude scene. After the shoot, she overheard two male actors talking about her part in the scene:

“I couldn’t help but get an erection,” one of them said. “It was so hot.”

(When the men realized she had heard them talking about her, they quickly apologized.)

Of course, it’s not always just men who struggle on set. One lady who pretended to have sex with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (in the same scene as above) kept acting like it was real. Angelis, who was present for the incident, said, “She was very—how can I say?—enthusiastic. It wasn’t acting.”

So we see that men (primarily) and women (occasionally) can’t just turn off their sexuality when participating in sexually explicit scenarios. It would seem the human psyche short circuits when attempting to separate sexual actions from sexual feelings.

Notice also how the men in the above scenarios acted when they were “caught” responding to their co-stars sexually: they apologized. They were aware that a line of indecency had been crossed, and the instinctual response was to say, “I’m sorry.”

But there’s another problem with saying sex scenes aren’t arousing for actors. It’s found in a short snippet from the article we first looked at:

…films where the actors have real, as opposed to simulated sex, are becoming more common.

You can’t say actors are uninvolved sexually/hormonally if they are actually having intercourse for the camera. In fact, there’s a word for that: pornography.

Sexual arousal = lust?

In their book Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker define sexual purity this way: it is “receiving no sexual gratification from anything or anyone outside of your husband or wife.” The book itself is problematic (I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it), but I think this definition is helpful in its specificity.

In light of such a definition, it is problematic for you as an actor—especially if you’re a man—to agree to star in a film that will require simulated sex. Your subsequent sexual arousal cannot be labeled as a merely innocent biological reaction.

Having said that, let me reiterate something I said last week: sexual arousal is not synonymous with lust. If you’re shopping for groceries, a scantily clad woman struts by, and you find yourself sexually aroused, that in and of itself is not a sin. It is an opportunity to sin, but it is, at that moment, a temptation only. (I know it’s easy in our minds to equate temptation with sin, but the two are far from equal.)

What Scripture forbids is actively giving ourselves an opportunity to sin: “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14); “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). If you purposefully put yourself in harm’s way, you are being foolish at best and downright sinful at worst. Praying “lead me not into temptation” while willingly putting yourself on the path of temptation is an exercise in futility.

My main point is simply that sex scenes in movies can be, and often are, sexually arousing to actors. We must not pretend otherwise—especially when considering how to best show Christian love to the actors whom we pay to entertain us.

Previous entry: If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?
Next entry: Turning Sex Into a Spectator Sport

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/my-mums-going-to-see-this-actors-and-actresses-reveal-secrets-of-the-sex-scenes-7658255.html

[2] http://nypost.com/2013/12/23/my-orgy-with-leonardo-dicaprio

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?

We’ve gotten it into our heads that the sexuality on display in sex scenes isn’t “real.” Since intercourse (usually) doesn’t take place1; and since the costars are (sometimes) not in an off-screen relationship, and therefore wouldn’t participate in such actions otherwise; and because film sets are (occasionally) sparsely populated during intimate scenes in an attempt to maintain professionalism, such actions shouldn’t be labeled as sexual.

Let me share a simple illustration that helps us clear away the fog. In a recent Facebook discussion, I saw one lady make an astute observation (which I have only slightly edited):

If you come upon your wife and she’s covered in “blood” and writhing on the ground while someone stands over her with a bloody sword, and then she sees you and says, “Oh, we’re just cosplaying and this is raspberry syrup,” you’d laugh and say, “Wow, that was realistic.” Whereas if she were naked with some guy and they were swapping spit and rubbing up on each other, and she sees you and says, “Oh, we were just cosplaying a scene from Game of Thrones”—it’s an entirely different matter. Yes?

Yes it is. And the parallel she draws between violence and sexuality is helpful. Pretending to have sex with someone in front of the camera is quite different from pretending to shoot someone in front of the camera. An on-screen shooting is not real—not the bullet, not the wound, not the blood (if any is shown). The actor isn’t harmed in any way. There’s even an off-screen mat to catch the gun “victim” when he falls down.

On the other hand, a naked actor is still a real human being who is naked. Her (or his) nakedness and her sexual interaction with her costar are not special effects. When sexual organs are either on display or actively engaged—even if the act of intercourse itself is simulated—the proceedings are very real, and very sexual.

It could be argued that not all activities involving sexual organs are inherently sexual. That is true. Doctor examinations, emergency medical attention (CPR, etc.), autopsies—these experiences could be perverted into sexual situations, but they are not inherently so.

But we’re not talking about giving medical attention or solving a crime, are we? We’re talking about “swapping spit” and “rubbing up on each other”—stuff strangers, friends, and married people don’t just walk around doing to others (for good reasons).

