Behold the Hollywood Development Executive.
Blonde bob, stringy like a mop. Cat-like, curled up in the corner of the coffee shop draped in a broad grey scarf. The $300 Screen Safe™ coating on her horn-rimmed glasses bounces an indigo sheen off her brand new Macbook Pro. She looks weathered, but she always has. Even in college she looked this way. Popular. In control. But always aloof. Never totally there—like an adult playing at youth. Now, two decades later, her features relax in a perma-pout. She blinks vacantly at a screen full of faces. She clicks off mute.
“That sounds disturbing,” she says, pointedly. “We need more research.”
This woman is now in charge of what we used to call Hollywood. And it is through her eyes that we view on-screen sex.
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I’ve heard that Jacob Elordi is unhappy with the underwhelming size of this penile prosthetic on the set of Euphoria. He reportedly throws fits about it.
Now that Hollywood has placed itself in charge of ensuring that the universal scales tip towards justice, every on-screen boob must be balanced with an on-screen dick. So penile prostheses have become another closed set standby alongside intimacy coordinators (who make sure no one feels “unsafe”) and modesty pouches (AKA cock socks).
Most of the fake dicks are made by one guy in the Valley, although their size and shape is determined by the makeup designer. On Euphoria, the same woman, Donni Davi, determines the length of both the eyelashes and the schlongs.
It was around 2018 that people really started posting about it.
Unlike every other reddit-tier movie meme, this one was propaganda-proof. It couldn’t be hijacked as part of a mimetic campaign. You couldn’t affix it to a pin. It wouldn’t spark giving, or even soyjack a new trailer.
Sex scenes had suddenly become cringe.
Why? People asked. Has it always been this way? Had something changed in the way we depict sex? Or, even scarier, had we ourselves changed, no longer able to feel titillation from a Hollywood sex scene?
There are many explanations. Porn could be desensitizing us. Actresses could be less comfortable objectifying themselves. The streaming content glut could be making sex scenes seem pointless and arbitrary. But I think there’s a deeper reason.
The woke blame the lack of consent for the characters, the actors, and even the audience. Insane Australian people demand consent warnings for scenes without affirmative consent, and applauded the one sex scene in history that shows it. Feminist actresses agreed that sex scenes were cringe, but only because they weren’t being appreciated enough for their acting ability.
On the other side of the spectrum, tabloid veterans repeatedly complained that Hollywood had become prudish. “Sex [scenes] are healthy for us!” they shouted, like doctors telling us to masturbate once a day. They hand-wrung over the metaphorical return of the Hays Code (although at least one Change.org petition meant it literally). Even Woke Twitter complained that the on-screen consent discussion marginalized the real consent discussion, and was thus offensive.
The sex-scenes-are-cringe meme wasn’t something that the Hollywood PR machine was prepared for. What do you mean people don’t like sex? Sex sells…doesn’t it? So it just sat there, relegated to reddit, until this year. Now, it’s sparking PR scandals, but not the kind that Hollywood approves of, even in its most irreverent corners.
It’s sinple, really. Two heartthrob actors, Henry Cavill and Penn Badgley, have refused to participate in sex scenes.
It’s a strange occurrence. Historically actors, male and female, take sex scenes as part of the job. Yet in recent history, two other actors, Mahershala Ali and Neal McDonough, also refused sex scenes for religious reasons. Ali was applauded, McDonough was fired. On the one hand, the line between simulated sex and real sex seems to be fading away. On the other, the distance between the two, the distance between reality and the sex scenes we do have, has never been further.
Neither Cavill or Badgley cite religion for their decisions. The two approach it from different perspectives. Cavill gives right-wing bodybuilder. He’s been called a “toxic gamer-bro,” a reputation which got him fired from The Witcher. The show springs from the most hyper-masculine video game out there, Witcher 3, an all-time masterpiece in which a mercenary named Geralt slays monsters, has sex with prostitutes, and ultimately faces off against three evil witches who use black magic to control everything from behind the scenes, perhaps the perfect metaphor for the issue at hand.
