The Primordial Soup: Creating truly mature content and art

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF SEX AND VIOLENCE ARE POSTED BELOW!  IT IS ONLY THERE TO PROVE A POINT.

I would like to share something with you that’s been on my mind recently.  We as an art loving and entertainment consuming culture have fallen in love with the word “mature”.

Audiences love mature content because it treats them like the fully functioning adults they are.  Maturity in art and media gives the audience the benefit of being able to think and process an idea in a complex and interesting way and doesn’t treat them like children.

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After all, anyone who is capable of handling mature art and content is clearly operating on a superior emotional and mental level than a child so why shouldn’t art and entertainment reflect that?

The problem is that there are far too many artists and creative types who have no idea what the word “mature” even means and it needs to change.

Let me explain.  If you’ve bought a video game, a music album (when that was still a thing), or a comic book before 2000 you’ve probably seen something like this on the box.

Mature

Granted the label above is what you would find on video games but the idea is the same across all forms of media: the rating agency for that particular form of media (in America we have the ESRB for video games, the MPAA for movies, and we used to have the Comics Code Authority for comic books) took a look a that particular piece of art and decided that anyone under a certain age wasn’t emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle that content.

But what qualifies any form of entertainment as mature?  Well, if the label above is anything to go by than mature content implies this

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this

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and a lot of this.

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And speaking as someone who enjoys comics and has decided to create comic books as a form of creative expression I’ve seen a lot of comic books, especially from the 1980’s and 90’s with a lot of this

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this

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and, dear God help me, this

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yes a lot of creators like to use the word “mature” as an excuse for putting in all the raunchy, dirty, scandalous stuff that a mainstream, decent, God fearing audience simply cannot handle.

Here’s the thing tough, simply putting a barely clothed woman into your game/comic/movie/what ever you’re creating for the sake of having her there doesn’t make your work mature, it makes it childish.  The same can be said for drug use, extreme violence, and excessive amounts of swearing.  Keep in mind, I’m not saying children should watch Hostel

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but this sort of entertainment should be labeled as “adult”, not mature.

So why do people make this stuff?  Well if you ask me it’s because nothing pisses off an artist or any sort of creative type than having to adjust their vision to some sort of censoring authority.  Want proof?  Look no further than video game industry during the early 2000’s where sex and violence was used almost as a form of protest.

Most of you reading this article will remember the time when games like Grand Theft Auto

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faced tremendous social and political backlash for being a corrupting influence on our poor innocent youth.  There were protests, politicians tried to have it banned, and other lawmakers tried to jump start careers by trying to take it off the shelves.

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In response to all the criticism of their art form a lot of video game developers created a whole slew of violent and “mature” video games.  These were games that you wanted to play, not because they were intelligent or even necessarily good games, but because they had all the blood and violence you could stomach and your parents would hate them

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You can trace this sort of behavior across all forms of media.  Artists don’t like have other people tell them their work can’t be shown to people so they react by making art that tries to subvert the status quo.  The problem with things like violent video games and excessively sexualized comics and film isn’t that it will cause the downfall of society, it’s that it’s usually just not very good.  We slap the mature label on material like this when all it really winds up being is childish and immature.

The good news is that there is quality art out there that does deal with mature themes in a much better way.  The even better news?  It’s not necessarily just for adults.

I want to show you one of the best examples of art that deals with mature subject matter in the last 20 years and also happens to be a children’s Saturday cartoon.

Batman-the-Animated-Series

Most of us know this series, most of grew up watching it as children.  Batman TAS was known for not just being a really well animated and well directed show, but for the way it treated its audience like the mature and responsible people they were without resorting to excessive violence and overly sexualized images.  Probably the best example I can think of is the episode “Baby Doll”

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Without going into too much detail the episode deals with an out of work actress who became famous as a child protagonist on a popular TV show.

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Unfortunately, the actress had a rare genetic condition called systemic hypoplasia which meant she would never grow as she got older.  Even though she was 20 when the show ran she still looked like she was 5.  When she tried to leave the show and branch out her disorder meant that she couldn’t find any work as an actress and, coupled with the fact that many people just couldn’t take her seriously, she eventually snapped and attempted to kill the cast of her old show.  The episode ends with her surrendering to Batman and suffering a severe mental breakdown.

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Here we have a case where, and I cannot stress this enough, a children’s TV show displaying more maturity and adult subject matter than almost any other media ostensibly meant for adults.  It doesn’t show any blood, sex, or hard drug use but it does deal with incredibly mature themes of loss, denial, depression, and hopelessness.  Real maturity has almost nothing to do with blood and sex but has everything to do with complex emotions and themes.

So in conclusion all I have to say is this.  If you are setting out to create a piece of art in any form and you would like to create it for an adult audience feel free to put in all the sex, drugs, and violence you want into it.  Just make sure that you use it to present something in a mature and responsible way.

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