IMO: Extremism is the New Reality

I assume the intellectual set has come up with the term for today’s obsession for extremism representing the last decade in television and filmmaking. Or is this post-post-post modernism? Netflix and Amazon, HBO, to name a few, have kicked the shins of the traditional format for movie making and television. They don’t have to abide by FCC rules. FCC rules found here. The result? Cable television has few restrictions, if at all. Their influence has had a dramatic effect.

1. Nudity and sex are commonplace.

2. Profanity has never been raunchier.

3. Deviant behavior storylines abound.

4. Apocalyptic storylines abound.

5. There is no God.

By now I’m guessing you think I’m a prude and ultra-Conservative suggesting we reinstate a censorship board to protect the virtues inherent in children and society as a whole. Like in the 80s when the moral majority attempted to control the hair bands by censoring their music with a warning label.

NO. I’m not on a soapbox trying to persuade you that amorality has us enthralled. I’m saying we are desensitized. Like blogging and self-publishing, we are inundated with choices. The speed at which the removal of barriers, not for the purpose of telling a story that needs to be heard, but for the shock value to hook us, is akin to the rush of cocaine to distance oneself from the boredom of normalcy. The barriers I’m referring to are 1 – 5 above. 

For the record, narratives of varying viewpoints are welcome. Go LGBT. My idea of deviance is a storyline about torture. Especially children. (Absentia, The Alienist). Nudity and Sex in all its variations. Game of Thrones. Westworld. The use of extreme profanity. Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has its raunchy moments. Pick your series!

Take Netflix’s new hit, The Russian Doll, for instance. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, it is a dark comedy-drama that has a smart, highly entertaining storyline. Natasha Lyonne’s character Nadia describes herself as “If Andrew Dice Clay and Merida from Brave had a child…” referencing the Disney heroine with big red hair along with the 80s NY comedian who was banned for his crass and rowdy routine. (Since A Star is Born, his raunchy routine redux tour has sold out.)

I focused on the Mindbender aspects of the story when I watched season 1 and tried hard to ignore the extreme profanity and casual sex and substance abuse like it was a mainstream part of life. It’s obviously made for a mature audience, but like the previous examples, the access to them is unrestricted. The story for select audiences becomes mainstream. 

As a teacher,  I have seen students watch this before, during lunch, and after school, because they heard it was really good. I have to confiscate phones daily. Students will plug their buds in their ears and tune in to their phone during the middle of class. They are addicted to extremism. And it can’t compete with learning. Learning a subject takes imagination and repetitious practice and active engagement.

Dragons and witches will rule in April with the advent of Game of Thrones. Who does the storyline target? Banging sex is a part of the package. It’s hard to watch students obsessed with it during school hours. I’m betting elementary and middle school kids have seen it, too.

It’s the stripping of inference and the death of imagination for the sake of extremism that has me concerned. When you reposition what was once behind closed doors to the center stage and put it up on a platform for all to see, especially children & teenagers, the loss of innocence has me wondering what price will we pay for this new liberation? 

Can you imagine films and television in the next ten to twenty years? What happens when there is no more envelope to push? Taboos a thing of the past? Do we need taboos in society? Or will it one day be okay to watch child sex in a television series and sadomasochism and bestiality?

“Restriction” has now become the foulest word in the English language followed closely behind “moderation”.

I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir. Talk about gritty, deviant storylines. I know Hitch was restricted by the studio system (probably a good thing) because it caused him to tell a creepy story by using devices that activated the imagination. I enjoy historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries. I crave complicated characters and smart dialogue. Tell the story. Please, don’t forget the underrated technique of subtlety.

The point: films and television series have pushed the envelope off the table with unnecessary jolting language and abusive or sexual situations to the mainstream.

What films or television series do you notice embrace the extreme? If you took out the extreme elements would the storyline suffer?  

25 thoughts on “IMO: Extremism is the New Reality

Add yours

    1. There have been several shows I enjoyed and I find myself blushing or having to block out the “effects” when it’s the story I am enjoying.
      Gratuitious is my new favorite word.

