The Side Effects of a Culture / by KirstenStudio

During this holiday season, I watched a handful of documentaries, via iTunes and my new BluRay player (Thank you, Santa!). The few I caught on iTunes included Sexy Baby by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus and The Invisible War by Kirby Dick. Although Sexy Baby and The Invisible War are two very different films, they do have commonality, and that is how a certain culture of acceptance has developed around a problem. Sexy Baby doesn't necessarily look at the internet as a problem as much as it examines the ever changing and growing results of a relatively new technology influencing a culture by way of access and inundation.  Many consider the side effects of this technology to be a serious problem.

The Invisible War looks at the result of a long cultural history of the U.S. military being perceived as a men's career, and on the inside, an unspoken understanding and acceptance that military personnel won't necessarily be held accountable for acts of violence against women. The idea being that the military has cultivated and maintained a "men's club" culture where each watches one another's back, regardless of the action. The U.S. military structure appears to have never taken into enough consideration rule and policy when it transitioned into a co-ed atmosphere. One that reflects not just the camaraderie and respect, but realistic safety. Through ridiculous military ads and posters, as well as those appointed to address this issue, The Invisible War shows us that the military has adopted an arcane outlook on how to solve the problem. The film doesn't accuse the military of not considering it to be a problem to be solved, but that it doesn't know how to effectively take action on the issue of sexual assault within its institution and that it's not a priority. I imagine it's challenging for a government entity, well respected by its fellow American majority, that works hard to project power and unity, to admit there is a weak link. After all the military is known for structure, policy and strict regard for rule. The Invisible War shows viewers military educational ads which imply that if a woman is sexually assaulted, she did something to provoke it by ignoring regulation or being stupid enough to think it won’t happen to her. Others offer simpleton action steps such as “the buddy system” or absurd answers like military personnel who are uncomfortable speaking to high ups about an assault should call their congressman, as if they have any more access then the general public do to their congress person.

In a way, Sexy Baby depicts a men's club environment too. As most pornography (although admittedly not all) is made by and for men, its products are often, as a result, male driven fantasies, which has arguably turned into rules of appearance and behavior for women. A lot of this has to do with access and the amount of content. While the internet is a recent cultural phenomenon, it is old enough that generations exist who have no knowledge of a pre-web world. Much of anyone's curiosity about anything is satisfied through Googling and anyone can promote themselves through social media in new, uncensored and fictional ways. It seems as though one feeds the other. In Sexy Baby we see tween girls doing internet searches on designer vagina plastic surgery and doing “photo shoots” in their bedrooms to post on Facebook. We also see concerned parents, hip to what’s going on, but nevertheless still struggling with how to navigate a culture they can’t control or remove themselves from. Another parent who is supportive, but does appear to be confused and saddened (pictured above from Sexy Baby). Sexy Baby examines, through the lives of three young women at varying ages, its side effects. In particular it offers how young people, now dealing with early sexual development, ideas about sex and sexuality, and behavior around it, are forming perceptions of their role in the world and getting their information from the world wide web. Yikes.

I must admit, the survivors of the brutalities in The Invisible War are starkly more shocking and the military's complete lack of accountability and action equally so, Sexy Baby is disconcerting, just in a much more subtle way. Sexy Baby isn't investigating rape within an institution and its purposeful ignorance of an epidemic with no easy answers, but the internet culture has no easy answers either. It is both an incredibly useful tool and also a frightening one. Of course this isn't new information in regard to the internet, but how it effects early sexual development and society's long term perception of sex and sexual behavior is something that I think isn’t at the forefront of conversation the way it should be.

In regard to the way each film’s narrative is woven together, both are very effective. The Invisible War is mainly an interview based film, but does offer verite footage of one of the most engaging, brave characters, Kori Cioca in the film (pictured above). The survivors of these atrocities and their willingness to tell their stories to the public just goes to show how much they’re struggling as much as the details of their stories. Their testimonies are breathtakingly painful, but obviously so important to listen to. As mentioned, it also uses military archival footage that easily enforces the military’s lack of real action around prevention or accountability. The titles are done well against extreme close-ups of army green military fabric, which adds a nice layer to the subject. Edited by Doug Blush of These Amazing Shadow (2011) and Kirby Dick’s Outrage (2009). The Invisible War offers ways viewers can take action and has an engagement page on it’s website.

Brittany Huckabee is Sexy Baby’s editor. The film follows all three characters by way of observational style footage with interviews in the subject's own environments. Huckabee does nice work transitioning seamlessly from one character to another. The filmmakers had great access to people that were open and trusting around issues that are rather sensitive. The internet and how each of us make use of it can be a private matter, whether for work or personal. Sexy Baby doesn’t offer solutions. It does present the beginning of a lively debate that should continue.