The argument might be made that sex scenes aren’t sexual because the actors aren’t sexually aroused during the process. While it is often true that some actors—especially women—don’t find the filming of sex scenes arousing or enjoyable, what does that prove? Is sexual arousal, or lack therefore, the determining factor for whether an act is sexual or not? In acts such as prostitution, rape, and pedophilia, sexual arousal is most decidedly not a universally experienced component, but that doesn’t eliminate their sexual nature.

Later on in this blog series, I will attempt to show that actors—especially men—often do experience sexual arousal during the filming of intimate scenes. Their natural biological response is sexual because the situation is sexual. I don’t mean to imply that tantalization and sexual arousal are synonymous with lust. I only mean to show what I’ve heard many people deny: that mainstream sex scenes are devoid of eros and are therefore asexual.

What about the level of professionalism involved in sex scenes? A film set is more professional than a porn set, I’ll grant you that. But that’s damning with faint praise. It’s an argument I’ve heard too many times: “It’s not as bad as…” The person using this argument is using a standard with which to compare the sex scene, and the standard has nothing to do with Scripture. It has to do with the lowest common denominator. Of course it’s going to look better than that!

As far as I can tell, Scripture makes no prohibition against playing pretend. Acting the part of an antagonist doesn’t necessitate violating God’s law to love your neighbor. Pretending to shoot or kill someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws prohibiting revenge or murder. Pretending to be married to someone doesn’t necessitate violating God’s laws against adultery. Heck, playing a character who has or does or will carry out devious sexual acts doesn’t necessitate violating God’s requirements for purity.

What God’s law does prohibit is sexually acting out with someone other than your spouse. Or, to be more specific, it prohibits sexual intercourse outside marriage. And lest we think that we’re safe so long as we avoid blatant adultery or fornication, the Bible prohibits sexual lust that involves only internal actions (Pr. 6:25; Matt. 5:28), equating them with the act of adultery itself.

With that in mind, do we really want to draw the line of sexual purity right at copulation? Do we really want to say that foreplay, which naturally and intrinsically precedes sexual intercourse, can be employed without even a hint of sexuality? That the only really sacred part of sex is the act of penetration itself, and that everything up to that point is (potential) fodder for public consumption? Are we content with such a blasé view of one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind?

Where is the pure and holy and satisfying fun in that?

Previous entry: When Art Imitates Pornography
Next entry: “But Professional Actors Aren’t Sexually Affected”

1 I say “usually” because of the rare occasion (like with the film Lust, Caution) where it’s rumored that actors might have had intercourse during the filming of a sex scene. In fac, we will see in a future installment of this series that it is more common for actors to engage in actual sex for the camera than one might expect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When Art Imitates Pornography

I wish a blog series like this wasn’t necessary. I wish the sexualization and objectification of human beings hadn’t become so pervasive that they often go unnoticed and unchallenged—even in the church. Unfortunately, many of us have become inoculated to it. Where we once might have blushed we now fail to even bat an eye. In the words of author Shellie R. Warren,

With music videos like “Anaconda” and television shows like Dating Naked around for our perusing “pleasure”, a lot of us don’t even have to download porn. It’s all over pop culture. And so, since we’re used to seeing a lot of what used to be only reserved for HBO’s Real Sex, we don’t even catch that a lot of what’s on television is pornographic.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe this is an area where our hearts have grown numb. We’ve become callous to various forms of porn in our entertainment. As I have argued in the past, one “acceptable” version of porn is sex scenes (and many forms of nudity) in major motion pictures.

Is it really fair to label such cinematic choices as pornography? E. Stephen Burnett says yes:

This is a point beyond contention: naked people who act out sexual scenarios in public media in order to get money is porn. So the argument is not truly about whether it is porn; the only real argument is how we respond to it.

Some might say pornography should be more narrowly defined: that it is an explicit display of sexuality with the purposeful intent of stimulating sexual arousal. Because the intention of most films is to stimulate aesthetic or emotional feelings, there is a legitimate difference between what the porn industry produces and what Hollywood produces. So the argument goes.

In all fairness, there is a lot of truth in that argument. However, I’ve already shown how the differences between Hollywood sex scenes and porn are cause for greater concern, not less. The differences actually serve to damn mainstream sex scenes, not excuse them.

To build on what I’ve already said, this blog series is designed to expose just how much the two are actually alike (with equally damning results). As I see it, there are seven similarities. This series will detail the similarities over the course of seven separate blog posts.

Now that this series has been completed, let me give an updated overview of each article. Here are the similarities between porn (which I am assuming Christians can agree is inherently unacceptable) and sex scenes in movies (which Christians are, at the very least, willing to tolerate, if not outright defend).

Sexual acts are sexual acts, whether your hormones are involved or not. Trying to separate “sexual acts for the camera” into a class all by itself is no better than trying to say what you do with your eyes isn’t adultery because you haven’t actually touched anything. You might as well try arguing that all sex acts up until the point of actual intercourse are not inherently sexual.

