Monday, July 25, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: A showcase for American hypocrisy

Long story short - the PC version of the third "Grand Theft Auto III" game, subtitled "San Andreas," hit stores, and geeks somewhere discovered code that "unlocked" a secret part of the game, where characters engage in sex. Apparently, three-dimensionally-rendered breasts are present in the game, and only need a special "mod" to be unlocked and foisted upon impressionable video-game players everywhere.

I haven't played the game, but I've seen it in action. Players take on the role of a young black man in a fictionalized version of early 1990s-era California, starting out in a Compton-esque ghetto. One of the character's buddies is never seen without a joint in his mouth, "foul language" is the order of the day, and most of the game time is spent collecting weapons, stealing cars, and shooting people, including random pedestrians. Apparently, there's a gang-warfare element, but most of the people I've seen play any of the Grand Theft Auto games get the most delight out of finding a baseball bat to beat hookers to death with. Interestingly, the game designers took the extra effort to make sure you could continue to beat the prostitutes (who you can also pick up in your car and do business with) after they're dead.

But no one really had a problem with all that, at least not until this new "mod" came out. Sure, plug-airating cops, stealing military vehicles, covering sidewalks in civilian blood, dealing drugs, and the rest are fine. But we certainly can't have any sex involved, right?

Certainly not! In fact, the good New York Senator Hillary Clinton has demanded that a special team "investigate" the presence of the raunchy material, and find out if it was indeed "maliciously" coded into the game by perverts on the order of Michael Ja... wait, he's innocent. On the order of Pee-Wee Herman, people intent on warping the minds of our young generation.

It got so bad that the body who rates video games for content has moved the game from "M" (Mature) to "AO," for Adults Only. Practically speaking, this means that the age required to purchase the game without parental consent goes from 17 to 18.

What the hell is going on here?

This is by no means the only example of American strangeness when it comes to public perception of the appropriateness of violence versus that of sex. "Frank Miller's Sin City" came out a while back, and while the movie does contain numerous instances of cannibalism, castration, decapitation, and other bloody examples of brutality (some of which may not even have names yet), there isn't (I don't think) an actual sex scene in the film. So it ran, and it ran with a standard "R" rating.

Five years ago, I spent a semester in Austria. During that time, I was surprised to learn that while Austrians, Germans, and the French don't televise much graphic violence, they're more than willing to broadcast ads (at least late at night) that would be considered obscene pornography in the U.S. From what I gathered, Europeans are shocked by the violence on American television, and at the same time, completely befuddled as to our hang-ups over sex.

Certainly, I'm not saying that Austrians, Germans, or French people have everything figured out. What I'm saying is that we've got a bit of a screwed-up attitude when it comes to sex. Honestly, I really don't think that seeing Janet Jackson's (that's another one in the same post!) ninja-starred breast at the Super Bowl was as traumatic, in the grand scheme of things, as seeing... well, what's a good example? Russell Crowe's "Gladiator" slicing an opponent's head off? Mel Gibson eviscerated in "Braveheart"? Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer character in "24" gunning down anyone who gets in his way in some Machiavellian quest to save the country from nuclear disaster?

Why are breasts so damn bad, anyway? Look, I appreciate the whole "private parts" thing, but I'd think that killing someone is worse by at least an order of magnitude than seeing their naughty bits.

The concept is traceable back to our Puritan ancestors, who thought, with the best of intentions, that the human body was by nature defiled and dirty. We've come to where we're at, centuries later, with the underlying idea that sex is something bad, dirty, naughty (these are really the words we use to describe it!), and ought to be hidden and never discussed. That's the premise on which it's used these days -- it's the forbidden fruit, which is why it sells so much beer.

My rant has run out of steam. But seriously, am I alone in thinking that it's funny that the first time people get up in arms about a video game that features "wanton and gratuitous violence" and casual drug use is when they find out that there's sex in it? Shouldn't the watchdogs have gotten pissed off a while ago?


UPDATE: Open Posting at Mudville!