Ross Douthat’s roundabout opinion piece in last weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review, “What the 2020s Need: Sex and Romance at the Movies,” bemoaned something I’ve been criticizing for some time — the dearth of sex and romance in today’s cinema. Except it took Douthat 12 paragraphs and several false claims — the blockbuster mindset (comic-book movies, girl-driven animated features), porn prevalence, cultural changes (fewer marriages, more online dating) — before hitting the nail that should always be hammered first — leftist ideology. “Ideological trends have also made it more challenging to portray happy relations between the sexes,” Douthat wrote. “The dramatic material of traditional romance is male and female distinctiveness, different forms of la différence. But these differences sit uncomfortably with the current progressive emphasis on the interchangeability of the sexes.”
As an over-40 columnist at the increasingly woke and intra-cannibalistic Times (they fired opinion editor James Bennet merely for publishing a professional opinion by a United States senator, Tom Cotton, to give just one example), Douthat has to write on eggshells out of self-preservation. Thus, he threw out a few politically digestible red herrings before naming the real culprit — liberalism. One such feint is citing the comic-book movie genre as an alternative to sexual interest. “[I]t’s assumed that superhero fight scenes travel better internationally than more complex and culturally specific plots,” wrote Douthat. Anyone who thinks sex is more complex and culturally specific than fights has never seen Japanese superhero hentai.
Comic books have always been a traditional percolator of prurient interest in boys. That one of Batman’s earliest and most durable villains is a hot, scantily clad, whiplashing feline crook is hardly coincidental. Catwoman was preceded by Terry and the Pirates’ Dragon Lady and followed by many others in the desirable form (Poison Ivy, Star Sapphire, She-Hulk). These vixens bedevil the muscular heroes with the ultimate female superpower, sexual allure, which is anti-woke kryptonite, hence their absence from the new screen versions. Their counterpart superheroines (Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Black Widow, etc.) were created for the same purpose — to grab the attention of adolescent males, not to represent girl power. Consequently, watching superheroes totally ignore the sexual appeal of their physically perfect female teammates demands a bigger audience suspension of disbelief than flying people.
Watching superheroes totally ignore the sexual appeal of their physically perfect female teammates demands a bigger audience suspension of disbelief than flying people.
Modern comic-book screen adaptors bring their sensibilities to the genre rather than vice versa, even though adolescent boys would welcome a little spice in their heroic fantasies, if only to acknowledge the difference between themselves and the strangely attractive female student at the next desk. Eventually the sexual validation that boys no longer get from Hollywoke product they may find full force in online porn. The operative word is “find” because they’ll seek some recognition of their biological reality that is denied them by mainstream entertainment. I can attest to it, having written the erotic superhero movie Electra (No. 33 in Maxim magazine’s “The 50 Best ‘B’ Films of All Time” list) for the legendary Roger Corman.
As unacceptable to progressives as sexual interest in women is for boys, romance is now for girls. Douthat’s piece addresses the result rather than the cause of this phenomenon: “Watching ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ with my kids last week, I realized that it was the fourth animated Disney movie in a row — following ‘Onward,’ ‘Frozen II’ and ‘Moana’ — without a central love story.” The reason is obvious. Disney has become an insufferably woke company, embarrassed by the element that built it, the classical Disney princess (with her lovestruck prince) from Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991). Other than the successful sorceress queen Elsa in Frozen (2013), the company has foisted unpleasant, absurd, heartless warrioress brats such as Mulan and Merida (Brave, 2012).
These asexual Amazons go against everything Walt Disney stood for by substituting true feminine nurturing strength with a false physical kind. The romance factor which Disney’s successors reject as anti-feminist subservience is entirely the opposite. That romance is all about the heroine’s transition from girlhood to womanhood and how that extends her influence to the world beyond her home, civilizing dwarves, enchanting handsome princes, or even taming a Beast. Little girls have always responded to this and always will, long after Mulan and Merida are curious relics. Uncle Walt understood the secret of fairy tales. So does author Faith Moore in her indispensable book, Saving Cinderella: What Feminists Get Wrong About Disney Princesses And How To Set It Right, which should be required reading in every Disney executive office.
If Hollywoke producers cared about their trade as much as the next Democratic fundraiser, they would grasp how seamlessly and lucratively superhero films of the past handled sex and romance. They might screen the beloved feature Superman, in which the titular hero (Christopher Reeve) first saves a falling Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and later takes her on a romantic flight to lovely music by the brilliant John Williams. Or the sequel, Superman II (1980), in which Superman forsakes his powers for love. These films doubled as superhero action stories (which traveled well internationally with fewer fights, despite Douthat’s assertion to the contrary) and modern fairy tales, transforming boys’ sexual curiosity into a sense of chivalry toward women, and teaching girls to appreciate their femininity. But it’s probably up to conservative artists to bring back sex and romance to the movies, along with truth, justice, and the American way.
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