Those People Are Looking at Our Women:
Promoting Bigotry with Images of Lust
Birth of a Nation is a classic film. It was the world's first full-length feature; director D.W. Griffith invented techniques that today we take for granted, such as the close-up. His film is also a classic example of hateful propaganda.
The film depicts America's Reconstruction Era as a time of evil blacks dominating helpless whites. The blacks are arrogant and lazy, but most damning of all, they are lustful. Their lust is not directed at other blacks. Oh, no. Why would black men be interested in women of their own inferior race when there are, so close by, beautiful women of the supreme race?
The film shows black men take over the government. Their first legislative act is to legalize interracial marriage. As this law passes, we see black legislators, drunk and lustful in the legislative chambers, cheer and dance. Then they set out to get their hands on some white women.
In Birth of a Nation's most emotional scene, a black man proposes to a white woman. He doesn't understand that of course she wouldn't want a man from an inferior race. He won't stop asking for her hand. Desperate to escape his black clutches and preserve her honor, she jumps off a cliff. In 1915, this scene had white movie-goers in tears.
For the film's climax, a black man decides to marry a white woman. She of course refuses, but the man has his black minions, armed with guns, bring her to the wedding. Luckily, a cavalry of white heroes proudly wearing white sheets rides to the rescue, lynches the groom, and saves this white woman's honor.
After Birth of a Nation's release, membership in the Ku Klux Klan increased sharply, as did hate crimes against blacks.
A New Target
The images used in Birth of a Nation against blacks are used today against youth. There was, for example, the detective novel The Widening Gyre by perennial bestseller Robert B. Parker. The villains here turn out to be drug-dealing college students who use drugs to lure addicted middle-aged women into their beds. In one scene, our middle-aged private eye comforts a woman while she breaks down crying about the humiliation of having had sex with college students. "The boys are crude and stupid," she sobs. "Afterward I feel like ... something that's been passed around."
The sit-com "Cheers" had an episode were the corporation that owns the bar makes the horrible mistake of entrusting a management position to a young person. He's well into his 20's, but the show's writers emphasize that even this is too young to be trusted or respected, with all the regular cast members cracking jokes about him being virtually a child. Once entrusted with power, this young man immediately abuses that power, trying to force old Kirstie Alley to marry him. She becomes so desperate to escape his youthful clutches that she buys a gun.
In one episode of "Star Trek," the crew picks up a 17-year-old with magical powers. He wrecks havoc pursuing the polite but resistant older blonde yeoman, Janis. At one point, Janis tries to resolve the problem by introducing young Charlie to a woman "your own age," but of course Charlie dismisses the young woman rudely. (Later he shows his contempt for the young woman by turning her into a lizard.) He explains to Janis, "She's not the same. Not like you. She's just a girl."
The list goes on. "Friends" has an episode where Cortney Cox pretends to be a few years younger so she can date what she thinks is a college senior. When she confesses her true age to the guy, he confesses he is actually a senior in high school. They both learn the truth about their age-difference, and how do they react? Cox recoils with horror while the teenager grins with wolfish delight, thrilled that he scored even better than he'd thought: he bagged an old chick.
Young females, as well as males, are depicted as sex fiends preying on the old.
Sean McGrady's mystery novel Sealed with a Kiss opens with the hero, a postal inspector, interrogating a 15-year-old woman who appeared in several porn movies. She is not an innocent victim, of course. The last thing McGrady wants us to do is sympathize with abused and exploited youth. Instead, the 15-year-old is depicted as sleazy and is labeled, not a victim, but a "porn star." By page 4, she is coming on to our middle-aged postal inspector:
"You're way too good-looking for [postal inspection], if you don't mind my sayin'."
She licked her lips blatantly, sexually.
"Have you seen any of my movies? Then you don't know what you're missing, do you?"
He was plainly uneasy with this turn.
"Maybe we could get together later on," she said invitingly. "You know, just you and me."
And this keeps going, in case McGrady's readers are too stupid to get the point. The middle-ager brushes her off, but the teenager keeps pressing:
"What, you married or something? Is that what it is? Because I don't care, if that's what's got you worried."
Later, she forces her tongue into his mouth. Her pursuit of the middle-ager ends after 200 pages, when the hero's girlfriend pulls a gun on the lust-driven teen.
In the Coen Brothers' flop The Man Who Wasn't There, a girl who looks to be about 13 sits in a car beside driver Billy Bob Thornton. She cannot resist the allure of this gray-haired hick. With the car in motion, she endangers both their lives trying to force oral sex on him, even as he orders her to stop and struggles to physically resist her rape while driving the car.
In the girl-on-girl Fatal Attraction knock-off Chloe, Amanda Seyfried (Lilly Kane on "Veronica Mars") plays the titular character, a college-aged prostitute who seduces a middle-aged wife (Julianne Moore) by feeding her lies endangering her marriage, then stalking her.
Is Hollywood giving us an accurate view of the world? Is America honestly filled with teenaged sexual predators hunting the old? The evidence indicates otherwise.
I used to work in a bookstore that carried several porno magazines. Some of them boasted of showing the youngest women allowed by law. These magazines, like all porno magazines, were bought mainly by men over 40, even though our store was geared toward younger readers. (We were the only bookstore in the area that played Marilyn Manson on the store's music system.) We carried one porno magazine that showed only women over 40. This one did not sell as well, and I never saw one person younger than 30 bother to thumb through it.
