A Smaller Screen For Sex

NSFW, but safe for NSFW Saturday:

Adam Sternbergh asks why there’s a “tendency in modern mainstream movies to treat sex as something that happens elsewhere, offscreen and unspoken of”:

Part of the reason is because of the internet, that perpetual digital orgy, which has busted the movies’ monopoly as the place where we go to glimpse naughty things. (That sexy scene in Moscow on the Hudson? The whole movie’s currently streaming on Hulu.) And part of the reason is because Hollywood, in the blockbuster age, has succumbed to the self-neutering gospel of the four quadrants — by which the world is split up into increasingly gory R-rated action and horror films; fun-for-the-whole-family superhero epics (superheroes, it’s well known, have no genitalia); animated films for the kid in all of us; and movies by Nicholas Sparks.

In the era of Top Gun, The Big EasyBody Heat, or other steamy Hollywood thrillers, the goal was to appeal to both men and women with the promise of (among other things) onscreen sex.

(Ergo the fabled “date night” movie.) Now the goal is to appeal to adults and their 12-year-old kids with the promise of the absence of sex. As for more serious films, flipping back through the Best Picture nominees from the last few years — films like Argo and The King’s Speech and Inception — the only ones with truly memorable sex scenes are Black Swan and The Wolf of Wall Street. Yet in the former, the sex (between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) plays out like a nightmare; and in the latter, the sex feels like a porno directed by Hieronymous Bosch.

But the real cultural shift — as any with a pay-cable subscription will tell you — is that the small screen has finally steamed over. After decades spent as Hollywood’s prudish country cousin, TV now brings televised sex of near-Caligulian variety and inventiveness into our homes. There’s even a term, sexposition, created specifically for moments when characters are communicating information while also having, or watching, sex. TV, in particular pay cable, has claimed this ground in part because it can — there’s no MPAA threatening to slap censorious NC-17s on True Blood every week.

Of course, Dan Savage has been trying to reverse this trend for years with his amateur porn festival: