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‘Hysteria': What the New Movie About the Fascinating History of the Vibrator Leaves Out

A romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator. Set in Victorian England. With references to feminism, socialism, class privilege, phone sex, prostitution, harm reduction, science, evidence-based medicine, and steampunk. What could be bad?

A fair amount, unfortunately.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “Hysteria” quite a bit. I found it funny (generally), charming (usually), intelligent (mostly), and entertaining (often). But I wanted so much more than to just like it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be shouting about it from the rooftops. I wanted to be stopping strangers on the street, grabbing them by the lapels, and pleading with them to run out and see it right this minute. It was a movie about the invention of the vibrator, for fuck’s sake. I didn’t want to leave the theater thinking, “Yeah, that was pretty good — but it could have been so much better.”

And far too much of what was wanting from the film had to do with its treatment of the central topic — female orgasm.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, ‘Hysteria': What the New Movie About the Fascinating History of the Vibrator Leaves Out. To find out more, read the rest of the review. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Enkidum says

    AAAAND… the first comment on that article is by someone trying to “humorously” illustrate the hypocrisy of people who are against racial profiling. Sigh….

  2. Kevin says

    I learned the history of the vibrator from Katie Morgan on HBO.

    Hard to argue with a history lesson given by a naked porn star.

    At least the movie gives Maggie Gyllenhaal and Felicity Jones co-star billing.

    I can’t tell you how annoyed I get with movies that only list the male stars — as if actresses don’t exist at all.

  3. John of Indiana says

    Well, Greta, at least *YOU* got to SEE “Hysteria”. I live in Indiana, which means I’ll have to wait for it to be available at Amazon…

    When I heard about this movie, Zappa’s “Dynamo Humm” started running through my head…

    “… I done spent three hours, an’ I ain’t got a crumb…”

  4. says

    I’m not at all surprised to hear that the movie portrayed all the scenes of women’s orgasms for comedic value rather than seriously. If you’ve seen the documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated”, one aspect of the MPAA rating system that has become harsher over the years is that realistic portrayals of human sexuality are grounds for the dreaded NC-17 rating (the kiss of death for any movie’s chances for mainstream success, because most theater chains in the U.S. won’t show NC-17 movies at all).

    The documentary includes a number of examples of movies from the 1970s showing women really enjoying themselves, glimpses of pubic hair, etc. and it’s pretty apparent from the evidence they present that more recent films have been heavily censored to not show aspects of female sexuality that are obviously quite threatening to the patriarchal views that the people who run the MPAA are trying to reinforce.

    Did you know that the secret ratings board that watches movies for the MPAA censorship regime always contains a Protestant minister and a Catholic priest as a matter of course, and that their religious beliefs on sexuality play a critical role in censoring these sorts of things from the public? WTF, huh?

    Anyway, I would guess that Greta has probably already seen This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated, but for anyone who hasn’t, if you’ve ever wondered about the absence of any sort of empowering depictions of human sexuality, and particularly from the woman’s perspective or from the LGBT perspective, in American cinema, please check it out, because it is truly depressing the Puritanical worldview controlling the MPAA (and the studios) that forces movies to be trimmed to prevent anything sympathetic to those viewpoints, and particularly anything showing a woman enjoying herself “too much (for their comfort)” from reaching the tender virginal eyes of American moviegoers.

    But violence and gore, psychotic misogynistic horror movies, graphic war movies, etc. are totally cool, naturally, and you have to be just completely over the top before the MPAA will ask you to tone it down for the R rating.

    Of course the studios intentionally go way over the top in both sex and violence in order to have a bargaining chip specifically to sacrifice to the MPAA to not have to get what they originally wanted to show. The problem is that over the years, the trend has obviously gotten much worse about showing sexuality, and much more lenient about showing violence. Thanks to our benevolent Judeo-Christian puritanical “betters” for deciding that we are mature enough for the one but not the other, sigh…

  5. katkinkate says

    Jakehamby, that double standard (violence vs sex) is one thing that’s always pisses me off. I feel more violated by some of the grusomely bloody scenes of horror movies (that I no longer watch) than I ever have from any nonviolent sex scene I’ve ever seen. Violence + sex though is truly horrific.

  6. says

    Good points, Jake. The centralization of the MPAA rating system basically turns it into a private censorship board more-so than anything else. Biases toward violence and away from sex are pretty clear, too, when you run down the list. Realistic violence, and even far over-the-top unrealistically gruesome violence, has repeatedly made the ‘R’ cut many a time now. Realistic sex very rarely does; I’d be hard pressed to name even one such movie. It goes without saying that queer sex isn’t even in the picture for a “mainstream” movie.

  7. carolw says

    I saw the trailer for Hysterical quite a while ago. I thought maybe I’d missed it when it came out.
    I’m disappointed that it has the weaknesses it does, but not too surprised.
    I totally agree with the posters above that the violence, even on TV, is way more over the top than the sexuality. I think depictions of sexuality are much more healthy for everyone’s psyche than extreme violence. Mine for sure. I know I haven’t been scarred by any sex scenes I saw in movies when I was “too young,” but the violent scenes did a number on me. To this day I can’t watch any of the Alien movies, and I saw the first one when I was 9 or 10.

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