By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, March 12, 2015
I saw a silly movie this weekend that had two disturbing scenes that I can’t stop thinking about. The film, Kingsman, is a comedy-action spoof on spy films. I’m sure the screenwriters and the audiences considered everything in good fun, but two scenes troubled me. The first was a mass killing at a church, which I will write about in the future, and the second, is when Princess Tilde tells our young hero, Eggsy, she’ll give him anal sex if he will free her from her dungeon prison. It bothers me that this modern fairy tale has the Princess bargaining for her freedom with Prince Charming. Is the hero’s reward consensual, prostitution or rape?
Matthew Vaughn, the director, considers this scene just another bit of comedy, but I think fiction has a moral language, a philosophical point of view, that we should always take seriously, no matter how stupid the story. Most people want to believe that fiction has a neutral impact on people’s minds, and is entertainment, merely a pastime. That’s why conventional wisdom wants us to believe that video game and movie violence don’t cause actual violence. To me, believing fiction has no power to influence is bullshit.
We all live by fictional beliefs. Unless a concept has been proven by science, most of the beliefs we live by are fictions. To say that fiction has no impact is silly. There are thousands of religions on this planet, and only one or zero of them can be true, so if you look at what religion causes people to do, then I think that’s logic enough to prove my point. Movies do influence people, even light-hearted comedies like Kingsman. Hollywood now has more influence than religion. The scene where the damsel in distress offers the hero sex in exchange for her freedom sends two messages. The first, is to promote the acceptance of anal sex in society. Hollywood has always promoted sex, but that’s not the issue I want to deal with. The second, is that’s it’s okay to barter sex for freedom – that’s loaded with moral issues that need to be examine.
Sex as a form of currency goes back to the animal kingdom. For example, male bowerbirds create elaborate nests in exchange for getting lucky with lady bowerbirds. Evolution uses traits for one gender of a species to set a high price for reproductive access. At one level we can say Princess Tilde has judged Eggsy worthy in a naturalistic way. Even among species were sex is recreational, prostitution sometimes reveals itself. But humans also have free will, and we’ve invented fine shades of laws, ethics and morality about dating. Essentially we divide sexual encounters into three domains of agreement between the two parties: consensual, prostitution and rape.
Ethically, when it comes to sex, our society has intellectually decided we want it to be consensual. Ethically, we quibble over the morality of sex for payment, and we consider sex by force to be one of the worst of crimes. We value everyone’s right to control their body as the highest forms of freedom and one of the greatest human rights. This hasn’t always been so, and it isn’t so everywhere, even today, but it’s inherent in modern liberal societies. We’re still moving towards the goal of perfect equality among the genders, but unfortunately, we’re not there yet, not even close. This incident with the hero and princess in this movie is a good case study why.
There are two sex-for-freedom cases in Kingsman. The hero’s mother in trapped in a relationship with a violent thug, and we’re led to assume it’s because the hero’s desperate mother aligned herself with this man to provide for her children. The hero hates this arrangement, so it’s rather startling that Eggsy would take the same bargain with the Princess Tilde – using his strength to get sex. Why do the moviegoers hate the thug but not the hero? We want to believe that the Princess Tilde is having consensual sex with the hero – but is she? Is any kidnapped woman, captured for what may be years, terrified of dying, capable of making a free choice? Is the hero’s mom making a free choice when she has sex with the thug to provide for her kids?
Libertarians would like us to believe that prostitution is consensual and maybe it is in some cases, but if a woman is selling sex to survive is that really consensual? If a wife tells her husband that she will give him a blowjob if he’ll watch the kids Saturday afternoon while she goes shopping might be an example of consensual prostitution. But even then it could be ethically iffy. What if the wife truly hates giving oral sex, but does it out of a sense of obligation, isn’t that still against her will?
When is consensual prostitution? When is prostitution rape? As a society we don’t fully realize the extent of rape in our culture. Few people understand the extent of the feminist message. It’s important for everyone to learn these distinctions, and spot them, even in supposedly harmless comedies. Anyone who has studied humor will understand comedy often has a subtext of hate.
