Movies, Morality and ...Wait a Minute...Child Porn?

The recent kerfuffle over the movie KICK-ASS has me quite ruffled in a professional (as well as admittedly personal) way, mostly due to the completely unfounded attacks and assumptions the discussion surrounding Chloe Grace Moretz's portrayal of Hit-Girl.  I'm not going to get into the specific attacks that much, but you can see some of the lunacy, on both sides of the argument, by reading Roger Ebert's misreading of the film (in which he actually says, "Big Daddy and Mindy never have a chat about, you know, stuff like how when you kill people, they are really dead," which, while technically true - those characters never discuss it - it's pointed out several times by other characters to them), as well as checking out my pal Julia's article posted over at the California Literary Review and the comments it received for a small sampling.  What's amazing to me is that these arguments seem to have traction with people.  Movies are too violent, check.  Movies contain too many curse words, check.  Movies about teenagers (or children) doing anything violent or swearing are immoral and equate child porn, wait, what?

Yes, you heard me, one of the commenters on the CalLitReview site actually equated the film's portrayal of Hit-Girl (and thereby the young actress who portrays her) as being "child porn."  All of this, mind you, without seeing one full scene of the film, and only using other comments about the film from other people as his basis.  I could very easily get in on the whole rant about not commenting on a movie's supposed (im)morality if you haven't seen it, but that argument goes absolutely nowhere (see: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, IRREVERSIBLE, PULP FICTION, etc.)  What is interesting here, though, is how devoid of context all of this argument is, and how someone like Roger Ebert, whose review says, quite clearly, that the film never mentions how ludicrous all of this is, and that if you enjoy seeing a little girl getting punched and kicked in the face, then you're an immoral person and are undeserving of having your opinion even considered by him.

Film history is full of instances of outrage.  Remember when Mae West was scandalous?  How about almost all of Tennessee Williams's screen adaptations?  How about when people were fearful that the kids would all go out and act just like Brando in THE WILD ONE, or James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, or how about all those horror movies you were told not to watch when you were a kid?  Hey, what do you think people were saying about Russ Meyer back in the 60s, when Roger Ebert was palling around with the guy and writing scripts for him?  What is really the fear here?  And why is it the filmmaker's responsibility to address it?  It's not.  The filmmaker is an artist in most cases, and even those who aren't are not responsible for someone's misreading of their work, no matter if it's a kid who takes a gun to a school, or a person who dons a mask and treks through the night killing scantily clad virginal teenagers.

Well, in the case of some of the arguments, I think it's because KICK-ASS is a fairly easy movie to have a misreading of.  I guess if you go about looking for things you think are fetishized, then yes, Hit-Girl is a character that gets a lot of attention for being "cool."  There is a portion of the audience, possibly even some kids, who will think it's cool what she does, and think about being able to do all the things she does.  And audiences do like the character.  But I also like Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK and Kurt Russell in DEATH PROOF, and when I was a child I liked watching horror films pretty regularly, and I have a certain adoration for the rape-revenge genre (I first saw I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE -another film Ebert detests - when I was 13), and I'm not going around committing high-level theft and running people down in my car, or raping girls, or killing the rapists of women in particularly violent and brutal ways.  Nor was I when I was a teenager, child, or whatever else I may have been or may be at some point.

These are films, guys.  These are characters in films.  One of the comments on CalLitReview is about Robert B. Parker's character Spenser, and I'm going to borrow it here.  "I am reminded of something the late Robert B. Parker said during a reading at Cody’s Books in Berkeley, CA in 1987… in the question and answer portion of the evening someone rather pointedly asked Parker if he knew that his character Spenser was an alcoholic. Parker replied that Spenser was not an alcoholic; Spenser was a fictional character."  Amen.

The problem is that now you're older, and you're nostalgic for a time that never existed.  I'm sorry that you feel the film is immoral without having any knowledge about its context (because you haven't seen it), or you feel that using a child in anything else other than a sweet movie about horses or killer whales is the equivalent of child porn.  There is nothing in KICK-ASS that could remotely be described as pornographic.  But I will give you a caveat:  If someone is turned on by guns being shot by children, or by violence perpetuated by children, or by children in leather suits, then yeah, I guess you could interpret this as child porn if you're a moron.  If it's the intent of a viewer to find Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl to be a turn-on, guess what?  That's still not child porn.  That's a fetish, and it's the viewer's take on it, not the film's intent.  Your argument is the equivalent of saying that because some creep gets off on Jodie Foster as a hooker in TAXI DRIVER or Brooke Shields in BLUE LAGOON, then it's child porn.  If you feel so strongly about it, you might as well just take children offscreen altogether, because I'm sure someone out there loves watching girls ride horses, or boys dressed in striped pajamas, or any other thing that could be onscreen.  So, please, keep policing the movies for things that they have no control over.


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