  1. As a fan of cult cinema from the 60/70’s, I understand your point – many of those earlier films hinted at depravity, but weren’t allowed to show it – the overriding theme was “this is what happens down dark alleys – so don’t go there!” Then, at a certain point, the limits were gone and “anything goes” became the norm. As with you, I have no problem with difficult subject matter and adult themes – but I also agree that in earlier days there were CONSEQUENCES for someone’s actions…now, even in PG-13 superhero films literally hundreds of people die without pain, suffering or loss…there is a desensitization that you mention that does cheapen the pain and suffering that comes from violence…sorry, rambled a bit

    1. You are in the industry, so I’m really happy you voiced your thoughts. It’s a tough line– I liked Russian Doll, for instance. I love Game of Thrones — but, but, but.
      And the desensitzation is a real problem. I mention the teaching aspect because it’s a venue that sees year after year the effects of a large population with varying socio-economic levels–from a sociological standpoint–I enjoy analyzing the changes over time.
      Remember when PG-13 films had certain rules? Now, they contain material that was once in a R film.
      You made a good point with the 70s cult films. Certain films — their audience — is for adults at 2 AM in the morning to enjoy. Mature content that is mainstreamed, becomes mainstream. That’s my problem.

      1. Cindy, your comments about students absorbing this content NONSTOP is a powerful observation…thank you for sharing, I look at it through a different set of eyes so your perspective is SO valuable

  2. You’re right. I have cringe at much of the stuff that is going on. Even in high quality productions with good writing, great Casting, storyline, etc. the extreme stuff is there. I have to wade through it because the rest is so very good. There have been a couple of movies recently however where I just left because the profanity really turned me off. Some creators seem to think that this realistic or adds impact. I guess? But if wasn’t there I wouldn’t notice or care. That goes for most of the stuff that wants to push the envelope. It’s worth noting that most of the Great and Classic movies contain little or no extreme elements. Such material simply does add anything – to me – or anybody – and is questionable as Art. Basically my definition of High Art is something that adds something to me in a positive way. It lifts and inspires me.
    Game of Thrones is heavy for sure. But also great in many ways. Vikings. Same thing. It’s a long list though.

    1. I love Vikings, The Last Kingdom, GoT — violence in history are synonoymous. So it is problematic. The gore and the sex and the slaughter — if I had a magic knob, I’d turn it all back to about 1995. That’s as far as the realism needed to go.
      Now we are in hyper-drive.

  3. I haven’t watched any of the material you reference, so cannot comment on that.
    But examining my past, I can plead ‘guilty’ to watching excess of all kinds. Not in the ‘underground’, or ‘dark web’, but in a normal cinema, with an ‘X’ Rating, or on DVD supposedly sold for adult viewing only.

    ‘Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.’ Extreme violence, casual assault, forced sex, rape and abuse. This was sold to me as a film about why a man became a serial killer, but was on the boundaries of unacceptable, to any ‘decent’ person.
    I watched it though, even though I could never bring myself to watch it again.

    ‘Caligula’. Sexual perversion, violent mutilation, lesbian sex, incest, homosexual rape, and mass orgies. Sold as a ‘warts and all’ look at decadent Rome. I watched it at the cinema, and many years later, I watched it again.

    Just two examples of why I plead ‘guilty’, and there are many more, I assure you. But I never saw anything like that until I was an adult, and certainly not whilst at my equivalent of a High School. As well as that, nudity, sex, and casual swearing, now commonplace on mainstream TV here after the 9 pm deadline, were never known in the TV of my youth.

    So as much as I have concerns about censorship, I get what you are saying. Completely.

    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. I’ve watched my share of decadent films. We are all “guilty” in the name of art watching something extreme for the shock it brings.
      When I think of genres, say, horror films, that’s a type of film so many love and it’s one where as a parent you can say, no, there’s no way you are watching it.
      But when all kids now have cell phones, they have access to the adult stuff. That’s a real concern for me. I cringe when teenagers want to strike up a conversation about a decadent film. — high production, great cast, good story line – but brutal, brutal scenes of extremism. I just can’t do it!

  4. Can only agree with you Cindy. Further to this I thought of the video games kids play, the Grand Theft Auto types where they can murder, rape and be about as unspeakable as you like, in the first person. I checked out a list of ‘controversial games’ and it is very,very long, and very, very extreme. At least with movies they’re over in 120 odd minutes, these games are eternal. Sad bloody world we’ve made.

