“Showgirls,” and Some History of Sex in Cinema

Elizabeth Berkley playing Nomi in "Showgirls"

We saw You Don’t Nomi the other day, a thoughtful, well-made, wildly entertaining documentary about the movie Showgirls; its flamingly negative critical reception; and its later reclamation by fans as high camp. It got me thinking about the movie in some new ways — and it got me thinking about the history of explicit sex in movies.

Showgirls was released in 1995, at a cultural moment when it seemed to pie-eyed optimists* that maybe — just maybe — sexually explicit movies might become mainstream, or at least mainstream-ish. The NC-17 rating was created in 1990 to distinguish explicit art films from X-rated smut (a questionable distinction, but whatever). But many theaters wouldn’t show NC-17 movies; many newspapers wouldn’t run ads for them; and Blockbuster Video wouldn’t carry them. So an NC-17 rating wound up killing any movie’s chances at commercial success.

Showgirls was the first big-budget movie to test this. Director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas set out to make it an NC-17 movie, with serious (no, really) intent to make a drama/social satire. So even though Verhoeven and Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) were something of a nightmare team, there was some hope** that Showgirls might successfully break this ground and open those doors for other filmmakers.

Showgirls of course, was a monumental failure. Critics heaped it with all the venom we had, and then ran to our venom vaults to get more. Audiences stayed away in droves. (Note: If you’re producing a cinematic exploration of female sexual power and the corruption of that power, maybe don’t have it written and directed by a couple of straight guys. Especially straight guys with Issues.) And with the movie’s failure, the door slammed shut on the NC-17 experiment.

There have been other attempts to make high-quality sexually-explicit cinema, both before Showgirls and since: Last Tango in Paris in 1972, Caligula in 1979, Crash (the Cronenberg one) in 1996; Secretary in 2002, Nine Songs in 2004, Shortbus in 2006, The Girlfriend Experience in 2009. These movies had varying degrees of critical and commercial success, but none of them broke the latex ceiling and made way for a Golden Age of Serious, Sexually Explicit Film.

But here’s the thing. Continue reading ““Showgirls,” and Some History of Sex in Cinema”

“Showgirls,” and Some History of Sex in Cinema
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How Bad do Things Have to Get?

Poster with symbol of resistance reading "Resistance Is Not Futile"

How bad do things have to get?

You might think leftists need to stop painting conservatives as heartless bigots and stop painting the Republican Party as the Evil Empire. You might think punching Nazis or throwing milkshakes at fascists is unacceptable violence. You might think the word “fascist” is leftist hyperbole.

How bad do things have to get before you’ll change your mind?

Fascism typically turns the heat up a little at a time. “First they came for the socialists,” and all that. Each new horror is just a little bit worse than the last, normalizing the ones that came before it and numbing people to ones that are coming. It’s easy to see in retrospect that strong action should have been taken earlier — but when it’s happening, it’s easy to convince yourself that it isn’t really that bad. Especially if you’re not one of the main targets. Yet.

So how bad does it have to get? We already have concentration camps. We already have a sharp rise in violence against people of color, trans people, immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants. We already have an executive leader blatantly ignoring the Constitution and saying the law doesn’t apply to him. We already have the executive branch, the judiciary branch, and half the legislative branch corrupted and useless as a check on power. We already have serious rollbacks on women’s bodily autonomy. We already have white supremacist culture permeating police departments and widespread in the military. We already have historians who study fascism saying that yes, fascism is on the rise in the United States.

How bad do things have to get, before you’ll recognize that this is a crisis? How bad do things have to get before you’ll stop seeing this as a problem that can be addressed with civility and debate? How bad do things have to get before you’ll agree that milkshaking — a form of resistance activism that’s been shown to be effective, one of the few forms of resistance that increasingly powerless people have — is acceptable? How much violence does the regime have to inflict before you’ll accept the morality of self-defense?

I don’t want you to answer right away. I just want you to think about it.

Your position should be falsifiable. If you’re an atheist or a skeptic, you should already be allergic to unfalsifiable opinions, goalposts that keep moving. So if you think fascism is not on the rise in the United States, draw your lines. Think now about what you’d consider business as usual, and what you’d consider to be crossing a line. Don’t let the heat get turned up another degree, and another, and another, while you insist that 200 degrees is certainly very hot but technically isn’t boiling. Don’t insist that, because you don’t personally know anyone in the cooking pot, the people screaming about the heat are being hysterical. Draw your line. And make it one where the goalposts won’t keep getting moved, a foot at a time, deeper and deeper into fascism.

(From a comment made on Facebook.)

How Bad do Things Have to Get?

Happy Monsters Climb a Tree

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing, I recently got a tablet for drawing, and thought some of you might like to see my art. In this one, happy monsters climb a tree at night, with a blue crescent moon in the sky.

Happy monsters climb a tree at night with a blue crescent moon shining above

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. (Note: I’ve changed the way I’m creating these arts, the new ones on Redbubble have a transparent background so the art shows uo better.) Or you can just enjoy it.

Happy Monsters Climb a Tree

Happy Monsters in the City Street

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing, I recently got a tablet for drawing, and thought some of you might like to see my art. In this one, happy monsters socialize on a city street at night; shopping, chatting in a cafe, or just enjoying the evening air. A huge dragon monster flies behind the buildings, looking out over the whole street.

Happy monsters socialize in a city street at night

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just enjoy it.

Happy Monsters in the City Street

Happy Monsters by the Library Fireplace

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing, I recently got a tablet for drawing, and thought some of you might like to see my art. In this one, happy monsters read and relax by a fireplace in a library; a dragon monster sits on a shelf, knocking books off to reach one. Click the pic to see full size.

Happy monsters read and relax by a fireplace in a library. A dragon monster sits on a shelf, knocking books off to reach one.

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just enjoy it.

Happy Monsters by the Library Fireplace

Happy Monsters Under the Tree

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing, I recently got a tablet for drawing, and thought some of you might like to see my arts. Click the pic to see full size.

Two happy monsters snuggling under a tree

Image description: In this one, two happy monsters are snuggling under a tree: one is reading, the other is braiding the first one’s hair. Tentacles. Whatever. They’re under a tree with the head of a snake, which is offering them an apple.

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just look and go, “Oooo.” Enjoy!

Happy Monsters Under the Tree

Happy Monsters Painting a Mural

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing, I recently got a tablet for drawing, and thought some of you might like to see my arts. Here’s a very meta one: a drawing of happy monsters painting a mural, which depicts different happy monsters. Click the pic to see full size.

Happy monsters paint a mural.

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just look and go, “Oooo.” Enjoy!

Happy Monsters Painting a Mural

Happy Monsters Watching TV

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing. I recently got a tablet for drawing, and I thought some of you might like to see my arts. Here’s a drawing of happy monsters watching TV together. Click the pic to see full size.

Happy monsters watching TV together

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just look and go, “Oooo.” Enjoy!

Happy Monsters Watching TV

Happy Monsters in the Cafe

I’m taking an extended hiatus from writing. I recently got a tablet for drawing, and I thought some of you might like to see my arts. Here’s a drawing of happy monsters in a cafe. Click the pic to see full size.

Happy monsters buy coffee, drink coffee, chat, and work, with multi-tentacled barista

If you like this art, you can get it at Redbubble on T-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, and other swag. Or you can just look and go, “Oooo.” Enjoy!

Happy Monsters in the Cafe