2. They can involve sexual arousal for actors (mostly/especially men)

It’s true that not every Hollywood actor experiences arousal during a sex scene (although the same can be said for actors in porn as well). Still, we can’t pretend that all responsible adults can just magically turn off their sex drives when they get partially or fully naked with a costar and perform sexual acts with them.

A real or simulated sex act portrayed onscreen is a violation of both art and morality. It is both an aesthetic canker that pushes audiences out of the story and a perversion of a private act. Sex gone public is sex gone wrong. It turns genuine art into porn.

Biblically speaking, sex was not designed to be a spectator sport. In contrast, Hollywood sex scenes and porn films invite us to do something we were never designed to do: watch people sexually act out. For entertainment, no less.

The scenarios conveyed in porn are often outlandish and entirely outside the realm of reality. So are many mainstream sex scenes. The picture of sex often painted for us in movies is fantastic—not in the “man, that’s great” sense, but in the “man, what alternate universe are they living in?” sense.

Sex scenes in movies are not a practice in celebrating marital fidelity and covenant love. Rather, what is celebrated is, first and foremost, fornication. Adultery and infidelity aren’t off limits, either. Cinematic portrayals of the sex act present us with a myriad of divinely prohibited ways in which people receive fleeting sexual satisfaction. In the process, it largely ignores the one and only place in which we can receive truly genuine sexual fulfillment: the marriage bed.

7. They dehumanize and objectify actors (mostly/especially women)

I’ve argued this already in countless other places, but it bears repeating. With sex scenes, actors are treated like characters in a book: figments of imagination without souls or wills—something completely at the mercy of a demanding audience (i.e., us).

So, those are my arguments. Those are the seven similarities between porn’s use of sex and the film industry’s use of sex scenes. If you see any glaring (or not so glaring) holes in my propositions at the outset, please let me know. This is a conversation that needs to take place in the church—not so one side can come out victorious, but so we in the body of Christ can be united in our pursuit of holiness as we fight this fight of faith side by side.

Next entry in this blog series: If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Real Problem with Nude Celebrity Photos

It was bad enough when privately stored nude photos of several celebrities were recently stolen and released online. Now, to add insult to injury, a so-called artist is planning on including some of these nude photos—in particular, those of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton—in an upcoming art show. He doesn’t consider it stealing, and he doesn’t consider it exploitative. In his mind, it is art.

Now, I think most of us agree that his defense is laughable. It is a perpetuation of the invasion of privacy. It is indecent and tawdry, as was the original theft and publication of the photos. But I’d like to ask a simple question: why?

Imagine a slightly different scenario: several celebrities decide to release nude photos of themselves because they want to communicate that they are not ashamed of their bodies. What would be the response from the media and the culture at large? My guess is that it would be largely positive. The actors would be praised for their bravery and transparency. Some would likely even categorize the photos as…art.

Or consider another scenario that often does take place: actors agree to be shot nude in sex scenes for films in which they star. In these cases, it’s not just a still image being presented to the public. It’s much more personal: a naked pair of actors simulating the most intimate of acts, usually with graphic sounds and gestures. In cases like these, there is no outcry from the press, no weeping from the church, no laments at the loss of innocence. Why? Because the nudity is consensual.

Consent is one of the idols of our age. Our contemporaries bow down and worship at the feet of consent all the time—especially in the arena of sexual ethics. Anything sexual is permissive, so long as genuine consent is involved. In fact, it is not only allowable but also laudable.

Now, is the idea of consent evil in and of itself? Of course not. But when we use a good thing as an excuse to violate the prohibitions of God, we’ve suddenly turned that good thing into a substitute god—something we have chosen to obey in place of the Divine Lawgiver.

When we contemplate the theft and publication of nude celebrity photos, are we as Christians most concerned about the lack of consent? To be sure, that is a legitimate concern. But heaven help us if that is our only concern. God has clothed the human body with beauty, dignity, and honor. To treat it as fodder for objectification in the guise of entertainment is to deface a work of God’s art.

The problem isn’t even with nudity, per se. In its proper contexts, nudity is good and right. In marriage, it’s even commanded (and fun). No, the problem is with public nudity. It is an indiscriminate celebration of shame.

As Christians, how should we view this public scandal? With grief, yes. But let’s make sure our grief is aimed at all the right places. Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton need to be treated like human beings. They are real people worthy of respect and honor. They are not pieces of meat to be paraded before the masses for voyeuristic pleasure—regardless of whether the parade is consensual or not.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Does a Story Ever Really *Require* A Sex Scene?

I am honored to have the folks at Speculative Faith post an article of mine: Actually, Fantastic Films Don’t Require Sex and Nudity. In this piece, I examine two potential problems with the argument that nudity and/or sex scenes are necessary to any film.

Special thanks to E. Stephen Burnett for his encouragement and editing prowess, and for coming up with a great tagline for the article: “Might we end up justifying idolatry or sexual sins by believing ‘the story made me do it’?”