Sex and Violence: American vs. International Media

spartacus poster

Do Americans accept violence in their media more than sex?  Is that contrary to the way the rest of the world handles the two?  The general thought seems to be that in Europe, sex is more common in advertising and on screens, but casual violence is downplayed.  But is that really the case?

Although a significant portion of what I watch is international, I’m by no means an expert.  I haven’t conducted a study on the topic.  All of my observations are limited to my own particular experience which contains a lot of American, British, and Asian media, so I might be able to shed some insight on the matter.  So the question is: are we violent, sex-fearing people here in America, backwards compared to the rest of the world in what we consider fit for public consumption?

In America we are, overall, more amenable to violence in our media than sex.  However, it’s not so clear-cut; we can’t say that we only have a problem with sex, not with violence, and that we’re peculiar in doing so.  I’ve seen plenty of both in media from around the world.

It’s telling that I’m more comfortable sharing this picture of impaled!Nathan than any of the misfits in flagrante.

Misfits is a good example.  The show has more sex in it on a regular basis than anything I’ve seen outside of content on HBO or Starz.  It’s even censored (at 10 p.m., no less) on the digital cable channel that airs it in America; for the untouched episodes viewers have to stay up until the middle of the night, or wait a week for them to be made available online (or just watch the show right away on Hulu).

Misfits also has plenty of violence/gore.  We’re talking brain splatter, multiple impalings, and a gross birth-related image from the second season’s Christmas special.  But when I compare what I’ve seen on Misfits, or, more accurately, how often I’ve seen such things on Misfits, to American shows with a similar amount of graphic sex (Spartacus is the first one that comes to mind), the American shows have much more violence/gore per episode.

An interesting, recent counter-example comes to us by way of the Avengers DVD.  It was released in the United Kingdom a week before it was in the States, and a scene on the U.K. DVD caused some confusion.  The scene in which–SPOILERS–Coulson is killed was made less graphic, the bloody tip of Loki’s spear no longer protruding from his chest.

Marvel edited the scene so the DVD could be released with a lower rating.  The film was rated 12 for its theatrical release (which is roughly equivalent to our PG-13; they have an additional rating, 15, before they get to 18, which is more or less our “R”), with the spear-tip scene.  However, for home release execs wanted to rate it 12A, which is different and considered a bit more watered down for family audiences, so the protruding spear was removed.

An American example of the reverse is the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  The GTA games are notorious for allowing players to control a character that can kill anyone on the street, including cops, and can win points for running down people in the street with their cars.  In some cases, such havoc is required to complete missions.  The games have always been controversial, and are often at the forefront of the “effects of violence in the media” debate.  But then there was the “Hot Coffee” mod for San Andreas.

grand theft auto mayhem

This is O.K., but not pixelated not-even-that-graphic sexual imagery.

The GTA games always contained sex–one way to boost your character’s health is to hire a prostitute–but nothing was ever shown.  The Hot Coffee mod, which someone online cracked and which players could hack into in the game, showed the main character engaging in various sex acts with his girlfriend.  It wasn’t that graphic, and the girlfriend had a shirt on.

Remember: this is a game that allows and even encourages the murdering of police officers and civilian bystanders, but what really got the country in a tizzy, even more than the violence, was this bit of pixelated sex.  The game was already rated Mature for adults, but apparently the Hot Coffee mod was going too far.

All of this fuss tells me that, more or less, we can say that the American public has a higher tolerance for violence in its media than audiences in the U.K. or Europe.  There are obviously many exceptions in what is a complicated issue, but for us, violence appears to be more prevalent.  We can certainly get away with more violence for lesser ratings in cinema, whereas we give higher ratings to movies with less violence, but more sex.  For an in-depth look at the numbers, check out this excellent post.

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