It’s no secret that political correctness has stunted pop culture. Comedians walk on eggshells for fear of offending the wrong person. A day hardly goes by without a public apology for old comments.
Hollywood is perhaps furthest down this road to insipidity. It means creative types who enjoy pushing boundaries, offending viewers, making even the most hardy of us as uncomfortable as humanly possible, can’t thrive. One such person is the director Tom Six.
In 2009, Six made popculture history with his shock-horror flick The Human Centipede — a movie about a Nazi-like German doctor who kidnaps and stitches his victims together, anus to mouth — as a sadistic experiment. Despite its graphic nature, The Human Centipede achieved worldwide notoriety and celebration, catapulting Six to the horror Hall of Fame, and in the ensuing years he completed his dark trilogy with two sequels, each more polarizing than the last.
Not long after the release of the third and final Human Centipede movie, Six announced his next project, The Onania Club — a movie about a group of wealthy LA women who take pleasure in the misery and misfortune of others.
The concept seemed like the perfect follow up to his previous movies, and for an audience of fans who were desperate to see how much further Six could go, but in the years that Six spent developing his new movie, culture in the West began to shift.
Earlier this month, after The Onania Club missed several release dates, Six announced in a YouTube video that though the movie was ready — and had been for some time — no one was willing to distribute it.
‘Not a single distributor in the Western world wants to release The Onania Club,’ he revealed, explaining that ‘all major streaming services’ had also turned it down.
Six’s previous distributor, responsible for the release of all three Human Centipede movies, had also rejected it, explaining in an email that the ‘market’ had unfortunately ‘changed’.
But it was less the ‘market’ that changed in those couple of years, more the entire Western world.
Six told me that though he originally had issues getting The Human Centipede released, he eventually found a distributor that was willing to take the risk. Unfortunately, risk today is just too risky.
‘I do see a suffocating change in the industry now and that is an ever-growing political correctness and disturbing over-sensitivity,’ Six said. ‘The millions of fans haven’t changed though. They still want to see different and challenging content.’
Comedy and horror is still acceptable, he explained, so long as it remains within the boundaries of the safe and already explored, but the result is an entertainment industry in rapid decline.
‘The current moral policing climate is killing what great art should do; challenge, attack, divide, be totally uncompromised. It should create friction and debates,’ Six argued. ‘A movie should be a safe-space to explore immorality and test the limits of what’s acceptable. Audiences worldwide want to be challenged, not dumbed down and patronized.’
Viewers of The Onania Club are certainly challenged, not only through the movie’s gut-wrenching scenes too explicit to mention here, but also with surprisingly political themes.
Hollywood decadence, religious hypocrisy, and schadenfreude — all are bound to offend those both on the left and right — and Six is quick to highlight the parallels of how we also take a certain degree of pleasure in the misfortune of others when we get ‘sucked in’ to the news ‘when something terrible has happened’.
Six also pointed out that his movie is perhaps one of the most diverse horror flicks ever made, with a lead of five female characters, black and Asian actors, and an on-screen lesbian relationship, but notes it may be the wrong kind of diversity that movie executives are looking for.
‘The film landscape is slowly sinking in a quicksand of safe mediocrity so I hope I can make [more movies] and really spice things up,’ Six concluded, adding that The Onania Club may be his last major movie with private investment if it fails to find a distributor.
Six hasn’t changed much since the 2009 release of The Human Centipede, but the world certainly has. His movies are just as shocking, stomach-churning and outrageous as they’ve ever been, but whereas a movie like Centipede could become a pop culture sensation in the late 2000s, there are just too many landmines to navigate today.
In a climate where causing even minor offense can cost you your entire livelihood and reputation, Hollywood and others alike are opting — perhaps understandably — to play it safe. It just so happens that playing it safe is why most entertainment is so sterile and beige.