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Sex and Death In George W. Bush's America


By blaming American prudishness for the box office massacre of Basic Instinct 2, Paul Verhoeven, the man who should have directed V For Vendetta, has brought the wrath of the anti-Bush-bashers down on his own weaselly Dutch head. Sez the Robocop, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers helmer:

Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States… 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.

Nicholas Meyer, whose Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, and Undiscovered Country were the most artistically successful of the big-screen Star Trek efforts (and whose TV movie The Day After took a bold and original stand against nuclear war), says the whole culture's gone kerblooey:

"We're in a big puritanical mode," he said. "Now, it's like the McCarthy era, except it's not 'Are you a communist?' but 'Have you ever put sex in a movie?'"

For writers like Meyer…the erotic genre has become a tough sell for studios increasingly leery of adult-themed material. Despite receiving glowing coverage, he and co-writer Ron Roose have found no takers for their sexy screenplay "Spoils."

"Every studio that read it said, 'This is going to get made.' They just didn't want to be the one to make it," he said.

"[A]ny director who can turn a movie about lapdancing into a stultifyingly dull 3 hour movie may not actually have a good grasp on what is erotic," scoffs one observer. "Make a bad movie, blame George Bush," sniffs another. A third avers, "People didn't go to see "Showgirls" because it was a derivative piece of tripe with a bad script, bad acting, bad directing, and bad editing." "[M]aybe Hollywood is indeed so depraved that the normal American culture, sex-drenched though it may be, looks Puritanical by contrast," another warns. "Scary, if true."

Some of these objections are baseless: Verhoeven has no excuses to make because he had nothing to do with Basic Instinct 2. If anything, he's got an incentive to gloat over the sequel's failure and claim that he was the key to the original's success (more on that in a moment). And while you can call Showgirls many things, "derivative" is not one of them; if ever a Hollywood movie was a true original, Showgirls was that movie.

Every tale of outrage about entertainment depravity starts with an anecdote about how the teller had to sit helplessly, unable to stir a hand toward the remote control, while some offensive show played in its full torturous length. So here's mine: After watching one of the NFL playoff games at the home of a friend who has only rabbit ears TV reception, I caught one of those endlessly replicating CSI-type shows (whichever one stars Mark Harmon), and it was as grisly and violent as an Italian gut-muncher from the seventies. The plot revolved around a killer who was sending the cops "meat puzzles"—thoroughly dismembered bodies with the pieces thrown together in a random pile. Now one thing I know about the coroner shows is that their audiences skew much older: Everybody's mom gets off on watching the MEs go about their suety business with fancy equipment. Presumably this audience includes at least some of the people Brent Bozell musters to bombard the FCC with complaints. So I'm thinking Maybe they're getting away with all these lingering closeups of bloody, mangled torsos and feet and faces because the audience sees some kind of educational value—you're getting the lowdown on how the cops solve crimes. But by the end of the show I had to give up even that excuse: As the killer finds himself cornered by the cops, he grabs a scalpel and cuts open his own throat, and the scene is done with full latex-and-squib effects and shooting blood.

I have not written an angry letter to the FCC because I want more explicit violence, not less, on my TV. But comparing the silence that met that show with the FCC's $3.6 million fine for a dimly lit orgy scene (on another violent cop show), I am willing to consider the possibility that American popular culture really does have a pretty fucked-up and schizophrenic relationship with depictions of sex and violence. I don't blame President Bush for that, but I don't praise him either: He put Kevin Martin in charge of the FCC, and Martin, despite his disturbingly hairless chin, is not exactly an innocent party here.

Obviously, it's a leap to go from that to saying Bush prevented people from lining up to spend money on a way-out-of-date movie franchise. Adult-themed films have been dying out for years, and the Hollywood Economist has the most persuasive explanation for that. If you want to know why Basic Instinct 2 tanked, it's because they didn't bring back the one person who was the key to the original movie's success: Wayne "Newman" Knight. Go watch the famous crotch sequence again, and it's clear: Without Newman's sweaty reaction shots that scene would have fallen completely flat.

In a related case of defining Bush-bashing down, Polyphonic Spree, the massive, robe-wearing, vaguely cultish pop ensemble, is getting dragged into the gutter of party politics. Dangerously charismatic frontman Tim de Laughter says the band's next song will be an "ode to Bush," and the liberal media give it the headline, "Polyphonic Spree Bash Bush On New Album." (The only thing more dangerous for the president than a Polyphonic Spree defection would be if Doug Henning and Shields & Yarnell teamed up to help the Democrats.)