There’s no thesis here. I just wanted to organize a few thoughts around Fade to Black sex in mainstream media.
The Problem with Fade to Black
The funny thing about reading a metric tonne of fanfiction is the jarring disappointment you feel when mainstream movies and books fade to black as soon as we get to a sex scene. I watched Looper in a watch party the other day and noticed this in a scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. At the time I kind of joked about it, because who wouldn’t like to see that whole scene play out?
Narrative Function - Character Development
This fade-to-black convention — and the societal attitude that drives it — is problematic. We see scenes of people sitting on buses, ordering coffee, or going for a run. If they aren’t used to drive plot, those thingsaren’t particularly exciting in themselves but do provide us some insight in the character. So why is someone having sex not as revealing to that character, or more?
Fanfiction has shown me, again and again, that sex scenes can be exceptional at revealing character development. What better time to look at a character than when their defenses are down and they’re undone by their own desire? What more personal thing can there be than desire?
Fanfiction Has No Financial Bottom Line
Fanfiction is free to tell stories without the limitations of ticket sales and PR teams. I’ve learned from fanfiction that desire doesn’t begin and end with a sex scene, and desire can bleed out into the rest of the story, assisting it along the way with added tension and the satisfaction of having really SEEN the character, naked both figuratively and literally.
In the Bedroom or In Real Life, and Never the Twain Shall Meet
Okay, but aside from the narrative opportunities missed in mainstream media, there’s another problem. By excising the getting-busy part of sex out of the story with near-surgical precision, we’ve also excised it out of the collective consciousness. We understand our world through stories. We grow up with stories and learn more than what is explicitly told to us. What I’ve learned from mainstream media is that sex is somehow separate from life. It’s intensely private and shaded in silence. Sex is something to be found in pornographic situations, devoid of character and story, separate from individual identity.
I’ve heard occasional criticism about particular fanfic stories being “insert tab A into slot B”. But even the most formulaic, uninspired fanfic porn begins with characters we all (fandom) know. While some full-length porno films might touch on the identities of the participants, most videos I’ve been exposed to have been literally Tab A - Slot B kind of stuff. Not that I’m complaining of the existence of that kind of thing — it has its place. But it’s ubiquitous and for many it’s their only exposure to the nuts-and-bolts of sex outside of their own experience, and I find that worrying.
Interesting, not sure if I agree as I think most mainstream media couldn’t write good even if they were allowed to. As in: Game of Thrones, ugh.
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