The decision when to have sex is always changing. The generation before mine believed people should wait until after marriage to have sex. My generation, women embraced a variety of culturally supported decision tools, some even coming up with schemes about putting out after a specific number of dates. In modern times, women often go by their own internal desires and reading of their chemistry, which is naturalistic and biology driven. However, biology imposes a tyranny on both men and women. Our bodies push us to have sex, but we often don’t know why. Nowadays some people prefer hookups without dating. It’s more egalitarian and consensual. Both parties want sex, and getting down to business avoids all the complicated other issues. Most people want sex. There are a percentage of people that don’t, but most do. If two people find each other and scratch each other’s sexual itches by mutual consent with no consequences, we can remove them from our ethical discussion.
Where things get difficult morally is when one person is coerced for whatever reason. We know biology forces us, but how is culture a coercive factor? If you study television and movies with the right insight, you can see how culture imprisons us all in gender stereotypes. As long as women are seen as rewards for male success we won’t have a truly egalitarian society. The trouble is many woman still buy into this belief too.
Ultimately, I want to explore the ethical issue brought up in Kingsman, and most other movies today, that sex is the reward men expect from females, and whether or not this expectation is egalitarian. Are young women programmed by culture to be sexual rewards? In the old days, the hero saves the Princess, and they get married to live happily ever after. In Kingsman, the Princess says, “Oh thanks for saving my life, as a reward I’ll let you fuck me in the ass.” What messages does that send to young women? Pop culture often supports the idea sex is proper payment for the weak to pay the strong? It bothers me Tilde was at the beginning of the show a political powerhouse and stood up to Valentine, but turned airhead weak for Eggsy in the end. Of course some feminists will broil me for linking female sexual desire with female willpower. I’m perfectly fine with Tilde wanting to have sex with Eggsy, but I’m unhappy how she’s portrayed as a joke. We don’t laugh at her when she’s strong, but we do when she’s weak.
Most people are going to say I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but isn’t that because they already accept Kingsman’s messages as true? Can we have an egalitarian society if women are seen as rewards for success? Sure, that’s the way nature works, but nature is not egalitarian. Nature doesn’t give a shit about what happens to anyone. Nature is not ethical. We are evolving beyond nature, into a humanistic state of being. We can reject nature. Maybe we’re evolving our souls, and I’m saying Kingsman isn’t helping.
We’re in new territory here. It’s only within the last century that we’ve started considering women to be equal to men, and most people still don’t. Take the Catholic Church. If we all have equal souls why can’t women become priests and even Pope? Is there something different about their souls? I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe in heaven, but for you people that do, answer me this: Does heaven have gender issues? Does not having a dick make you a second class soul? Do souls have genitals in heaven?
Now that we’re inventing gender equality, we have to assume that all humans are truly equal. Even though I’m an atheist, I like the concept of the soul because souls don’t have physical attributes – they’re pure consciousness. If we’re egalitarian souls, then we can’t discriminate by genitals or chromosomes, and isn’t that what movies are doing? From now on, whenever you watch a movie, or television show or read a book, think about how culture assigns different roles to males and females. Is that consensual? Is what the Princess did truly consensual? Even if she sounded more than willing? I don’t believe so.
As a guy, we always want to believe women want to have sex with us, but just how true is it? If the decision was measured against a scale, with a green zone for consensual, a yellow zone for prostitution, and a red zone for rape, how often when we get laid would the meter swing into the yellow or red?
We are so programmed by pop culture that we fail to see its evil. Princess Tilde was a strong independent woman when she resisted Valentine’s evil plan, but in the end her character is used for laughs, and she’s turned into a batty-eyed sex object. Roxy and Gazelle are never fully realized characters, and neither is Princess Tilde. Women only represent sexual pawns in this story. Roxy is the token female Kingsman, and Gazelle, the novelty henchmen. Of course, all the characters are cartoonish comic book characters – but the male characters make the decisions. The story is a fairy tale for adults and not meant to be serious, but unfortunately, like all fairy tales, they come with a subtext, and when decoded, we see the darker side of being human.