We’ve all noticed — movies aren’t quite what they used to be. The aim is no longer primarily artistic, but to earn back the studio’s investment. While they say sex sells, it appears the younger generation isn’t buying.
Writers and directors no longer aim to persuade us with compelling themes or innovate storytelling. Every picture — from Marvel’s CGI revolution to torture porn to the raunchiest teen comedy — follows the same formula: shock and awe. In a religious America, where traditional norms still ruled the day, sexual debauchery was genuinely transgressive. But today, when the 1960s free love ethos is both the norm and the ideal, there is a far narrower margin on what sparks a true thrill of rebellion. This fact is lost on Hollywood, which has been doubling down for decades. But a new survey suggests that a Gen Z desperately desires a paradigm shift.
The University of California Los Angeles surveyed 1,500 youth (aged 10-24) on their attitudes toward sex and romance in media. The “Teens and Screens” study found that nearly 40 percent of respondents wanted more non-romantic characters on screen. A majority said that Hollywood overdoes it with romance. Rather than reveling in the sexual liberation that Baby Boomers victoriously injected into mass culture, these children are reacting with the sensibilities of even older generation. They’re repulsed.
“When there’s media with too much sex, me and my friends often feel uncomfortable,” said survey respondent Ana, age 16, in a video released by UCLA. (RELATED: You Know Biden’s Got Problems When Even Hollywood Nut Jobs Start To Turn On Him)
“My friends are I maybe awkwardly bear through it,” said 20-year-old respondent Joseph.
It’s clear that Hollywood’s portrayal of sex and romance is no longer working if it doesn’t even resonate with a generation raised on nothing but the untethered bacchanalia it sees on screen. But it’s harder to pinpoint where everything went wrong. The smut we see today resides within the deepest cavern of a long descent.
It began with the decline of the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as the Hays Code, in the 1960s. The innocence of Hollywood’s Golden Age refers to a time when the industry policed itself. Studios banded together under former Postmaster General William Hays to construct a voluntary code of 25 “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” including “licentious or suggestive nudity” and “[a]ny inference of sex perversion.””The code sets up high standards of performance for motion-picture producers,” Hays proclaimed at the time. “It states the considerations which good taste and community value make necessary in this universal form of entertainment.” (RELATED: Hollywood Libs Destroy Another Piece Of Western Heritage)
While the list expanded over the years, its self-imposition made for lax enforcement as “good taste” and “community values” evolved. It came to an official end by 1969, leaving filmmakers free to push the boundaries.
That year saw the first ever “X-rated” film achieve mainstream success, with John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy” winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. The 1970s saw the emergence of the New Hollywood era, characterized by an even more unconventional filmmaking. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Bernardo Bertolucci became known for pushing boundaries with explicit portrayals of sex and violence.
By the 1980s, the home video revolution made the new boundaries more accessible to wider audiences. People could discretely enjoy their darker fantasies without venturing out into public. David Lynch’s neo-noir erotic thriller “Blue Velvet” prompted backlash and walk-outs when it first premiered in 1986, with only moderate success at the box office. But the film’s VHS release quickly cemented it as a cult classic, and propelled Lynch to mainstream success. Subsequent thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” (1987) and “Basic Instinct” (1992) repackaged the same eroticism to established mainstream audiences with far fewer hurdles.
The indie explosion of the 1990s — bringing big names and budgets to niche films — tore down any remaining vestiges of a morally upstanding Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” to Sofia Coppola’s “Virgin Suicides” and Daron Arronfsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” — while varied in subject and aesthetic, they found great success portraying past norms of sex and romance as little more than a cruel and repressive myth.
By the 2000s, there was nothing left to tear down. All that remained was a self-satisfying push to be more extreme, to the point that transgression itself became boring. Various attempts were made: the “American Pie” saga exposed the sex life of teens, “Brokeback Mountain” mainlined public sympathy for gay romance and “The Danish Girl” illustrated all too graphically what the phrase “trans women are women” really looks like. The nadir comes with HBO’s contemporary hit show “Euphoria,” a postmodern grotesquerie of underage sex and drugs described as a “parent’s worst nightmare.”
— euphoria (@euphoriaHBO) September 13, 2022
This is the unfortunate reality of Hollywood today as over-sexualization became self-perpetuating. The old timers embrace the new spirit in an attempt to stay relevant. Younger talent seeks to gain notoriety. Everyone else is forced to compete, to out-do each other’s debauchery, or find themselves outside the unquestionable consensus that sex sells. Yet it is the select few — the true crusaders of sexual liberation — that brought us where we are today.
This is the critical point for understanding why the current sexual morality in film fails to resonate with today’s youth. Every facet of society has told them since birth that this is the way things are supposed to be. The old system was repressive, but today we rejoice in the freedom to love however and whomever we please. Yet despite several generations of a handful of cultural elites attempting to convince us otherwise, this is not the natural order of things. People — particularly in their formative years — crave stability, fulfillment, commitment and truly requited love.
This is not what you will find in the casual sex of the movies today — there’s no escapism, but merely a reflection of the world as it is. To today’s youth, the precepts of sexual liberation feel like just another authority telling them how to think and behave. What they crave is an escape from these harsh strictures, to see people love and be loved in a way that they wish for themselves but that seems unattainable in today’s world.
Hollywood faces a reckoning. A new generation is rebelling against the strict cultural norms of its elders. Today, the most radical thing a kid can do is settle down and get married.