Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sex on Television

The first episode of a raunchy new drama(?) series aired this week in Melbourne, and has caused a deal of controversy. The series, Californication, stars David Duchovny of X-Files fame. The first episode - a mere 32 minutes in length - was punctuated by a number of sex scenes which pushed the boundaries for nudity, sexual depiction, and of good/bad taste. It's not often that I find myself agreeing with Andrew Bolt, but I do agree that some serious questions need to be raised about a society in which this can be passed off as entertainment.

The first episode begins with a Duchovny dream sequence, where he is shown entering a Catholic church and encountering a nun... a scene which quickly turns into a sexual encounter which reverts to the bedroom and 'reality' (as opposed to the dream). Bolt asks whether this would be acceptable if the woman were a Muslim - a valid question of our culture. What is it that allows people, in the name of entertainment, to effectively desecrate the central beliefs of a major section of its society? Surely in an admittedly pluralistic society we honour our differences rather than degrade them?

But even more deeply, we need to ask about a society in which sex has been equated with entertainment. Early movies allowed the imagination to play its part. The scene would close with a kiss as the bedroom door closed, then return in the morning. We did not need to witness 'the act', as our imaginations were allowed to take over. Have we lost our collective imagination, such that we have to show everything in order to demonstrate how cultured we are? It is this lack of a collective imagination which imperils our future more than anything else, as we remain locked in present realities unable to imagine alternative ways of being in the face of climate change, environmental concerns, and acts of terrorism. We spend more and more time defending what is as opposed to dreaming of and creating what might be.

And when sex passes as entertainment, we debase the very essence of our humanity, in which the greatest acts of intimacy are mere fodder for the lonely, watching, world. We yearn for deeper relationships, more meaningful community, yet find ourselves spectators of others who are paid for this purpose. The depictions are so far from reality that we are lost. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the high levels of drug use, relationship, health and marriage breakdown and mental health problems amongst the celebrity caste - whose lives seek to echo the 'realities' they construct on the set. We long for deep intimacy with our fellow human beings, yet settle for a cheap alternative: and a horrible ruse at that.

And here's where I part company with Andrew Bolt. The television executives who bring us this are merely reflecting their viewers. These shows would not be made or aired unless there was demand for them. I haven't seen the ratings for the show, but the attention given to it guarantees many more will take a look in the coming weeks. Media executives are rarely leaders when it comes to shaping culture... they merely reflect back to the audience what is in the hearts already. We (the share owners, and the audience) demand that they bring increased audiences and increased profits - shows which we will watch, and therefore command advertising dollars. Perhaps they have read our society all too well.

The gospel offers an alternate and powerful picture of the future, one which captures our spirits and imaginations. In this future, we are invited into a level of intimacy which cannot be captured on screen or mimicked by actors. Perhaps that is its trouble... it isn't too easily marketed, and sometimes we in the church haven't been too good at demonstrating it either.

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