There’s a problem with sex. And I realise there’s a problem with all sorts of things that were once straightforward, from gender identification to taps, but the sex thing is significant because while – as far as I know – people are still having it, they won’t be allowed to watch it on screen anymore. How can something so intrinsically off-message be portrayed in our post-Weinstein #MeToo era? Surely #Time’sUp for the sex scene?
This Valentine’s Day, you’d better gorge on ”Fifty Shades of Non-Consent”, as it has been dubbed by the Online Outrage community: well before it premiered, the film was already a relic from a bygone era. Never mind that it was written and directed by women (and how could either one of them have known that by the time the final part of their trilogy aired, spanking paddles would be as ethically viable as pork scratchings?), any kind of male sexual dominance will henceforth only leave audiences feeling icky. Certainly, gaffer tape has had its day.
This Valentine’s Day, you’d better gorge on ”Fifty Shades of Non-Consent”, as it has been dubbed by the Online Outrage community.
You can’t have female nudity unless it’s the empowering kind (if you’re able to differentiate between this and its demeaning counterpart, please share). There isn’t enough legalese in the world to protect male actors from the career-ending moment their hand strays a little too high – or too low. And trying to break the ice beforehand like Sir Sean Connery famously did (“Sorry if I get aroused, and sorry if I don’t”) wouldn’t just be inadvisable but professional suicide. So it’s hazmat suits all round for the heteros, and hell even if one were to show two glass-ceiling-busting superwomen making good sweet consensual love to each other on screen, no male producer or director is now going to risk being labelled a voyeuristic predator.
It is extraordinary how many rapacious male heroes we’ve had forced upon us over the decades. Scarlett O’Hara would have led the #MeToo brigade from Tara, where Rhett Butler carried her up the stairs, raging: “This is one night you’re not turning me out!” (But oh, her face the morning after!) Dirty Dancing‘s Baby would still be living off the proceeds of her lawsuit against Kellerman’s Hotel, who “aided and abetted the inappropriate behaviour” of their snake-hipped dance instructor, Billy. And even more recent love stories like the genteel Notebook seem a little unpalatable by today’s impossible standards: when Noah carries a rain-drenched Allie into his house in the “It still isn’t over” scene, there isn’t so much as a consent app in sight.
9½ Weeks was ahead of its time in that Elizabeth uses verbal and non-verbal cues to signify her willingness to participate in various sexual adventures and be squirted with honey, but it’s Titanic that – nudity aside – acts as a blueprint of how on-screen sex should be portrayed from now on. You’ll remember that Rose insists on instructing Jack, in preschool teacher tones, throughout their sexual encounters: “Put your hands on me, Jack.” It’s about taking control.
Aside from the worry that women will be condemned to an eternity of Ashley “Wet Boy” Wilkes romantic heroes, the end of the sex scene may come as a relief to many. Not least the Oscar-winning Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who tells me he would welcome such a change. “I don’t enjoy the insertion of soft porn into straight narrative, which has happened more and more over the past decade, and the awful blackmailing of actresses – that they’ll do it if they’re serious about their work, etc – has been horrible to witness. It would only mean a return to the cinema of my youth, anyway,” he goes on, “when it was all done with trains plunging into tunnels and the surf crashing into the sand.”
Admittedly a far more pleasing abstraction, although perhaps not to those poor, jobless Hollywood lawyers.