I am a documentary film director. Subjects of my films have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. I am best known for the Real People, Real Life, Real Sex series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema. This is my "Safe" blog.

My Daughter Swears an Oath

Posted: September 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Tomorrow is the first day of school, and our eldest daughter is going into the sixth grade.

Right before our very eyes, our daughter is changing from a child to a young woman, and the process is simultaneously gladdening, startling, and makes me a little wistful. Everyday she is a little less dependent, a little more autonomous, a little more responsible for herself, and a little more exposed to the indifference of the universe.

Her first great leap in this process is that this summer we began to allow her to go to the beach with a friend, but without parents along, and she reveled in her new-found freedom, returning from her first day at the beach declaring it “the best day of her life!”

Another step in her walk toward responsibility is her declaration that, although some of her friends have begun to use profanity, she is determined to abstain until high school. Furthermore, she has decided that she is not going to use exclamations that are merely thinly disguised versions of stronger words: no “shoot” or  “crap” or “dagnabit”. I am proud of her, for her choice, her sense of appropriateness; but even more so for the fact that she’s thought it through and made a choice.

I don’t know if the work Peggy and I do makes us more sensitive to issues of sexuality, profanity, and age-appropriateness, but you certainly don’t have to make sexually explicit documentaries to find yourself neck-deep in these questions; and not always at the place of your choosing. From a couple years back on Peggy’s blog:

So while Google is busy doing its part to (presumably) keep our nation’s impressionable youngsters “safe” from sexual terminology and content (check out Tony’s blog for more,) I get called upon to explain erectile dysfunction to my nine year old daughter while innocently trying to watch a PG-rated show at 9:00pm on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Hilariously, I’m almost afraid to type the brand name of the product being advertised for fear the Google-bot will find the offending name on this blog and penalize the Comstock Films site as a drug-spamming, malware breeding, den of iniquity. We’ve got enough problems with the Google-bot already, thanks. So let’s just say the commercial was for a drug, name beginning with the letter ‘C,’ famous for featuring attractive and affluent looking middle-aged couples lounging in side by side bathtubs with smarmy faux-cool jazz playing in the background. (Because nothing says intimacy like individual high-walled ceramic pods-for-one, but that’s a head-scratcher for another day.)

So, back to the sofa in the Comstock family den, daughter #1 and I curled up for our weekly dose of implausible science-fictional fun, and whammo: commercial break after commercial break, here comes that smarmy faux-cool jazz and alarming quick-spoken fine print babble about “erections lasting more than four hours.” Wonderful family viewing, piped right into our home, no searching required! Fabulous!

“Mom,” daughter #1 asks finally after being bombarded by these ads, wrinkling her little brow in consternation. “What is E.D.?”

I’m a good little arugula-munching liberal: I’ve talked about sex with her before, she’s got a copy of Where Did I Come From, she’s seen me go through a pregnancy, etc. — she knows the basics. I assure you, none of that made it any less awkward to have this “teachable moment” thrust upon me unawares by the good folks at Eli Lilly and the SciFi Channel while I was just trying to enjoy a little escapist TV.

But hey, this is life as a parent, isn’t it? You don’t always get to pick and choose where your teachable moments come from. Even the best filters don’t always work. Life comes at you and your kids, and you are responsible for seeing them through it. You stay involved with your kids’ lives, you watch what they’re watching on TV, you stay aware of where they’re going online, and you talk with them about their experiences and understandings. Sometimes, you have to explain things that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, you have to (try to) explain society’s strange hypocrisies and priorities.

For my kids, for my family, this responsibility — no matter the subject — is not Google’s job, it’s not the Sci-Fi Channel’s, it’s not some arbitrary filter’s. It’s mine.

Meanwhile, as outlined in the previous post, we have embarked on an exploration of age-appropriateness, censorship, community,  disintermediation, gatekeepers, status, and all the other hoary gory stuff this new networked world has opened up, and made a part of people’s lives in ways many of us never expected. Last week I had a great chat with Tony Hey, Senior Rater at the MPAA, and over the weekend I submitted a project proposal to Kickstarter, had a cordial tete-a-tete with high-level members of the YouTube community, and send a query letter to Vimeo about helping us create a content-appropriate version of  our upcoming film to serialize on their service.

Lastly, when I started this work,  I was just trying to find a way to make images of sex that didn’t make me feel ashamed. But in the 15 years of experimenting with technique, making and marketing our films, and trying to keep up with the huge changes in how (and how much!) information swirls around us, the work has taken on a larger meaning for me. Through this work I’ve tapped into “big ideas” and time and time again pursuing this work has forced me to re-examine and reevaluate what I think, what I feel, and what I believe.

For those of you who are long time readers of my blog, and supporters of our films, I hope you feel the same way. And I hope you’ll stick around for whatever’s next!

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