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Adult Entertainment

I've been pondering some ideas about mature entertainment. In particular, about people who will argue that something simple containing a lot of sex and/or violence is far more childish than a deeper story that is suitable for all-ages. The word "vacuous" gets used a lot to similar effect, as people glorify their own more-refined tastes.

This feels a bit inadequate to me. I see the distinction, but the value judgement included in the classification bothers me. There are a lot of multi-layered or otherwise complicated creations that I have very much enjoyed. At the same time, there is a lot to be gained from simplicity. I also find a lot of interest in things that appear simple, but looked at from another angle really are not. It's amazing how often people fail to look for that other angle.

Linking all comics to children's picture books, or all animated stories to kids' cartoons, is a pretty clear mistake as soon as you start to investigate those media. But the people bagging out Southpark or MadWorld as childish or vacuous probably aren't going to have their opinions challenged any time soon. And I wonder why it is that entertainment should have to be a deep experience, and why some forms of entertainment are considered more acceptable than others. Surely the nature of something as entertainment in the first place makes it arguably vacuous? That doesn't make it a pointless or meaningless experience, though.

Take, for example, a pornographic movie. It has only the most basic of story, and exists only to satisfy a simple desire or fantasy. Yet people are likely to enjoy it for tapping into those basic desires. At the same time, people are often ashamed of those feelings and try to hide them. The genre as a whole becomes something to be ashamed of, and perhaps dismissed as something only enjoyed by teenagers and lonely old men.

When it comes down to it, people are programmed with fairly basic needs and desires. I think a lot of people like to pretend that isn't the case, and place themselves above more basic instincts. Personally, I've a bit of a habit of switching the value system around, placing primal urges above more affected behaviour. At the very least I'd like people to be less ashamed and stop trying to pretend those elements don't exist within them.

While sex is a natural part of human experience, violence should not be. Its value as part of entertainment can be harder to justify (in reality the opposite seems to happen a lot of the time, which is weird but could also expand into a whole new discussion so I'll ignore that for now).

MadWorld is all about killing other people in violent and gruesome ways. I happen to enjoy it, at least in small doses so it doesn't have the chance to become too samey. I do agree with Rebecca Mayes that it's trying way too hard. Maybe I'm try-hard enough myself to appreciate it anyway. But I would like to be able to justify my enjoyment on some level.

I suppose the first thing to do is point out that virtual ultraviolence is in no way going to inform my real life behaviour. But a lack of negative impact is not the same as demonstrating the value in something.

In the real world, if I grabbed a street sign and impaled someone the likely response would be something like throwing up. But in this stylised world it can even become funny. Ditto TV shows like Happy Tree Friends. These are very stylised examples, which are easily separated from reality. The best non-animated comparisons are probably some kind of slapstick humour. Except that with animation you can pump up the violence level without the associated consequences. There is also a long tradition of cartoon violence aimed at a younger audience. I suspect we are conditioned quite early to accept some animated violence as okay. Though at the same time, I don't normally talk about how I enjoy the humour in Metalocalypse because I don't want to offend anyone. This type of humour relies on a good disconnection from reality.

Once violence becomes more realistic it usually becomes part of more involved stories, which are less likely to be labeled childish. This is where the value is perhaps more recognised, in order to tell a high-impact, serious story. For example, the shocking violence in American History X.

As for the "childish" violence, I think that the value comes from the safety of exploration. It's a rather freeing way to look at violence, where no matter how extreme the images are, none of them can actually hurt anyone. When it's humorous I don't really understand where the humour comes from, only that it exists and isn't dangerous. I suppose it's some sort of absurdist humour.

This could all come down to a discussion of the value of art, and a debate on the merits of different expressions of mature themes. But entertainment is a personal thing. To me, provided you are living your life in a way that doesn't harm others, the most important thing is finding whatever entertainment works for you.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and I'm happy to hear discussion and debate. But there is no reason to belittle people for valuing different experiences. I suspect the "childish" crowd are often just using that term to label something they don't personally enjoy.