Getting Away With It

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We’re teased in Avatar. Director James Cameron invites us into the Na’vi boudoir, so to speak, but the screen fades to black before we witness how two blue aliens actually get it on. A sex scene was written into the script — and shot — but Cameron pulled it at the last minute to ensure his film received a tween-friendly PG rating.

While he shied away from depicting tentacular intimacy between consenting aliens, Cameron had no such qualms about violence. While Avatar isn’t as gory as your standard blockbuster epic, it nonetheless includes many scenes in which both aliens and humans are shot through with arrows, stabbed, half-eaten alive, blown up or otherwise violently treated. The handy IMDb Parents Guide to Avatar reassures concerned readers that although "(m)any people are killed … there really isn’t any blood and only a few deaths are onscreen".

Of course, it is not just at the movies that we see violence accepted as a normal part of life and sex frowned upon and edited out. This contradiction is also apparent insofar as public attitudes to violence against women are concerned.

On Christmas Day last year, a terrified woman named Brooke Mueller phoned 911 to tell them that her husband had grabbed her in a headlock, held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her. Her husband’s name is Charlie Sheen.

Apart from the loss of his contract endorsing Hanes’ "wife beater" t-shirts (ouch), Sheen’s violent behaviour does not seem to have had a particularly detrimental effect on his career.

CBS screened Sheen’s TV "comedy" Two and a Half Men as usual on 28 December, just three days after his arrest and chose not to make a statement on the issue. A CNN report stated simply that "scandals don’t faze Charlie Sheen’s career" and quoted a PR expert who postulated that no one "expects anything more from him". As if his multiple arrests were nothing but naughty, nudge-nudge wink-wink shenanigans — and did not in fact involve violent behaviour and death threats.

It’s important to note here that for Sheen, this behaviour is nothing new. Indeed, it stretches back two decades, as reported on Salon:

"Mueller’s statements are remarkably consistent with Sheen’s ex-wife Denise Richards’ accounts of the actor’s behavior, including an incident where he told her "I hope you f*cking die, bitch. You are f*cking with the wrong guy," and threatened to have her killed. Sheen also served two years’ probation for a 1996 assault on then-girlfriend Brittany Ashland. In 1995, he settled a case out of court with a woman who claimed he’d hit her when she refused to have sex with him. And in 1990, in an incident deemed an accident, he shot his fiancé Kelly Preston in the arm."

And Sheen is not alone in appearing to get off lightly for acts of violence against women in the court of public opinion. The 2009 abuse of pop singer Rihanna by her then boyfriend Chris Brown generated plenty of anger and column inches — but incredibly, some of that anger was directed at Rihanna. A survey of 200 teenagers by the Boston Public Health Commission found that 46 per cent thought that Rihanna was to blame for her own abuse and 52 per cent thought both parties were at fault. Also 52 per cent of respondents  believed that the media was treating Chris Brown unfairly.

Add this to a recent survey released by the Home Office in Britain which found that one in five respondents approved of a man slapping his female partner if she wore revealing clothes, while one in seven respondents thought a nagging wife deserved to be hit. A further one in 10 believed a woman who flirted heavily and was then assaulted was at fault and staggeringly, more than one in three respondents agreed that female rape victims who were drunk bore at least some of the responsibility.

Forgiving attitudes to violence against women are no less deeply entrenched in Australian society — in spite of the ongoing campaigns like "Violence Against Women: Australia Says No".

The Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology (a 2004 national survey of 6677 women in Australia aged 18–69) found that 57 per cent of Australian women report experiencing at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. It also found that the place the violence was most likely to occur was in the home. From Boston to London to Sydney, the idea that violence against women is a habitual part of a relationship has become entrenched.

The media attention over the Rihanna affair did not do much long-term harm to Brown’s career. Indeed, Brown enjoyed a resurgence of his song "Forever" after its inclusion in YouTube viral sensation "JK’s Wedding Dance": the track was propelled to number one on the US charts more than 12 months after its initial release. As for Sheen, years of abusing the women in his life has led to his being the highest paid actor on TV, making a staggering US$825,000 for every single mediocre episode of Two And A Half Men.

Transgressions which involve sex, on the other hand, can destroy a career as quickly as Tiger Woods can crash a car into a tree.

Since that fateful November evening set off a chain of events that exposed Tiger’s penchant for busty blondes, Tiger’s image has been in freefall. His popularity has plummeted, his corporate sponsors continue to desert him and his wife has filed for divorce. To add insult to injury, his infamous voicemail message to one of his numerous mistresses received the inevitable remix treatment on YouTube

From the speed of Tiger’s descent it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that extramarital sex can do more damage to a career in the public eye than violence.

So was there anything particularly salacious in that deleted sex scene from Avatar? You can judge for yourself. The scripted scene reads thusly:

"Neytiri takes the end of her queue and raises it. Jake does the same, with trembling anticipation. The tendrils at the ends move with a life of their own, straining to be joined.

MACRO SHOT — The tendrils INTERTWINE with gentle undulations."

Not the most titillating scene ever written yet still unacceptable for the younglings. Apparently, children can handle a violent death or two — but not a single sweet scene showing the act of love between two CGI aliens.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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