The message we always hear is sex sells, especially at the movies. A new report Sex Doesn’t Sell — Nor Impress by Anemone Cerridwen and Dean Keith Simonton refutes that claim. The report studied 914 mainstream Hollywood films(and their box office domestically and overseas, critical appraisal and awards) from 2001-2005, and found that in contrast to most of the Hollywood thinking “sex and nudity do not, on the average, boost box office performance, earn critical acclaim, or win major awards.” The study was recently published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts journal.
Well, that sure throws a wrench into the conventional wisdom which has been that sex, sexuality and nudity are vital for box office success. Yet, according to Simonton preconceived notions are hard to break even with data:
…I was struck by how hard it is to overcome preconceptions about the box-office consequences of highly graphic sexual content…
It seems that this whole thing was started by the righteous anger of a woman, the co-author Anemone Cerridwen who, when taking acting classes felt that the type of roles women she had to play made her very uncomfortable. (Guess it’s a good thing she became a researcher and left the acting to others.) But still, she wanted to know what the story was, why women’s roles are so sexualized, and spent many years crunching numbers.
Here’s her analysis (h/t to Katherine Monk CanWest News Service)
When I first saw the averages, I was really surprised, and mad, too. I felt like I’d been had…I realize that many people think it’s harmless, but I see it as sexual harassment of talent…It also is often just plain sexist, holding up women (and leading men) as objects to be consumed rather than people.”
I think it reflects and reinforces sexism in society, in general. Even if the performer genuinely doesn’t mind having to do this stuff as a condition of employment, it creates a hostile environment for the rest of us: other women on camera, behind the camera, in acting classes, plus women, in general.
It would be smart if the researchers got their material to Hollywood producers. But then I bet lots of them don’t really care. It will take a lot more than a report from an American Psychological Society journal to convince them the tits and ass don’t help box office grosses.