Doing IT

Published on September 13, 2017 by   ·   2 Comments

Spoiler alert:  If you haven’t yet checked out the new film version of Stephen King’s It, this review will potentially have some spoilers, though it’s not really about the primary plot but rather about some of the artistic choices made in creating the film.  However, people seem super sensitive about spoilers, so this is your obligatory warning.  If you continue reading, you’re going to get what you get so don’t be mad with me.  Enjoy.  XOXO, Miss Jaye

Fear StreetI have a weird sort of love/hate relationship with Stephen King’s books.  I discovered him in junior high and there was a lot of juvenile humor that spoke to my mind at the time, combined with a lot of really intriguing psychological elements that really made me feel scared and excited.  It took the thrill I felt reading a Fear Street book as a kid and translated it into a much more graphic and adult-oriented story.  No matter how I feel about the story or the writing, I’m always intrigued by the idea of the story and the potential in his premises even though I often find myself getting more and more frustrated with the actual progression of the story.  But for this one, I want to focus on a very particular scene in It and how damn happy I am that they didn’t include it in the film.

If you haven’t read the book, let me shorthand it for you: after defeating Pennywise as children, the 7 members of the Losers Club are in the sewer; without their focus on defeating Pennywise, their bond is falling apart and they are starting to feel lost.  Beverly, the only female member of the group, says that she knows how to bring back their bond: she undresses and invites all 6 boys to have sex with her (which they do).  If a pre-teen gangbang wasn’t what you were expecting from the “master of horror,” you aren’t the only one – even my young hormone-fueled brain felt a little bit uncomfortable with this particular artistic choice.

Now, as an adult who has read a lot more of King’s work and can see some of the patterns that have developed, I think I can see some of the justifications for why he might have included a scene like this.  I also have a great deal of exposure to queer theory and gender studies, and I have a tendency to read texts against the grain so I think there is actually a way that this scene could work as a moment of empowerment, but I’m also really, really glad that it didn’t make it’s way into the film.

First, let’s talk about why that scene might actually make some kind of sense (before we talk about why I’m super glad it didn’t make its way into the film adaptation).  King’s statement, when asked about the scene, is quoted in this article, and I think it makes some sense: the Losers Club is caught right at the crux of childhood and adulthood, and one of the things that often connects that is a sexual act.  This is an extreme depiction of that, and definitely outside the norm of “typical” childhood sexual experiences, but people like to act as if children don’t have sexual lives; as if one day, on the arbitrarily chosen milestone on the 18th birthday, children mystically transform into what we call adults and now have sexual thoughts and experiences…and are actually prepared for them.  IT 02If you look at the reality, children often start exploring and trying to figure out sexuality as soon as puberty starts, sometimes earlier, and their emotional and intellectual capacities are often still developing into their 20s.  The idea of 18 as the marker of adulthood is something manufactured by our culture, and ignoring that sexuality is a part of adolescent development is frankly just irresponsible.  Plus, I think King is onto something in his follow up question about why people are so bothered by that scene and not by the multiple murders and mutilations of children that occur throughout the book.  The strange way that our puritanical culture privileges violence over sexuality (even when it is portrayed as loving and consensual) is something that deserves its own post, but it’s definitely a problem that impacts works like It (and most of King’s body of work, starting with his debut novel, Carrie).

Beyond King’s statement, I think there is an argument to be made for how this scene is actually empowering in very specific ways to the character of Beverly Marsh.  Beverly is a “loser” because people have spread rumors about her being promiscuous (all because she shared a kiss with a boy in her 3rd grade play); sexuality is also fraught for Beverly because of the creepy attentions of her father that feel abusive and sexualized, though the film stops short of actually confirming any sort of sexual abuse (for transparency, it’s been too long for me to remember if the book specifically includes sexual abuse, but Beverly’s troubled relationship with her abusive father is still key to her character).  Beverly cuts off her long hair to appear less feminine (and, it’s suggested, less attractive to her creepy dad), but this is not so much an act of empowerment as it is one of repression – suppressing her curiosities about sexuality and her desires in order to be less of a target.  Much of what we see of Beverly, in the film and in the novel, is about reducing her sexual being and identity.

