Finally, a critic brave enough to take on those immoral suits in Hollywood has emerged. Dr. Hasantha Gunasekera of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney has recently released a study that shows—conclusively——that major motion pictures portray sex and drug use as consequence-free activities. Gunasekera took the top 200 movies of all time and eliminated those rated G or PG, those set before the emergence of HIV (1983) and those not about humans. She was left with 87 flicks from which she observed that tobacco use tends to be portrayed positively and that unsafe sex almost never leads to death.
I know we can all agree that this information is long overdue. Movies, after all, are not meant to be some form of entertainment. They are precise instructions for how to live, presented in moving-picture form.
I take Dr. Gunasekera’s findings as a call to action. Hollywood simply must be more aware of the example its films are setting—kids today are simply not sophisticated enough to understand that the pretty people on the big shiny wall are only play-acting. Think about how many movies you’ve seen during which the actors did not eat anything at all and yet did not die of starvation. Preposterous! How will people know that they have to eat and drink water to stay alive? Or what about money? I can think of several films just in the last year in which characters used money to purchase goods or services, but did you ever see those characters going to a bank machine? Did you see them depositing their paycheques in the bank, or cashing them at Money Mart? No you didn’t. How can we teach fiscal responsibility to the next generation of consumers when movies can’t even explain how a bank account works?
But naysaying is easy. I can whine until I’m blue in the face about how Kathy Bates does not get her three daily servings of calcium during Misery yet isn’t struck down mid-movie by osteoporosis, but whining alone isn’t going to keep grandma out of the brittle-bone clinic. Instead, we must take it upon ourselves to demand that Hollywood rectify the unacceptable behaviours they glorify. We must suggest more appropriate storylines for their movies.
Take the recent film Broken Flowers. Good Lord, was that riddled with problems! To start with, you’ve got unprotected sex between Bill Murray and at least four ladies—plus sex againwith Sharon Stone and let’s just assume Julie Delpy as well. Then you’ve got Jeffrey Wright smoking a doob in basically every other scene, sometimes even with his children around—I mean, that’s disgusting. We also see Bill Murray ingesting wine on several occasions and looking at a naked underage girl. We can’t have children thinking that it’s possible to drink booze and smoke pot and have sex multiple times with the only consequences being a nagging emptiness and the sense that one’s life has not developed to full fruition.
Here’s the ending I propose: syphilis all around, plus extra gonorrhea for Bill Murray and Sharon Stone. Sharon Stone gets pregnant again, child-protection services take away Lolita and throws Sharon in jail because they found out about the underage drinking and household nudity. The way they find out, of course, is that Bill Murray becomes a raging alcoholic (due to his constant use of wine) and brags to his bartender about having had the chance to bang a teenager. Sadly, before they can arrest him and throw away the key, Bill Murray dies in a gutter choking on his own vomit. Jeffrey Wright develops a deadly marijuana addiction and while in a state of reefer madness, slaughters his wife and kids with an Ethiopian coffee spoon. He also ends up in jail, where he hangs himself over the horror his casual use of marijuana has wreaked upon his family. The movie ends with Sharon Stone in a prison STD clinic, repentant and aware she has gotten exactly what she deserves.
Now that’s a movie for young people to see! Chock full of healthy scare-tactical violence and fear-mongering edutainment. Movie violence, after all, is not just a completely unobjectionable and wholesome way to entertain children, it is also an excellent tool for illustrating the deadly consequences of unprotected sexual activity and/or drug use. Dr. Gunasekera was certainly right when she decided not to bother cataloguing violence in her survey.
Picture if you will a slasher movie of the classic variety: Two kids go off to engage in a sex act and they are hacked to death by a psychopath. An intoxicated teen wanders away from a party and he or she is eviscerated and left to rot in the woods. More filmmakers should use this tactic to discourage unsafe behaviour. Youth cannot be expected to understand the dangers of drug use as portrayed in a movie that is actually about drugs and their consequences (Requiem for a Dream or somesuch). No, they need the dangers of narcotics to be driven home to them in every movie, no matter how bizarre the context or unrealistic the subplot. This allows us to dispel the ridiculous myths of intoxication and consequence-free sexual activity while reinforcing the understanding that killing things is awesome.
The children of the world have been befuddled by the movies for long enough. Write your member of parliament! Write to your congressperson! Demand that the film industry start to take responsibility for the societal problems they perpetuate. The AIDS epidemic will not be stopped by honest sexual education or condoms in schools, nor will drug addiction and drug-related violence be stemmed by more money for treatment programs and more equitable drug laws. Only Hollywood can save us now.
Audrey Ference tries her darndest to keep up with what the kids are into these days. Her column appears every two weeks. Read other recent columns by Audrey Ference.