Have you heard Mormons justify seeing a given R-rated movie on the basis that the R-rating was “just for violence” (not nudity or sex)?
I have, and I don’t think it’s just my imagination that Mormons see graphic (non-violent) sex as worse or less appropriate for entertainment than graphic violence. Orson Scott Card argued (with relevant quotes from Ezra Taft Benson) that the prophet’s advice to avoid R-rated movies only relates to sexual content. On the other hand, in their discussion of applying LDS standards to art, the feminist Mormon housewives include violence on the list of standards (although the focus appears to be on sexual content).
This opinion isn’t unique to Mormons. After all, the violent film Card was commenting on in the above-linked article was the supremely Christian uplifting torture flick The Passion of Christ. In related news, some churches have taken to hosting game nights of the violent video game Halo in order to get young people in the door of the church. One leader compared this tactic to offering porn and alcohol to lure teenage boys to church, but in jest. The implication seems to be that violence isn’t to be encouraged, but sex is much worse.
Is it just the religious, then? Perhaps not. I argued in my review of the atheist fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials” that the author seemed squeamish about sex — hinting about it in veiled terms — even though he had no problem describing violence. The Harry Potter series appears to be the same way although it’s not clear that it’s entirely secular. (There’s some interesting follow-up discussion here.)
This seems backwards to me: Why is violence entertainment and sex taboo? And why is this especially the case for entertainment directed at young people? I would hope that sexuality will be a part of my children’s life one day, but violence? I hope it won’t be. I think Christiann expressed the problem well (in a discussion of sex vs. violence in Rowling’s work):
It’s problematic for me because it is something that I think is over-present in popular media. Characters survive horrific events, stand up, brush themselves off, and go have a cup of coffee. So, violence in popular culture has this Looney Tune feel to it. But the even more troubling trend is the rampant graphic programming about raped and murdered women, while the FCC will descend like a ravenous bird of prey when, say, the breast of a live performer appears on the screen. In our culture now, there is tolerance of violence and even sexual violence (or even ESPECIALLY sexual violence) but complete INTOLERANCE of naturally expressed sexuality.
Sure, there’s a question of what is age-appropriate (see the birds and the bees and the whales), but the idea that sex is worse than violence seems pretty common in entertainment and media for all ages.
Personally I think the reason for it is that entertainment is social and sexuality is private — any mixing of the two makes a lot of people uncomfortable.