Theo Hobson

Louis Theroux and the problem with sex scenes

Louis Theroux and the problem with sex scenes
Louis Theroux: Forbidden America, Porn's Me Too (BBC)
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You know the restaurant scene in Notting Hill? The Hugh Grant character defends the honour of his magical girlfriend when she is the butt of some sexist banter from some vulgar brutes, who don’t realise she is sitting round the corner. In many languages, says one, the word for actress is the same as the word for prostitute. Hugh just can’t bear it: he confronts them with an angry eye-flutter, telling them to bloody well shut up, and then Magic Girlfriend appears and tells them that they have small penises. It’s one of those scenes in which Richard Curtis helps us to understand what is good and what is bad these days. 

Well, at the risk of resembling one of the nasty sexists in this scene, I want to suggest that the new orthodoxy has its limits. I watched a bit of Louis Theroux’s latest documentary Forbidden America the other night, and he was doing his version of the Hugh Grant role. A porn actress was telling him, in graphic detail, how she had been abused by an actor on the set of a film. She had gone to a restroom with him, to help him to ‘get wood’, and he had taken advantage of her. In addressing this unfortunate turn of events, there was not even a cursory nod towards the actors’ career choices. 

My old-fashioned attitudes extend to more mainstream acting. In interviews with actors we are supposed to sympathise with how tough it is doing sex scenes. I imagine it’s also tough banging your head against a brick wall, another thing you don’t have to do if you don’t want to. Am I allowed to wonder whether it’s entirely morally kosher, to simulate sex on screen? It is just part of what it means to be a top actor, you might say, and it’s hypocritical for me to disapprove, as I watch plenty of dramas with sex-scenes. But I would rather such scenes were severely purged (as David Aaronovitch recently argued, it’s just embarrassing to be shown these bits of soft porn that are never really dramatically illuminating and that give us a damagingly unrealistic view of sex). 

If one of my children got into acting, I would be torn. I’d like the world to see their talent, but not their… I think I would dissuade them from screen acting, on the grounds that ‘soft-porn performer’ has crept into the job-description. And I don’t see why we shouldn’t be allowed to say so, even if it inconveniences Richard Curtis.

Written byTheo Hobson

Theo Hobson is the author of seven books, including God Created Humanism: the Christian Basis of Secular Values

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