Sex and Violence: American vs. International Media

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However, American media is not necessarily the most censored for sex compared to the rest of the world.  All of my kdramas are significantly more chaste than just about any American television show I’ve seen.  Sex between kdrama couples is rare, and when it does happen, we don’t see nearly as much of it as we see on American television.  There might be plenty of jokes, or innuendo, but when it comes down to what actually happens on screen, we see way more on American television.

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Playful Kiss: Despite the show title, there are only a handful of (mostly stilted) kisses between the leading couple, even though they get married during the series. But that’s a high number for a high school kdrama.

Most marked is the difference in shows about high school students: if it’s a high school romance kdrama, the entire series will at most have a limited number of kisses between the two leads, and that’s it.  Compare that to what high school characters get up to–and what we see of it–on networks like the CW.

Of course, kdramas are just a tiny part of the cinema and television from an entire continent of diverse countries.  They’re just the greatest experience I have with Asian media.  But most of them are meant for a wider audience; the balance between sex and violence is more even in the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese films that I’ve seen.

There are even notable counter-examples: in America  Lust, Caution was slapped with the rare NC-17 rating.  Even though Ang Lee is an acknowledged Hollywood director, this particular film is a Chinese movie made in Mandarin.  I’ve seen plenty of Asian films that were also rather violent and gory, but I don’t have enough experience in the latter to declare whether or not it is more or less prevalent in Asian media than in America, even with kdramas (given that most that I watch are romantic comedies, and thus don’t usually contain violence).

Sex and violence are both prevalent in any media from around the world.  Whenever we might try to make a statement about the pervasiveness of one in the media from a particular area, there will be plenty of exceptions and counter-points.  All I can say is that, in my own experience American media is less shy about violence/gore than it is about sex, but it’s not necessarily the most shy about the latter worldwide.

We’re left with trying to figure out why, in America, we might be more comfortable with violence than sex.  I spent some time on parenting websites and forums to try to figure it out.   I thought it might be interesting to read what parents are saying about it, why they might be more comfortable showing their kids violence than sex.  After all, as one mom commenting on a board pointed out: sex is a natural, healthy part of a relationship.  Violence never is.  So what’s up?

Beyond this one comment, I couldn’t really find anything.  Most parents said they censor their children’s viewing/gaming habits for sex more than violence, but didn’t explain why.  Non-parenting-related comments mostly blamed our country’s puritan roots.

Although I think we’re perhaps placing too much stock in the Puritans’ continued influence over our country (and doing so with a slight misconception of actual Puritan values), we can assign some of our ideas to the founding of our country.  Perhaps violence was, and still is, considered more acceptable because the people settling over here believed they needed it to protect themselves, away from what they considered the civilized Europe.

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Are we chasing after this ideal? Was it ever even real?

Even once the country was founded, order wasn’t always kept on the frontier.  There is an element of what we call “cowboy culture” in America, for good or bad, and for real or fiction.  It just might lend us some insight as to why we’re more comfortable with violence than sex.

There could be other reasons, as well.  There’s a fantastical element to the violence we see on our screens, even when it’s made to be as gory or realistic as possible.  Perhaps we’re more comfortable with violence because for many of us, it will never be a reality.  We can be more detached from it.  For most of us it just doesn’t feel as real, tangible, or possible, so we’re more able to separate ourselves from it.

Of course that’s problematic on multiple levels.  Could that slowly be normalizing the violence that we’re meant to see as fantastical?  If so, staying vocal and keeping open a dialogue about it seems the best way to effect change.  All I can say is that: yes, from my own experience, there is more violence than sex in American media.  It’s just not as big of a difference as we think, and that America is actually somewhere in the middle of the issue when it comes to how much we show on our screens.

Why do you think violence is more prevalent in American media?  Have your own experiences to share about sex vs. violence in media from yours or other countries?  Is my experience really skewed and random?  Tell us in the comments.

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