EDIT: This is NOT part of We All Float Down Here: The 2017 Halloween Horrorquest. Do not include it as a submission thereto, as this is not about horror but something far darker IRL.
So the new version of It by Stephen King has done monster business and everyone loves it. Though I am not a huge fan of King (I don't think a cross between a classic monster movie and Murder She Wrote is interesting, nor am I a baby boomer so all the cultural touchstones don't reverberate with me) it was the best thing to watch when I took the wife on a date, so rather than watch a movie in Hindi without subtitles, there we were.
I'm not going to go into the movie, but there will be a bit of a spoiler towards the end, so if you haven't read the book, and want to - stop here until you have.
I love horror movies. There, I've come out of the closet. Zombie movies, slasher pics, old shcool monster classics, ghost stories, Tales from the Crypt. yes please. The good ones tell enough of a story valuable enough outside of the slashing and maiming that I'm there with my popcorn faithfully in hand and I'm loving the new renaissance of independent horror pics.
That being said, they have the same kind of problem as a lot of other media have - namely the use of the female body as plot device. In many a movie a woman exists merely to be kidnapped (setting the heroes on a damsel in distress quest), tied to railroad tracks, or found dead in a fridge with multiple stab wounds which gets the heroes on the epic quest to stop this monster.
This part, as well as the visual bit of using breasts and pubes as the bait to lure in teenage eyeballs (case in point, the hardbody with the VERY perky breasts in Friday the 13th Part 2, etc) I'm not so fond of. There's something very disturbing, and not in the right way, of conflating sex and horror. We can't show you the guy penetrating her, but he can conquer her by shoving a blade into her body - that's perfectly fine.
It's even worse because in my day nobody would consider taking a small child into a horror film, but I counted crowds of small children in this particular viewing.
We're spared a lot of overt sexuality in this film, apart from a girl stripping off to her underwear and joining a band of gangly 11-13 year olds in their tighty whities daring each other to leap off a cliff into a lake. This isn't due to the fact that the story doesn't need it, but the very real problems people would have of sexualizing children.
In other news, Hugh Hefner died this week in his 90s. I must confess I didn't know a lot of the ugly dirty laundry about Hef. I always read Playboy, his magnum opus, as a literary magazine with tits. Genuinely, I'd much rather read a vintage issue for the P.G. Wodehouse stories, the interviews with Miles Davis and the absolutely stellar journalism the magazine was known for. I came of adolescence at a time where an internet connection could get you uncensored Japanese tentacle fisting porn, so frankly, the idea of seeing nipples shot artily by some European through a Vaseline-smeared lens, meh, I've seen worse. I could argue, would argue, and still argue that if I wanted that sort of thing, believe me, I had better and easier options.
But it came out this week, after even NPR gushed about this fabled champion of the first Amendment and bon vivant who was a leader in the sexual revolution - some very ugly dirty laundry indeed. I tuned out the usual critiques of Playboy as the ramblings of the usual anti-sex Christian and feminist types, but I shouldn't have. Hefner in his private life considered women cattle. He controlled them with money and gave them harem-like rules and strict curfews, treating them as virtual prisoners and discarding them the moment the sweet flower of youth began to lose its bloom.
He also saw no issue printing pre-teen nude photos of Brooke Shields. He sold sexual images of children.
What does this have to do with It?
Well, in the book (but obviously not in the movie or the television movie with Tim Curry) there's a scene in which their whole Care Bars / My Little Pony "Friendship is Magic"(literally) meme goes one step further. The girl of the bunch, a girl who gets smeared with the "slut" label and is harassed and abused by girls AND boys alike for it and has to fight for most of the story to argue that she ISN'T any kind of whore, the only person who ever touched her down there was her father - decides at the denouement of the book that the only way she's going to deus ex machina their way out of the predicament they're in is to take all her clothes off and gangbang every single boy in the group.
I'm going to say that again, even though I threw up a bit in my mouth.
As a plot device, Stephen King decides to have the lone girl, who's already a victim of incestuous sexual assault and dealing with the baggage of bullying her entire life being called a slut and a whore - removing her clothes and lying down naked in a sewer with her legs spread and servicing all of her male friends. Because it occurs to her pre-teen/early teen mind that you know, damn it, taking one (from each one) for the team is the only way out of this mess - because that's how little girls think. It's a magical device, the human vagina, right?
