This is the third post in a series that began with Part 1. I recommend beginning there, and following the links at the end of each section to work through the following posts in the series (of which there will be five).
The third claim embedded in the criticism of Kick-Ass to which I’m responding is found here in the original passage:
Goldman would presumably say that it is violence, not sex, that our pre-teen heroine learns, but that is a cowardly distinction—although, to be fair, it is a cowardice shared by everyone from the M.P.A.A. down…. when filmmakers nudge a child into viewing savagery as slapstick, are we not allowing them to do what we condemn in the pornographer—that is, to coarsen and inflame?
I think it’s fair to rephrase it thus:
Violence and sex should be conflated, as should pornography and violent film; not to do so is cowardice. The MPAA should be more courageous in conflating sex and violence, and restricting cinematic access of both to children who are able to steal, download, or otherwise see movies outside of cinemas. After all, porno and violent movies are both bad for us.
The reason I think this is fair is because the original passage is so clueless and illogical that it deserves to be mocked. The MPAA has nothing to see with what films kids see. Sorry, folks, but it’s true. The MPAA does (for now) have something to do with how films get censored prior to their release, but any kid with an internet connection or a friend with permissive parents (or even cable TV) will see any film he or she likes. Hell, kids have probably seen things on the internet that would turn most of their parents’ hair grey.
It’s a fact of life. The adults of the world have no choice but to deal with it. Well, and to not depend on maintaining the polite myth that their kids don’t know about this stuff. Because, well, rest assured: most of them very likely do, or soon will.
So then, leaving aside the inherent censoriousness of the critic — though, if you ask me, censors are exactly the kind of people on whom one wishes the filmmaker would sic Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass — the argument which needs a little addressing is: sex and violence are the same thing, they should be conflated in the discussion of Kick-Ass, and not to do so is cowardly.
I’m pulling my punch here, in the hope that I’m being fair and not naive. That is, I’m hoping this critic doesn’t seriously think we should be conflating eros and thanatos, treating them interchangeably–as if Kill Bill were equivalent to an uncensored Japanese porn movie or a real-life snuff film or something. Let’s assume, against all evidence, that this critic isn’t that far gone — for, in any case, such silliness will be refuted in the fifth installment of this response.
There is sex, in Kick-Ass. Less of it than apparently appears in the comic, but Katie and Dave have sex in a public place. Unlike the critic, I didn’t see sexual perversion, or pedophilia, in the scene where she appears in a relatively schoolgirlish outfit, but I suppose we could argue that is subjective.
Except, of course, that Hit Girl is only spoken about once in any sexual capacity, in which pedophilia is immediately dismissed. One of Dave’s friends declares his love for Hit Girl, and when the other friend points out her age mockingly, the first friend says, “I can wait for her.” The friend is not seeing Hit Girl in a sexual light, it seems obvious to me: he’s just in awe of her fighting prowess, and speaks the way D&D gamers used to speak in my younger days when they met a girl who was a gamer, or the way SF geek guys I know now speak when they meet a girl who’s into SF. (Or home brewing guys might do when meeting a woman who’s into making beer, or whatever.)
The film does, of course, keep us constantly conscious of the fact that Hit Girl is a little girl. But it doesn’t actually sexualize her. Her heroic costume is not sexual — it looks like a kid’s purple-and-black Halloween costume, and her “schoolgirl” uniform seems, to me, supposed to be like, well, a schoolgirl’s uniform. She’s a girl superhero, trying to pose as a normal girl. Makes sense to me she’d go with an archetype. Her glee in shopping for weapons online isn’t adult-like: what confuses us is the fact that her father’s reaction to the online weapon-shopping (and his maniacal obsession with being a superhero) is so adolescent. It’s the man who’s made into a teenager, not the little girl made into an adult (ie. pornographic) fantasy.
And as for the idea that Hit Girl somehow represents the pedophile’s dream… huh? My sense is that Hit Girl is the child every pedophile would fear most. Any adult who tried to mess with this kid would — quite rightfully, if you ask me — be dead in ten seconds flat. Would that kids had the power to kick the shit out of anyone who assaulted them sexually. I’m sorry, but I think the world would be a better place for it… an opinion I hold after hearing far too many people relate stories of middle-aged men messing with them, or trying to, as children.
As for coarsening and inflaming: these are not objective qualities. Certainly our critic cannot declare for all viewers that the purpose of the narrative, or any element in it, is to coarsen and enflame. If indeed this were the case, the coarseness and inflammatory nature of the criticism itself would make that criticism itself an ideal candidate for the descriptor of pornography. But in any case, the creator’s purpose will vary with different readings of a text or film, and our critic does not have a direct line to the creator’s mind… and it is, in this case, a quite arguable point.