There was a post over at the main blog about a controversial scene in the upcoming movie Hounddog, starring Dakota Fanning. Fanning is thirteen years old, and in the movie, plays a twelve-year-old Elvis fan in the 1950’s Deep South who does a seductive dance to get tickets to an Elvis concert, but is raped by the boy providing the tickets as her friend Buddy watches. The director is adamant that no nudity or violence is shown, only implied. The question is, does that make it okay then?
I think this is a difficult issue, and one that I can’t stand firmly on either side of. On one hand, I would rather not censor people’s art (of which filmmaking is one kind). And the scene doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody–Fanning’s body isn’t being exploited, and Fanning herself, known for her maturity, seems to have dealt with the filming very well herself, essentially saying that ‘business is business’ and that she’s ‘over it.’ On the other hand, she’s still a minor, not to mention, still a tween–does she really have the authority to make this decision for herself? Was she pressured into it by her parents and her ‘people’/was it just part of the life they had planned out for her? A lot of sources speculate that this scene is part of Fanning’s entourage’s scheme to snag her on Oscar. If that’s true, it would seem very cheap and exploitative.
This whole debate, about whether Fanning really has the authority to make her own decisions, reminds me of one of the central arguments within feminism–do women make the choices they make because that’s what they really want, or do they make those choices because they’ve essentially been trained to do so (some would say brainwashed) by the culture they grew up in and society at large? It’s a difficult question without a clear-cut answer, I think. The implications of this debate are also related to the field of cultural studies–how much can people actually choose something for themselves? It’s complicated by the fact that Fanning is so young, as are the tweens that consumerist marketing targets so fervently; their rationality can also be brought into question.
Something else the debate this controversial scene brings to mind is the question of irony. While the director is adamant that she’s not being exploitative because no nudity or violence is shown, another question has to be asked: Does that really make a difference? Does the simple act of representing an act, no matter how explicit is it, exploit it or titillate the audience somehow? Isn’t that why we go to the movies, after all? But this scene in particular is so much more disturbing–I have to wonder if anyone in the audience will actually be getting pleasure out of the scene. True, it doesn’t show nudity or violence, but it wouldn’t be a good work of art if it didn’t get a certain emotion across, in this case that being the terror of a young girl. And you don’t need to show anything explicitly for people to feed off of fear.