Now, you might think that this is clearly wish fulfillment of a unibrowed ugly as fuck manky toothed Baby Boomer cocaine addict putting his pre-adolescent fantasies about the girl next door into print, right? Me and my buddies smashed that friendzone guys, just like we smashed that vagina of hers amirite? Even the one fat enough to have bigger breasts than she has.
But wait, he says in interviews, but hang on, no no no. He wasn't thinking at all about anything prurient or sexual when he wrote page after page after page of her taking it from each boy in turn, closing her eyes and steeling herself for the largest cock in the group by thinking of birds.
(EDIT: No, this was not included for horror/squick purposes. The ancient evil was defeated, and this was the "deus ex machina" to get them out of a jam. Clive Barker handled the concept of child sex from a horror perspective for horror purposes but this was literally a plot device which King wrote about lovingly and tenderly.)
No, King as an explanation of this which disgusts me even more.
If there's something I and most of decent society hate, it's someone dressing up something that's obviously wrong under the mantle of "artistic expression", "free speech", or attacking anyone who opposes it as "prudish" or "uncultured" and 'unenlightened". You know, like the artsy crowd in Europe who had no problem hiding Roman Polanski from the law after he drugged and violently sodomized a little girl. First thing he did was flee justice and fell into the loving arms of people who think you should overlook something as minor as the traumatic buggery of an unwilling child.
The praise heaped on Hefner, that he was some kind of sexual liberator - is a total lie. He was an authoritarian control freak and an abuser who saw nothing wrong wth marketing images of children. If that's male sexual liberation, fucking keep it. Female sexual liberation, from what I gather from that literature, is about teaching girls about how their bodies work, how to find out what they like and negotiate it safely, joyously and consensually being fully informed. Hef was fond of roofies. That nobody has come forward with a more genuinely useful and/or mutually wonderful sexual liberation banner for men is telling.
What does this have to do with King?
Let's pause for a moment. I'm not making the automatic assumption that King wrote that scene with the interest of marketing child pornography, even though sexual depictions of children having sex with children in print is the sort of thing they'd have horsewhipped you for doing a few decades ago, and rightly so. I'm giving King the benefit of the doubt here, but I'd really like him to unpack the fuck out of whatever backpack or knapsack he folded his feelings into and sealed with an alcohol and cocaine binge that lasted through the 1970s.
His explanation is even worse. He saw them basically lining up one behind the other, erections in hand to use her body over and over as a "rite of passage", a metaphor for the fact that they were passing into manhood, and bridging the book between the scenes of them as children and them as adults.
One of them had already been Bar Mitzhvah'd. He was already a man and had a rite of passage into adulthood. If he' wanted to discuss the concept of transition to adulthood, he could have, and it would have been cool of them to have - have them work out for themselves what that means, those gentiles who didn't have that rite and still felt aimless.
But no, instead he tapped into that rich vein of toxic masculinity to have the whole "you're not really a man until you've notched your belt" thing happen. It's just one root of a whole nasty gnarly mass of roots that go to the same poisoned stump - you're not really a man until you've taken control of a woman's body. Like Hef did. It's also telling that stealing a Playboy and perusing the breasts and shadowy vague suggestions of a vulval cleft only just almost airbrushed out of sheer panties was also considered a rite of passage - consuming the images of a man who handed women rule sheets controlling every aspect of their behavior.
And people are going on, filmmakers and reviewers alike, that this scene isn't in the film because it's illegal to film even the suggestion of sex between children, as opposed to the scene not being in the film because it's an abhorrent fucking scene.
I can't imagine being a girl and having male supremacy so bluntly shoved at me like that. Doesn't matter that you're best friends with misfits, that you're bonding with them to the point where your mutual love and co-operation literally kills an ancestral evil that no adult could vanquish. When push comes to shove, get on your back, because you're the group receptacle.
And by the way darling, that's YOUR rite of passage. To lie on your back in a literal sewer and stand up with a sore and bloody birth canal with the seed of multiple men running down your legs, with them high-fiving each other at having "scored" in the background. You were their first conquest.
They handled the concept of group bonding in the film in a far more equitable way, one that I won't spoil for those who haven't seen the movie except to say that it's PG-13 rated and not sexual in the slightest.
But that scene in It is dead. Hefner is also dead.
Get your axes, boys and girls, there's still a lot of twisted rotting roots on that vile stump still snaking their way through the soil. We've got more of these to kill.