The Rise of “Torture Porn”

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“For Your Entertainment” by Kira Cochrane, in The Guardian, excerpt below:

… The publicity campaigns for many of these films flag up the prospect of watching a nubile young woman being tortured as a genuinely pleasurable experience. So, for instance, a recent US billboard campaign for the upcoming (mainstream) film Captivity featured the film’s star Elisha Cuthbert (just voted the 10th sexiest woman in the world by the young male readers of FHM magazine) in a series of four photographs. In the first (labelled ABDUCTION) a black-gloved hand covers her mouth. The second (CONFINEMENT) shows her, with bloody fingers, struggling to get out of a cage. The third (TORTURE) has her face encased in an odd white mask, tubes shoved up her nose, and apparently filled with blood. Finally, under the word TERMINATION, she is shown laid out, apparently dead.

The billboard attracted a barrage of complaints, with Jill Soloway (one of the writers of Six Feet Under) leading a campaign against it – the poster was soon taken down. In a piece on the Huffington Post website, Soloway wrote that the images were “the most repulsive, horrifying, woman-hating, human-hating thing I have ever seen in public” and didn’t just represent “horror, this wasn’t just misogyny … It was a grody combo platter of the two, the torture almost a punishment for the sexiness. It had come from such a despicable inhuman hatred place that it somehow managed to recall Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, porn and snuff films all at once.” Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, agreed, writing in a letter to the MPAA, the US ratings board, that the ad campaign “is not only a literal sign of the collapse of humanity, it’s an assault … this ad is part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have to see it. It’s like being mugged.”

Many of today’s torture porn films are being made on tiny budgets by little-known directors, but with the release of the new Tarantino/Rodriguez double-bill, Grindhouse – designed as a tribute to the ultra-violent B-movie programmes of old – the trend officially reaches the mainstream. Made up of two films plus a clutch of trailers for non-existent movies, Grindhouse bombed when it was released in the US last month. American audiences were said to have been put off by the three-hour running time, and last week it was announced that Grindhouse will be released in a different format in the UK, the two films sold as separate features. Whether either film is any good is still up for debate – I, for one, found them both suicidally boring. What isn’t in question is the disturbing attitude towards women in these films. …

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