  5. I agree with you Cindy. Network TV has also reached a point of disgrace. Sitcoms are just long sexual situations. Action shows are just one explosion after another. One shoot out after another. What happened to the family hour where raunch was’t allowed until a certain time at night? ‘Reality’ TV is so bad, so tasteless.

    1. Don, the other day the TV was turned to one of those classic TV shows. I can’t believe how much has changed. But for me, it is the last 10 years where I see a huge leap. It is the hand-held exposure 24-7 that is worrisome. When I think that TV has a huge role in expressing the national identity, I feel a disconnect.

  6. I don’t think any of us would like to go the way of “religious police” or even a government that legislates what we think and do. But if you dig down into what’s happening today a thinking person should see another form of enforced norm and that is the tyranny of the majority through peer pressure fed by vested interests using the various media. What we watch or listen to is permanently stored in our sub-conscious. If exposed constantly to violence or promoting other forms of enslavement after a while that becomes the accepted norm. Particularly vulnerable are our children. If you compare our past generation with what is happening today you would have to realize it was safe to walk out of home leaving windows and doors open without fear and now it isn’t. What’s behind it? Criminal minds now have tools they didn’t have in our era and their goal is to make money out of our enslavement no matter what our particular addiction may turn out to be. We have a choice of addictions and they are heavily promoted for profit and none of them lead to real happiness. So what’s the solution? Society will become so tired of being exploited or being unsafe they will turn to government to enforce a standard which is hoped will rescue us rather than a repeat of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Without that intervention the barbarians are at the door. With that intervention we swap one form of enslavement for another.

  7. This was such an enthralling read, so much so I read it twice before commenting. Your perspective mirrors my wife’s (a special education teacher for years). What kids are able to consume through streaming platforms and their loose or non-existent standards for competent is troubling. And you said the exact word that comes to mind – desensitization. It’s something I firmly believe is already showing its effects. As you said, I can only imagine how it will be in a few more years.

    Creatively I’ve always felt nudity and even strong profanity is often used as a crutch. You alluded to it when you mentioned Hitchcock – brilliant filmmakers created true cinema classics for decades without it. Their focus was on story and character. As movie technologies has gotten better filmmakers have been able to take the form into some incredible new places. But all of that is often overshadowed by the insistence of nudity, profanity, and gratuitous gore. To be perfectly honest, I don’t enjoy sitting in the company of that. Not trying to make judgements on those who do, but it’s been proven to be unnecessary for great cinematic storytelling.

    I think our desensitization is proven just by how easily this stuff is accepted. We laugh at it, we’re excited by it, we’re aroused by it. And since we buy it filmmakers keep feeding it to us. Sadly it’s hard to see it changing any time soon. I just watched a red band trailer for a movie called “Good Buys”. It’s sad and repugnant.

    PS: I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to violence. I do think it can be important and valuable tools for storytelling. But you can tell when it goes into gratuitous territory. Plus, responsible parents know what too much to sanction for their kids.

  8. I am glad you had time to stop by. I feel like a hypocrite when it comes to historical films. It is very difficult to film a good battle scene. I saw one on the recent Vikings episode. For a change the battle was described with frozen images by the players. I thought it beautiful.
    Parents want what is best for their children. I do believe that is true. What their kids have access to beyond their parents knowledge (classmates phones) is inevidable.
    I hope scriptwriters take to heart the power of their words. I have learned to block out the objectional and focus on good. I am part of the problem.

  9. What a response! Thank you.
    I don’t know how to stop the trend or suggest a tapering off of the extreme. Slavery is an appropriate word. I sure have had a switch in terms of entertainment. I am reading more and more. I have control and it is an active not a passive activity. My imagination fills in the details of adventure and love and thrillers.

  10. I think there is a place for extreme content but there is a lot to be said for it only being available when the viewer is old enough to understand and process it. That is very hard to manage in the current world.

    1. Abit, I agree. Extreme content to consenting adults–I don’t believe in censorship. But, as it stands in the last decade, extreme content is not exclusive. Mainstraming extreme content raises a lot of red flags for me.

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