Badgley, on the other hand, is a very good boy—he says all the right things and talks about white privilege. His stated excuse is his marriage, but I don’t believe it for a second. Like all very good boys, he’s an outward leftist. A sudden pivot to Sharia-level marital rules doesn’t fit the ideology.
What’s actually happening is a power struggle between alpha male actors and the women (the Development Executives and Showrunners) who seek to control them. In a word, these men have become fed up with the Longhouse that Hollywood has become. The Longhouse is a term, recently unpacked brilliantly in First Things, that describes a certain type of female-dominated managerial institutionalism that one experienced with increasing frequency in the corporate sphere.
“The most important feature of the Longhouse, and why it makes such a resonant (and controversial) symbol of our current circumstances, is the ubiquitous rule of the Den Mother. More than anything, the Longhouse refers to the remarkable overcorrection of the last two generations toward social norms centering feminine needs and feminine methods for controlling, directing, and modeling behavior…Further, these speech norms are enforced through punitive measures typical of female-dominated groups––social isolation, reputational harm, indirect and hidden force. To be “canceled” is to feel the whip of the Longhouse masters.”
Outwardly woke female showrunners direct both The Witcher and You (Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich and Sera Gamble). They’ve clashed with their male stars. Schmidt-Hissrich, for e.g. referred to herself as “the strong independent woman you’re looking to blame,” while “female Netflix staff found [Cavill’s] pushes for source material accuracy to be ‘disrespectful and toxic.’”
Both shows are also produced by Netflix, where Bela Bajaria serves as the chief Development Executive. A recent New Yorker profile characterized her as “not intellectual, but smart,” and openly devoid of taste—a devout content relativist.
Which begs the question—what exactly is her job, if not to have taste? The answer is to manage Netflix’s relationship with creators and to police things that are problematic.
Which brings us to my point: “Showrunner” now means “HR person.”
There’s a saying for writers that says “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No laughter in the writer, not laughter in the reader.” Hollywood used to be dominated, controlled, by horny men. And not just like a little horny—like insanely insatiably horny. The sets themselves were problematic madhouses driven by testosterone and drugs—this is what filmmakers loved about them. Their forbidden desires for their actresses drove them to all kinds of problematic methods to induce their actresses into sex that was certainly problematic itself.
One of the few shows with problematic sex today is Euphoria AKA “Sex High School,” which, as one of my most cinephilic friends put so perfectly, “is the first show you could rub one out to in a long time.” And what’s the reputation of its horny male rich kid showrunner Sam Levinson? Problematic, of course.
This is not to say women aren’t horny, or that women aren’t capable of directing non-cringey sex scenes. Or that this is even women’s fault. As Lomez puts in his Longhouse piece,
“…the cult of Safetyism is best exemplified in our response to the pandemic. Think of the litany of violations of our basic rights to personal freedom and choice over the last two years that were justified on the basis of harm reduction… Think of the Covid Karen: Triple-masked. Quad-boosted. Self-confined for months on end…This person—who is as often male as female—is the avatar of the Longhouse.”
I’m not talking about women, I’m talking about a “cult of safetyism”—which can arise as a bi-product of a female-centric power structure (just as other negative things can arise from all-male power structures). Put more simply, what I am saying is that when women get together they have an entirely different portrait of risk, especially with regard to sex. And risk-free sex isn’t very hot.
I'm not sure it's safetyism, or only in the sense that safetyism stands for the kind of creep who loves to scratch his/her control itch, wallowing in an insatiable urge to feel powerful through treating other people as objects they (demand to) manipulate at will. That goes equally for horny Harveys and ball-busting Karens.
To the topic of cringe, we fast-forward through these scenes, more robotic than erotic and worse, in terms of entertainment, always devoid of any plot development, character development, or other reason to watch. Maybe the streaming equivalent of commercials - time for viewers to get a drink or take a leak? It's kind of gross, mostly tedious, and as a habit reeks of writers out of ideas (time to find a new show, or better yet, an old one).
The desexualization of media is an unambiguously positive upshot of the overall overwhelmingly negative "longhouse-ification". Sex in movies was always cringe (fade-to-black only acceptable narrative mechanism to represent it) and the product of over-horny Hollywood pervs and didn't even meaningfully start until the 70s when porn itself was being mainstreamed.