The first point to make perfectly clear is that the act of which Roman Polanski is accused (and to which I believe he has admitted guilt, though I’m not certain) is indefensible. As indefensible as what Prince Philip is accused of this week.

It also occurred in the 1970s.

Calling Hollywood at the time a very different place is an understatement. I don’t even refer to what was published in the tabloids, but what Hollywood produced. I recently saw a publicity still from the 1980 film Little Darlings about two 15 year old girls vying over who will lose her virginity first at summer camp. I’m not certain this movie could be made with that precise premise today. I’ve not seen it since it was first on cable TV. The same is true of A Little Romance (1979), Rich Kids (1979), or Foxes (1980).

These four had a distinct influence on my adolescence, though perhaps A Little Romance is the odd one out because it addresses teen love without being overt about sexuality per se. The others have central plot components that hinge on teenage or pre-teen sexuality. This is especially true of Rich Kids in which the protagonists are twelve. In Foxes, the lead characters are all dealing with coming of age in different ways (but are for the most part at least of their majority).

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 90s film Boogie Nights shows much of what film life in Hollywood in the late 1970s was about. Yes it’s a fiction about the porn industry, but shows a little about the behind the scenes fantasy that was film in general at the time.

Other notable films that engaged in teen or pre-teen exploitation included Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). My notes indicate Caligula as well, but Caligula (which I only know by reputation) is of interest because it was essentially a porno (produced by Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione) with duped major league actors (including John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and Malcolm MacDowell).

Blue Lagoon‘s paper-thin plot revolved around two youngsters (played by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins) shipwrecked somewhere tropical who grow up with only each other for company after the one other survivor (played by Leo McKern – how do I remember this stuff?) drinks himself under with a washed up keg of rum. There’s sex and nudity (though I recall a defense made because Shields’ boobs were played by a body double).

prettyBabyPretty Baby, which starred Susan Sarandon as madame of a (New Orleans?) brothel in the 1917. Again, it’s not one I’ve watched in a long time – probably 20 years. I recall that one plot point involved the auction of one prostitute’s virginity, possibly that of the girl played by (again) Brooke Shields.

The thing about these movies is that they’re from a relatively long time ago. Note that (going back to my opening), I don’t believe there should be a statute of limitations on crimes against minors. My question is: has the sexualisation of teenagers (and pre-teens) increased or decreased since then. Or simply changed. I’m no longer the target audience for such films and am more likely to see a Pixar movie in the theatre than one targeted to a slightly older audience. I’m also aware of how much easier it is to get a kid-friendly rating from the MPAA for a violent movie than for a movie with sexual themes. I’m not sure that makes a difference to my argument. I don’t recall the rating Little Darlings received, but I’m pretty sure Rich Kids got a PG, but Blue Lagoon and Pretty Baby were both R. (A comparison of UK and US ratings system can be found here. Just because they had R ratings, however, doesn’t mean they didn’t sexualise the youth in the movies and exploit that in the marketing.

I’m also not saying that the themes of these movies shouldn’t be addressed in celluloid. Just that the way these themes were handled at the time reflected an entertainment industry culture that found it easy to test the boundaries. I should note that the period in question is the first decade or so after the ratings system replaced the Hays Code (a change that itself was a response to the boundary-pushing already happening in 1960s films). The Hays code (enforced from 1934-1968) pretty much meant that any major movie that made it to the big screen was suitable for all audiences. Wikipedia cites Antonioni’s Blow-Up (denied release for nudity) and Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf‘s use of language as reasons to categorise movies according to audience suitability.

The administration of the ratings system in the US has a questionable history. The process, if I recall rightly, was always secret, and rarely did the committees rating the movies provide reasons why rating A was given over rating B, leaving directors to figure for themselves how to edit a movie to get the rating they were after. My favourite such example regards the South Park movie released in ’99. The original subtitle was All Hell Breaks Loose which earned it an NC-17 (17+, no exceptions) which was the death knell for a film aimed at teenagers. I’m pretty sure the makers were after an R. The more I think about it, the more I’m certain this story is apocryphal, but changing the subtitle to Bigger, Longer, and Uncut earned them the rating they wanted.

A check of Wikipedia indicates multiple issues the studio and producers had with the MPAA, but the title wasn’t one of them. It took a lot of back and forth, however, to get the desired rating. Another film that faced similar issues was Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The solution there involved obscuring a couple of participants in what might have been an orgy.

Note that South Park and EWS had vastly different target audiences and that neither sexualised young people. In the movies, the last couple decades seem to be a little different in that regard than the years that preceded them.

I participated last week in a discussion on the relative merits of Frozen. (Do I need to link to Frozen? I hope not.) Yes, this seems like a big left turn, but hold on. One friend argued that focus in the movie on the relationship between the sisters was markedly different than that of previous Disney movies in which the goal of getting a prince was paramount. She continued that the way the movie handled the central theme of actively rejecting parental restrictions on expression empowers young women to acknowledge and overcome their own experiences in this regard. This may not be apparent now, but wait until this generation of six year olds hits adolescence.

In short, I agree with her, but with the caveat that this depends on how much other Disney product young Frozen fans are exposed to. I occasionally end up on the treadmill at my gym that faces the TV tuned to the Disney channel. (Other choices are TLC, Discovery, and some Dutch channels.) While I don’t listen to the TV audio when I’m on the treadmill (I have to have music or there’s no motivation), I’m always drawn to the video monitors. Live action Disney programmes really trouble me for the way teen and pre-teen girls are depicted. I know sound like Tipper Gore at the PMRC hearings when I say that the way girls are made up and behave on these shows disturbs me. I’m childless, but certainly wouldn’t want my nieces (who are brilliant and not easily swayed by such things) to dress or behave that way. A visit to redirects for me to, but clicking on a link for Violetta, one of the first shows listed, seems to make my point even if I’m doing a poor job of it. I’m sure there’s more to say on this, but I’ll leave it here for the moment.