Those in Hollywood should understand well that the young do not lust after their elders. How many times have we heard actresses complain of being cast as romantic leads for men who are too old for them? Men produce these movies using their own judgment about what will be sexy. Even when the leading man is as old as Clint Eastwood or Warren Betty, the leading lady is usually younger than 30. The movie Entrapment did not gross as much money as it grossed-out young film-goers with love scenes between the young beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones and the geriatric Sean Connery. Why did Entrapment's producers give us casting that would make the love scenes more repulsive than erotic? Why didn't they cast two stars of similar age? One of the producers was Sean Connery himself. Apparently, he did not see what was gross about doing sex scenes with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. A focus group might have been useful here.
Why They Tell This Lie
Why does Hollywood keep depicting a world in which horny young people chase disinterested elders? Part of the answer might be self-flattery on the part of old artists. Part of it might be the fantasy of old perverts. The movie Wild Things would seem to fit, with it's depiction of two hot students chasing their reluctant teacher. Fantasy would go a long way in explaining that episode of "Golden Girls" where senior citizen Bea Arther is pursued by a man barely out of school. (He was out of school, wasn't he? I don't remember many details of that episode, though I do recall the ending. It ended the way these fictional stories always end, with old Bea Arther gently breaking the youngster's heart and explaining that, of course, she could never be interested in someone younger than herself.)
Sigmund Freud had a theory called "reaction formation," a defense mechanism to help people avoid feeling guilty. If a woman hates her parents, for example, but she feels it is wrong to hate them, Freud theorized the woman might go on and on telling people how much she loves them. Likewise, if a man feels attracted to other men, but believes homosexuality is shameful, he might try to hide the truth even from himself by bedding numerous women or by assaulting gays. And if a man lusts after those too young for him, he might tell stories about old people like himself rejecting young suitors.
Freud theorized about another defense mechanism called "projection." Here, the person with unacceptable feelings would project those feelings onto others. The woman who hates her parents might imagine it is her parents who hate her. The man attracted to other men might imagine it is the other men who are attracted to him.
If Freud was right, we may have a lot of old people in Hollywood lusting after youth and trying desperately to hide this ugly reality behind a mirror that shows everything in reverse.
While the lie of youth lusting after their elders may comfort old perverts, it has consequences for youth beyond even the damage to self-esteem that can form under the weight of such repeated insults. Imagine a District Attorney trying to prosecute a sexually harassing teacher, a statutory rapist, or even a child molester, when the jury has witnessed dozens of fictional youths seducing resistant adults. It can be difficult for jurors to shake the fiction out of their heads and see reality. A dishonest cliché repeated in enough movies can make the truth counter-intuitive and therefore hard for people to believe. This is why Hitler said any lie would be accepted as true if people heard it enough times.
The movie American Beauty seemed designed to give cover to middle-aged perverts. This one shows a middle-aged man lusting after a teenager, but it still distorts reality in favor of the pervs. The teenaged object of his lust is (of course) more than willing to sleep with him. The middle-aged pervert is depicted as a sweet, decent guy, while the teenager is portrayed as sleazy. "See, she deserves it," the filmmakers seem to argue. Then at the end, the middle-ager learns this teenager is not so sleazy after all, she's just a liar. So the middle-ager decides to gently break the youngster's heart and not have sex with her. "See. The statutory rapist is really a decent guy," they tell us. "A middle-ager would only rape a teenager who deserved it." American Beauty is a true example of Hollywood ugliness. It not only gives cover to statutory rapists, it gives cover to incest offenders. The movie keeps implying the only reason the perv's daughter feels awkward seeing her father chase her classmate is because she secretly wants her father for herself. "See. There's nothing wrong with a man raping his daughter," they tell us. "Kids secretly want it." Girl, Interrupted had the same message.
Sadly, Hollywood's slander is directed even at children. On "The Simpsons," I've never seen an episode where Lisa falls in love with a boy her own age. But there is an episode where this second-grade student falls for a substitute teacher. She fawns over him, she struggles to find the best way to ask him to her house for dinner, and then she sobs when he gently breaks her heart. On "The Wonder Years," we had to watch the same scenario played out over an entire season as little Fred Savage pursues Miss White.
In The Bad News Bears, a little league player meets an old chick and promptly tries to impress her by revealing his batting average. An episode of "Cheers" shows a more aggressive little league player sexually harass a cocktail waitress by pinching her buttocks. In A League of Their Own, a prepubescent boy invites Geena Davis to "make a man out of" him, and then tries to win her over with offers of S & M.
Even when Hollywood is supposedly aiming their entertainment at young audiences, creators can't seem to snap out of this stereotype. The film Milk Money depicts middle school boys trying to raise money to hire a prostitute to let them see her naked. One of the boys is so popular, he raises money by charging girls in his school for the privilege of wearing his jacket. Since dozens of girls line up for the chance, one would think he could get one girl his age to disrobe for free. But he shows no interest in that. When he pays an old chick over $100 just to show her boobs, however, he and his friends seem convinced they got their money's worth.
In the Disney movie Blank Check, a pre-adolescent protagonist becomes rich. He then spends the rest of the movie using his new-found money trying to win the heart of a woman who works at the bank. Even Roger Ebert had to ask why this boy seems to have no interest in girls his own age. The answer, I'm sure, seemed obvious to the filmmakers: why would a boy want to date a member of his own inferior age-group when he can pursue a member of the supreme generation?