Does sex even sell anymore? Is the most intimate of acts, once elevated to a sacrament and enshrined in marriage, passé? In a world of Lady Gaga, Judd Apatow, and Katy Perry, sometimes it seems all the shocks have been delivered, all the titters tittered. What do the youth of today, the iPhone, Facebook, texting generation, look to in order to formulate their views on sexuality? Two movies out this week set off for this frontier of the culture wars – parents beware – but neither offers anything new.
“Easy A,” a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, tells the tale of Olive (Emma Stone) a good girl who feels invisible in her high school. A little fib snowballs into a rampant rumor that Olive, a virgin, slept with a college boy. She’s a little embarrassed, but the greater part of her loves the new attention. Marianne (Amanda Bynes) leads the school’s purity club, a group of weird and hypocritical Christians who demean anyone not on their chastity wagon. When you see the group demonstrating against Olive outside the school, holding signs that say “Harlots go to Hell,” you realize that the film portrays modern day Christian teens with the same level of nuance with which Hawthorne originally drew the Puritans, which is to say no nuance at all. Olive allows the story to grow, teaming up with a gay friend to convince the student body that they’re wild lovers and wearing trashy outfits two sizes too small. She even takes to sewing a scarlet “A” on her trampy bustiers. In a Facebook/Twitter/blog world, any notoriety is good notoriety.
The second movie, the far inferior “Virginity Hit,” a group of juvenile teen boys live their lives online and on camera. Matt’s friend, an obsessive videographer, chronicles Matt’s quest to have sex in this attempt at a mockumentary. Matt (Matt Bennet) loves Nicole (Nicole Weaver). You can tell by the googly eyes he makes at her, not by any sacrifice or effort on either teen’s part. One by one, his friends announce they’ve lost their virginity and take a ceremonial marijuana hit from a bong shaped like a naked woman. Hence the “hit” in “Virginity Hit.” Matt, the final holdout, plans a special night with Nicole, who is eager to get the deed done. However, he learns that Nicole got busy with a college guy (no relation to Olive’s alleged college guy) at a party. He breaks up with her and sets off to have sex with a string of potential women, including a girl he meets over the internet, a girl who’s like a sister to him, and a porn star.
This is not a wholesome movie.
“Easy A,” headlined by the charming Emma Stone, outpaces “Virginity Hit” in quality. Indeed, “Easy A’s” acting is top notch, particularly Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive’s hilarious, freewheeling, and unobstructive parents who, in the manner of ideal Hollywood families, offer affection and support with no rules or consequences. Add in a rich and clever script and you have an engaging and entertaining film that will surely be hitting DVD players at sleepovers across the country. In contrast, “Virginity Hit,” with its depressing and boring attempts at humor, should slide into oblivion. The only thing that worries me is the small band of young adults who were laughing uproariously in the screening. Maybe they were listening to Dave Chappelle on their iPods.
The truly distressing thing about “Virginity Hit” is not its explicit nature or subject matter, although they are distressing. It’s how very banal the very concept of sex is to the characters. The boys discuss the most intimate of details in the same manner one would compare hamburgers from McDonalds versus Burger King. One feels that losing their virginity is an experience on the same level as bowling, and not even bowling 215, more like a 106 game. During much of the film, they’re sitting on a raggy couch, their girlfriends hanging out, texting, in the background as they are discussed in disgusting detail. Anybody want pizza?
At least Olive in “Easy A” has a vague sense that it’s not supposed to be like this. As her deceit spirals out of control, involving her favorite teacher and his marriage, she looks dreamily back, way way way back, to the ancient 80’s and John Hughes movies like “Pretty in Pink” and “Say Anything.” She may not want to wait until marriage, but she wants John Cusack holding up speakers in her yard. She deserves at least that.
Because these are teen movies, parents should be extremely aware of them. “Easy A,” although not explicit in behavior, is entirely about sex and introduces (hopefully) new concepts. Surprisingly, It’s rated only PG-13 for “thematic elements including teen sexuality, language, and some drug material.” “Virginity Hit” is much more explicit, with frontal nudity and heavy drug use, among other things. It’s rated R. They end with simplistic moral messages. (Spoiler alert) “Easy A” concludes that “it’s nobody’s business” when Olive has sex. It rejects both wild hedonism and moral restrictions. Olive rides off with the sweet boy she liked all along, still a virgin. “Virginity Hit” wraps up with Matt sleeping with Nicole after their reconciliation, sagely opining “You should lose your virginity with someone you love.” Ah, if only it were so simple.
Both “Easy A” and “Virginity Hit” exist in a world in which the characters obsessively share their intimate details with the world. “Easy A” is told in the framework of a video blog. “Virginity Hit” is a supposed documentary. Last week, Camille Pagilla theorized in the (UK) Sunday Times Magazine that “Generation Gaga” represents the last gasp of the “exhausted end of the sexual revolution.”
With her manufactured attempts to be shocking, Lady Gaga is “laminated,” “dour,” “creepy,” and “coercive,” writes Pagilla. Worse, she’s not at all sexy.
“Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.
“Gaga’s fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Borderlines have been blurred between public and private: reality TV shows multiply, cell phone conversations blare everywhere; secrets are heedlessly blabbed on Facebook and Twitter. Hence, Gaga gratuitously natters on about her vagina…”
The sexual revolution has not led to a free-love utopia as the hippies imagined or to wild orgies as their parents feared, but to bored children sitting on a couch discussing sex toys in monotone and smart girls pretending to be trashy for attention. We hear about celebrities’ decoration of their nether regions and their Twitter musings about past lovers. We know all sorts of other things we wish we didn’t know: Colored condoms and STDs and Hugh Hefner’s twins and jokes and erotic shampoo commercials and heartbreak. Sexual banality is in the air we breathe, in the air our children breathe.
What we’ve lost is why it matters. Isn’t there more to sex than this?
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