Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More Thoughts About Skanky v. Non-Skanky Art

As I mentioned in a previous post, skanky art lacks affection.

Another problem, of course, is that it lacks purpose.

The difference between skanky and non-skanky art isn't so much the explicitness or non-explicitness of the art. Nor does it lie in the use of sex scenes at all although one can cogently argue that art doesn't need sex scenes to work; the "Hays" Code certainly didn't harm director creativity. On the other hand, sex is not in and of itself a problem.

The difference is more fundamental: skanky art doesn't move the story forward. Non-skanky art does.

A reviewer on Amazon sums up the difference surprisingly well:  "I'd rather have well-written sexual tension than a bunch of sex scenes slapped together."

Skanky art has a pro forma feel--as do skanky interludes in many romance novels: Now it is time for the protagonists to have sex! The reader may feel manipulated but the problem is more fundamental. Not only does the reader learn nothing new about the plot or characters from the interlude, the interlude feels out of sync with the rest of the text. Rather than a seamless narrative arc (I am a proponent of the traditional and classic narrative arc), the reader is faced with a unnecessary lull (and if it is badly written, not even a fun unnecessary lull).

A good example of not including an unnecessary lull occurs in the film of Ordinary People. In the book, the Timothy Hutton character, Conrad, has sex with his new girlfriend. In the book, this interlude is fairly pointless; in the movie, it would have been utterly pointless.

I read the book, then watched the movie for a high school class: English, probably. Some of my friends complained at the missing material because "the sex scene showed how much the characters love each other!"

Problem: the teen characters' love for each other was largely irrelevant to the arc that Robert Redford decided to pursue.

My reaction--"But including that scene wouldn't have worked"--was not due to prudishness (I remember having no problem with Romeo and Juliet's overworked sex scene in Zeffirelli's lush Romeo & Juliet although I find the film rather silly now). I remember being surprised by my friends' suggestion because I couldn't imagine how the scene would have moved events forward without distracting us viewers from the movie's main story: the relationship between the son and his parents, specifically the father. If it was a different type of movie . . . but it wasn't.

In comparison, the bedroom scenes in Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life, my favorite contemporary manga to date, are completely relevant to the plot and to the readers' comprehension of the characters. Again, one can argue that an author doesn't need sex scenes to sell a reader on a relationship. Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday? does impressively well without them.

Loretta: You know, I didn't really think she was gonna die.
I knew she was sick. (Ronny: She had TB.)
Loretta: I know! I mean, she was coughing her brains out,
and still she had to keep singing!
But the situations and context of Apple & Honey mean that the sex scenes move the plot and characters forward--much like the sexual discussions and interludes in Moonstruck underscore the motivations, choices, and decisions of the characters. College students and sex is rather the point of the former just as married couples and sex is rather the point of the latter.

"Where are we going?" is a perfectly legitimate question in art. The moment an artist says, "But I need to use this trope, moment, event, statement not because it helps the story but to express myself!" . . . be wary.

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