Basic Instinct 2, a new "erotic thriller" starring Sharon Stone, was released a few weekends ago, and to the surprise of almost no one it tanked at the box office. After three weeks at the theatres, the movie has grossed less than $6,000,000. Now, having a movie crash and burn is not that unusual, but what is unusual about this film is that Paul Verhoeven, "director of the first "Basic Instinct" (which scored $353 million worldwide) as well as the widely ridiculed "Showgirls" (now regarded as something of a camp classic), attributes [erotic thrillers'] demise to the current American political climate." According to "Erotic thrillers lose steam at box office" from Reuters (April 3, 2006):
"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," said the Dutch native [Verhoeven]. "Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."
Ignoring for the moment the fact that it is simply untrue that "anything that is erotic" has been banned, the idea that the government is responsible for people not watching a particular erotic thriller shows the alternate universe that these filmmakers inhabit. Still, there are a couple of different aspects to this story that I think deserve comment but which I haven't heard discussed much.
First, it is worth noting that Paul Verhoeven is, in fact, an "active participant" at the Weststar Institute which means, according to the Westar Institute's website, that Mr. Verhoeven "has been or [is] currently involved in the work of the Westar Institute." Now, for those for whom the name "Weststar Institute" has no meaning, the Weststar Institute is the organization behind the Jesus Seminar -- the group of glory-seeking scholars who claim that there goal is to find the historical Jesus, but who I think are actively working to undermine the Christian faith. The fact that one of their fellows should be making comments adverse to Christianity (or, at least, conservative Christianity) should surprise no one familiar with this group's efforts to portray Jesus not as savior, but as a man who has been deified by Christianity.
Second, Christianity does not hate sex. Only someone ignorant of Christian belief and values would hold such a view. Back in January 2005, I wrote about the Biblical view of sex here and pointed out that 1 Cor. 7:4-5 absolutely clears up any misconceptions that Christians should abstain from sex. Sex is a gift from God, and we are called upon to enjoy the gift responsibly, i.e., in the context of a committed marriage relationship.
The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.
The Biblical admonitions against sex goes to perversions of the marital relationship intended by God because such perversions fall into the broad teachings about keeping oneself spiritually pure.
Third, these claims from the erotic movie industry come right before the release of a new study which speaks volumes about the concerns being voiced by conservative Christians. In an article entitled "Teen Exposure to Sex in Media Leads to Intercourse, Study Says" (a headline that speaks volumes), Bloomberg.com reports:
Adolescents who get a heavy diet of music, television, magazines and movies are more likely to have sex at the ages of 14 to 16 years than those who have minimal exposure, said a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
White 12- to 14-year-olds exposed to sex through the media were 2.2 times more likely to participate in early sexual activity than their peers who reported the lowest exposure to media, said the study in the April issue. Black teens, however, were more influenced by their parents' expectations and their friends' sexual behavior.
To me, this study has at least one ramification that is crucial vis-a-vis the view of Mr. Verhoeven: The problem here is that conservative Christians and the erotic-thriller filmmakers have a difference of opinion as to what constitutes good. To the conservative Christian, protecting our children is an issue of great importance. Speaking as a conservative Christian, I don't want my children becoming involved with sex any sooner than necessary for several reasons. First, sex is to be reserved for the marital relationship as I have previously noted. Second, sex brings up relationships and difficulties with which children ought not be required to deal. Films that are erotic don't help promote this vision of protecting our children because they encourage sex, and this study helps prove what every parent who cares about this issue knows instinctively.
People like Mr. Verhoeven value artistic freedom above everything else. A world in which someone would have the gall to suggest that the open portrayal of sex in the movies could have a detrimintal effect on young people is not a world that promotes good, but stagnation. He would probably hold that movies are the expression of the filmmakers and it is wrong to limit that expression in any way regardless of the consequences.
While I don't know if Mr. Verhoeven himself would hold to what I am about to say, I think that a lot of the people trying to peddle their films to the salacious side of our characters don't see the sexualization of children as being a problem. The idea that I would want to protect my children from too much exposure to sex is seen by such people as being a bad thing -- prudish, in fact. To some, children should be brought up to recognize that they are sexual beings and be able to experience their sexuality earlier and earlier in life. To them, that is good. I have known people who hid nothing from their children from an early age for that very reason.
These people argue that it is enough that they place restrictions on who sees the movies by putting a R-rating on the film. In other words, I am really worried about nothing because children aren't seeing these erotic thrillers. Now, I don't know about you, but when I have gone to the occasional R-rated movie (and I don't see many because most are really bad) I have been stunned by how many parents bring their children -- very young children -- to see an "R" rated movie. When I went to see The Matrix with my wife for a 10:00 p.m. showing one Saturday night a few years ago, the theatre was half-filled with children under the age of 12. I am sure that many of the children were under the age of 8!!
Of course, parents are free to take their children to see what they want to see even though it strikes me as odd that parents would want to expose their children to sex and/or violence at that young of age. But what this demonstrated to me most conclusively is that not every parent is concerned about what their children see or how early they see it. In fact, a 2002 study by Brigham Young University showed that only 16 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 are not allowed to watch R-rated films. 16 percent! As the study points out, that means "84 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 have seen R-rated movies" which leads to consequences:
Researchers found that children who were allowed to watch R-rated movies were three times more likely to smoke and drink than those who were not allowed to watch R-rated movies, according to the study.
While this statistic doesn’t prove that one causes the other, it implies that viewing material considered inappropriate for children can have more serious implications. Beginning to smoke and drink while young means increased risks and faster addiction.
The report on the Bringham Young study does not talk about sexual involvement, but certainly it is not unreasonable to assume that if it is true that children who see adults smoking and drinking in R-rated movies are more likely to copy them, then what about sex? This new study seems to fill in the blank -- 84% of children between the ages of 10 and 14 are permitted to go see R-rated movies where they are exposed to erotic material, and seeing this material is making them significantly more likely to engage in sexual conduct at earlier ages. Sex, after all, is a very strong passion which, if the right opportunity arises, is very hard to resist.
Here's the question: are these filmmakers putting this material into movies knowing that 84% of kids between the ages of 10 and 14 are permitted to watch R-rated films for the purpose of making them sexually active at an early age? In my view, while they may not realize the number of kids they are reaching, I certainly wouldn't put it beyond them.