The received wisdom states that sex sells. Dandruff shampoo, electric toothbrushes, household cleaning products – hardly the sexiest of items. But adverts often hint that using them increases our bedroom allure. It’s not just marketeers that adhere to this tenet. Hollywood also uses sex to sell its products. When was the last time you saw a film without a ‘love interest’? Even Wall-E – Disney’s rubbish-picking robot who saves humanity from a life of obesity lounging in hi-tech deck chairs, floating on a space station, high above the surface of the planet we ruined with our endless production of waste – finds love with a female robot. Many of the films meant for those old enough to vote go the whole hog and show their protagonists humping and panting with abandon at least once. The assumption being that crank up the sexual heat, and the horny hordes will flock to see the film.
Is there anything wrong with this? Well, possibly. One might argue that the images of sex presented in Hollywood films are unrealistic and might affect people’s sexual expectations. Perhaps this is especially the case for young people watching the film. Of course, films carry a rating, but at eighteen, one’s views of the world are still being formed. Indeed, perhaps one carries on forming them all one’s life. And in any case, people much younger than eighteen watch eighteen-rated films. Films often link sexiness with violence, thereby making violence seem sexy. How many times have we seen the heroine, half-naked, pouting, and in peril? Yes, we know it’s just a film. But no matter how much we know, that doesn’t protect us from conditioning. Actresses may find that they have to get their kit off on camera to get anywhere. They may be expected to take on highly sexualised roles, that make them uncomfortable. Perhaps this is more of a problem for women than men. No doubt there are other reasons why Hollywood sex is problematic. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to suggest that there should be no sex at all of any sort in films, but it would perhaps a good thing to get away from the sort of soft porn that seems to have been steadily creeping into mainstream blockbusters.
It’s interesting, then, to hear of a study carried out by Anemone Cerridwen and Dean Keith Simonton, which suggests that the received wisdom – at least with respect to Hollywood – might be wrong. They studied 914 Hollywood films between 2001-2005, and discovered that explicit sexual content doesn’t equal greater box office success. They also studied the impact of female involvement on a film’s sexual content to see whether there was any correlation, discovering that the number of females on the cast made a difference. It would be interesting to know if a similar study has ever been carried out on the impact of sex on advertising. Their article can be accessed here.
Via Women and Hollywood.
Thanks to Vishal Lama, for sending this in!