We live in a world of false choices. Much of this is due to the limits of language. I only speak English, so I can’t say for certain that all languages suffer from this problem, but I know that English is full of necessary limitations that create conflict where none need exist. Conceptually, we tend to stick things into camps, and we tend to treat those camps as innate and indivisible.
It’s why I’ll probably always be a “light” writer because I carry most of the markers of light writing. I have humor, and it isn’t humor based on cruelty or vulgarity. While some of my books have naughty language, most of them don’t. And I find myself less inclined to use mature language as time goes on. I don’t generally write gore. I don’t generally write sex.
I’m not against these things. There is no single correct way to tell a story, partly because what Person X finds distasteful or offensive, Person Y will find satisfying and delightful. And as my previous post mentioned, I’m all for that. The only problem is that nudity, violence, sexual content, and anything else you care to label as “mature content” isn’t innately mature. It’s just a label for all the stuff we don’t like children watching. But just because something is unsuitable for children that doesn’t make it mature.
I tend not to get into mature shows because they are beholden to certain requirements. As happy as I am to have a mainstream fantasy show in The Game of Thrones on HBO, I’m also disappointed that, without the boobs and blood, nobody would probably watch it. Only by adding gratuitous adult content does the show rise above being a nerd phenomenon. If it was straight fantasy without these elements, it would be kid stuff, no matter how intelligent and well-written.
The false choice that comes with this is that if I express this thought, I will almost always come across as a prude. But I don’t find blood and gore offensive. I just find it boring for the most part. I realize that, at heart, we are merely animals, and that violence and sex have tremendous appeal. Even people who hate the stuff can’t stop thinking about it. To me, the person who is captivated by mature content and the person who is repulsed by it are two sides of the same coin. Both folks are often assigning way too much importance to the stuff.
Yet the paradox is that because people do this, it becomes important. HBO’s entire brand is built on sex and swearing and blood. With good reason too because without it, there’s not a whole lot to separate it from the other shows on television. That’s not an indictment of the network because it’s worked for them. And if someone wants some gratuitous sex and violence in their dramas, then it’s nice to have that need met.
But a lack of sex and violence doesn’t necessarily indicate kid’s stuff. And sex and violence doesn’t always indicate maturity or realism. It’s why I find myself dismayed by so many trends. Whether it’s Nolan’s dreary take on Batman, HBO’s blood and sex drenched fantasies, or even Michael Bay’s robot gorefests, I am more and more irked by a culture that insists that gritty is cool and that grimdark is innately more valuable.
If it’s starting to sound as if I’m repeating myself in these posts, I’m sorry about that. It’s just something I feel is worth talking about. I don’t want mature content to go away, but I do find it has become more and more of a crutch. Harley Quinn was a far more interesting character before she was half-naked. The Transformers worked better for me when they were able to fight without tearing each other to pieces, spewing oil and metal like appliance splatterhouse fetish. And the second you MUST have mature content to have a mature story is the moment you stop creating and start blindly following rules.
Yet how is The Incredibles not considered mature content when it’s about family, responsibility, the soul-crushing drudgery of living in a world that resents you for being special, insecurity, the strength we all have when we rely on each other, and the dangers of hubris? How is Wall-E only a kid’s movie when it’s about loneliness and love? How is How to Train your Dragon considered silly when it’s about finding your place in the world and healing old wounds? How is Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain considered only a silly book when it has genocide in it as a major plot point?
The answer is obvious. Without blood, without sex, without cruelty, random violence, or adult language, all the above lack the markers of maturity. It doesn’t prevent them from being mature, but it does prevent them from being perceived as mature. Just as if Game of Thrones removed the boobs and only implied its more horrendous violence, it would cease to be worthy of adult praise. It’s a fact, but it’s a shame.
I don’t mean to imply that the show would be better without these things. It would only be different, and in fact, it would be a relatively minor change. It wouldn’t have to affect the story in any way. It would be the same show, but it would also lose a lot of its street cred. In that way, the boobs and blood are very important, and it’s why, to be perfectly honest, couldn’t ask the show to change a thing. These gratuitous elements aren’t gratuitous at all. They serve a very important purpose. I know that. Just as I know that without sex and violence in my own stuff, it’ll be a long time before I get taken seriously.
For the record, if HBO wanted to grimdark up a book of mine and transform it into an original series, I’d be on board. So it’s not as if I’m trying to claim some intellectual or artistic high ground. The very fact that there’s the notion of high ground at all is absurd to me. It’s not about artistic integrity or anything of the like. It’s only an observation on cultural perception. Make of it what you will.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,