IT 03The scene in which Beverly decides to reconnect the Losers Club through sex is the opposite of that.  Beverly is the one who suggests it, and through this action she is taking control of her sexuality and sexual identity through expressing it with those she feels deep love and connection with (as opposed to those who abuse or degrade her).  This is not something that is forced upon her and is completely consensual, and allows her to express her sexuality in her own terms (even if those terms are vastly different than what is considered “normal”).  In a way, by dismissing this scene, readers are potentially dismissing Beverly’s right to define herself as a sexual being; because they are uncomfortable with sexual activity between adolescents, they deem this activity inappropriate, placing the same sort of judgement on Beverly that the town of Derry does by calling her promiscuous after a simple 3rd grade kiss.  As a culture, we’re uncomfortable with women who are sexually assertive; men are rewarded for being the sexual aggressor but women are supposed to be the pursued.  Even when they are allowed to be sexual agents, we place all kinds of limits and expectations on them about what is or is not deemed appropriate.  We bang the drum for more discussions around consent (which are absolutely important conversations to have!), but then denigrate women who do consent, or who consent more often that someone else might think is acceptable.  This is the trap of conflicting expectations that Beverly finds herself in, and she initiates the activity on her terms and for a purpose that she feels is important.

That’s one argument for why the scene actually serves a legitimate and helpful purpose.  It’s not the only argument, and there are also lots of arguments against it.  I’m still conflicted myself.  What I’m not conflicted about is my belief that omitting this scene from the new film was absolutely the right choice.

Even though I think an argument could be made that the scene represents Beverly finally asserting herself as a sexual being, the scene is still wrapped up with a lot of juvenile ideas about sex that might have more depth and complexity on the page than if they are visually represented.  This is the kind of scene that I think can be written in a way that gives Beverly more agency; if portrayed visually, it becomes a spectacle and removes a lot of that perspective and agency, once again reducing Beverly to a sexual object.  I think there are times where the medium of expression can absolutely define how effective a moment is, and I think this is one of those times.  Even in the written form, the motivation to make Beverly an awakened sexual agent is not entirely unproblematic; King exhibits a strange fascination with bodies and with the squishy, uncomfortable, messy products of those bodies and some of the potential power of this scene is diluted by this body fascination.  There is also a great deal of insecurity about masculinity and penis size that muddies the water.  The scene is potentially impactful, but the reader has to do some work to get there; translating that struggle to the screen in an effective way would be nearly impossible.

GirlAnd beyond the issues of how to construct and portray this kind of scene without being exploitative at best and downright creepy at worst, I think excluding it allows the film to better explore some of the key themes of the novel: the bonds of childhood friendship, the sources of our fears, and navigating the transition from innocence to experience.  Pennywise the dancing clown represents so many of the fears and insecurities that come with getting older, with reaching a point at which you can no longer experience the world through the eyes of a child.  That transition can include awakening sexuality, but to make it about that is to miss the point: growing up losing the innocence of childhood is scary as fuck.  Things that once held magic and delight, like clowns and red balloons, are now objects of terror as they remind us that what we knew of the world was a lie.  The stories we were raised with were manipulations.  The world is often not easy or delightful, and it certainly isn’t fair.  How well we navigate this transition, the dawning of these truths, is guided by the people we have around us.  It’s about friendship.  It’s about sticking together, about navigating loss and grief, and about those blood oaths (both literal and figurative) we swear to each other to help each other make it through.

I’ll take that sort of storytelling over an adolescent gangbang any day.


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Readers Comments (2)
  1. Jm. Lagos says:

    Disculpe mi ingles, no es mi idioma materno.

    Muy buen articulo, de los mejores que he leido sobre este tema en particular, por cierto que he leido a algunos que argumentan que esta pelicula es “blanda” y “poco atrevida” por no filmar la escena de la orgia, que no la incluyeron por cobardia.

    Excuse my English, it is not my native language.

    Very good article, of the best you have read on this particular subject, certainly read a little that argue that this movie is “soft” and “not very bold” for not filming the scene of the orgy, not the inclusion by cowardice

    • JanessaJaye says:

      Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I think that any time you step away from the source material there are going to be some fans who are upset (as with any change) but I just think depicting that visually would have many more problems than it would have positive benefits!

      Thanks for checking out the post! And your English was just fine! :)

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