Monday, September 29, 2008

The Decline of Civilization, Part 1

Jason Ringenberg (with Steve Earle)--"Bible and a Gun" (mp3)
Tokyo Police Club--"Citizens of Tommorrow" (mp3)

From Wikipedia: In the United States, the X-rating originally referred to a non-trademarked rating that indicated a film contained content unsuitable for minors such as extreme violence or explicit sex and thus was for adults only. A Clockwork Orange (1971) originally received an "X" rating for its sexual content. Today, many critics recognize it as one of Stanley Kubrick's most important films. The uncut version of the film has been released on DVD with an "R" rating.

So I went to Target yesterday and bought A Clockwork Orange. Something about it just didn't feel right. Oh, I was happy to find it there (I had seen it there last week) because I wanted to use it for class. But I felt an odd disconnect.

See, when a long time ago A Clockwork Orange received its original "X" rating and I was only 14 years old, there was such a forbidden feeling I had about such a movie, not a forbidden fruit, but something different. Which is odd, because it felt very different from, say, the X-rated sex movies we would go see at the drive-in within the next 2-3 years. Because we knew some little info about sex by age 14, but a movie like A Clockwork Orange, which would be nominated as Best Picture for 1971, seemed to be a completely different kind of mystery. We knew there was probably some sex in it, but that didn't seem to be the point. Instead, there was something about the movie that was so "adult" that we couldn't possibly hope to comprehend its meaning. What was it about? Divorce? I certainly didn't know anyone in 1971 whose family had gone through that. Children out of wedlock? Nope, I didn't know anyone. Interracial marriage? Ditto.

We really couldn't figure out what the mystery was, but Malcolm McDowell's face on the movie ads looked as unrepentantly evil as anything I knew to that point. In my 14-year-old mind, I drew the hazy conclusion that the movie was about something that was far more real and monstrous than anything I had seen. I wasn't that wrong.

Now, any fourteen year old with $20 can grab a copy of the movie off the rack at Target and take it home with no one blinking an eye.

Now, I'm showing the movie to my class of seniors in a high school setting, as a supplement to our reading and study of the book.

Now, on some scale, the movie is considered somewhat tame.

For what was once "X" is now "R," and so I guess we are supposed to think that Clockwork's scenes of rape, orgy, full frontal nudity and completely random violence are commonplace enough to merit the lesser rating that the film now gets.

But anytime you move an "X" to an "R," you are acknowledging that something has shifted, and encountering the movie at Target has called that to mind for me. Now, I don't pretend to be one of guys who bemoans the downward spiral of society; in fact, I'm usually in the other camp, claiming that openness, honesty, reality, invisibility, all of those things are good and far be it from any of us to try to censor the world for ourselves or anyone else. But Clockwork.....

Kubrick's novel, to me, is highly flawed, because he first explores a world where teenagers left to their own desires do the most awful things, and then after an interval of attempted societal rehabilitation, he concludes that the problems will solve themselves, that the only things needed to turn amoral teenagers into responsible, upstanding citizens are time and age. In short, the kids are alright, they'll grow out of it. The American versions of the novel cut off the chapter where that conclusion is reached, and the movie doesn't go that far either.

But either way, you're left with an awful choice--either the criminal teenagers are conditioned by society so severely that they literally become sick every time they confront these primal evil urges and that is how they are "cured," or they are simply temporary monsters who then become adults. Both ways, to me, are downhill, and not a story I necessarily want told as casual viewing available on the shelves at Target.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Didn't know that this flick used to be X. I did know it about Midnight Cowboy and was bitterly disappointed in how little I liked that film, regardless of the rating.

As for the "message" of the book, is it a cop out or sincerity for me to say that I don't agree with his conclusion, as you describe it, but believe that having someone propose such a conclusion is absolutely vital for the very reason that it bothers us.

Shouldn't one of literature's most vital functions be to provide us with itches that are next to impossible to scratch?

(Especially when these sores are with us whether we acknowledge them or not. And by sores I mean frikkin' adolescents.)