Kinsey (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
Scoop's thoughts in white
I suppose you sorta understand who Alfred Kinsey was. He was a scientist who began his career in entomology, having eventually collected one million gall wasps over a period of two decades. Somewhere around the age of 40, he more or less accidentally ended up teaching a course in human sexuality, and found that it was difficult thing to do because nobody seemed to know anything about human sexuality.
The first question that people usually ask a supposed expert in sex is "am I normal?" Before Dr. Kinsey's time, and when he began to teach his course, nobody knew the answer. There were no systematic studies of masturbation, sexual positions, gender preference, genital size, female orgasms, or much of anything else relating to human sexuality. If you masturbated twice a day and were wondering whether you were truly odd, nobody could tell you how many people masturbated more than you, or if you were doing something harmful. If you had your first sexual encounter at 13, nobody could tell you whether that was earlier than most folks. If you had a homosexual encounter, there was no evidence to tell you how many people shared your experience.
Lacking facts with any scientific validity, Dr. Kinsey's course was filled with uncertainties, and he resolved to end that by finding out the answers to the key questions by studying human beings in the same dispassionate way he had studied gall wasps - by collecting massive amounts of data from hundreds of thousands of subjects and then assembling statistical analyses of the data. He eventually published two famous, earth-shattering studies called "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female".
Unlike Kinsey's brilliant entomological work, which was known only to specialists in the scientific community, the male sex study made him "cover of Time famous." His face was as well known to the general public as was possible in that era before TV, and the 1948 volume made Dr. Kinsey a mainstream scientific star, much as Carl Sagan was in a later era. "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" was not only the best-selling scientific book ever written up to that point but, at a sales level of nearly 300,000 copies, it even made the regular best seller lists, side by side with the potboilers! The book's publication also caused Dr. Kinsey to be reviled in certain circles, especially among those who argued that his objectivity was tantamount to an absence of morality. Maybe it was. There is no question that Dr. Kinsey began the process of loosing the hold which religious fundamentalists had on the law. It was very difficult to argue for the illegality of practices which Professor Kinsey showed to be prevalent, or even universal. 37% of men had at least one homosexual experience. Most people practiced oral sex. Just about all men loved nudie pictures. Yet most of these United States had laws against one or more of those things. In essence, given the then-existing laws and Kinsey's findings, just about every man was a criminal. As Dr. Kinsey himself put it, "Everybody's crime is no crime at all."
The religious fundamentalists had to give up their hold on the law, albeit reluctantly. They did not have to give up their hold on sin, however, and that is where they came into the most direct conflict with Professor Kinsey. The "Human Male" volume showed that virtually every man masturbated. Given that fact, how could the churches continue to preach that it was a sin? Well, they could, and did, in spite of the professor's admonition that "Everybody's sin is nobody's sin." Kinsey understood many things, but sin was not one of them. Theologians felt that a universal behavior could still be sinful, because mankind's greatest achievement was to reach purity by rising above shameful and base animal instincts.
Kinsey's male volume outraged the fundies, but made him a secular saint. The 1953 female volume, on the other hand, transformed him into a monster in the eyes of everyone but the objective scientific community. Men had been willing to recognize their own peccadilloes, but were not yet ready to face the fact that their daughters and mothers and wives were masturbating and fantasizing behind their backs. Even today, after a half century of progress, men still patronize and condescend to women, so you can imagine the attitudes which the professor's book encountered in those days. In Dr. Kinsey's time, women were still posing demurely and purely on men's pedestals, and Kinsey seemed to be toppling them from those positions. Some of his data correlations represented time bombs to the guardians of morality. For example, Kinsey reported that married women had more orgasms if they had premarital sexual experience, and that lesbians were better than males at inducing their partners' climaxes. The potential implications of those facts were staggering in light of 1953's moral standards.
Of course, Kinsey was simply reporting the facts, stating what was already happening was and not opining what ought to be, but many felt that he was a menace to society. His female sexuality book came out in 1953, at the height of the anti-communist hysteria, and some congressmen preached that Kinsey was a secret pinko infiltrator working to erode America's morals and thus weaken her resolve to resist communism! Looking back on it from today's perspective, the charges seem absurd to just about anyone, and in fact such accusations were obviously ludicrous to rational people even then, but the accusations alone were sufficient to terminate many of the Kinsey Institute's grants.
So what about the movie?
Well, there are a bunch of ways to look at biopics. They may have several purposes, and probably should succeed on more than one level.
At its heart, this film is as safe and unchallenging as any of the biopics produced by mainstream Hollywood in the studio days. Oh, sure, it portrays the professor as an obsessive science nerd who was a virgin at 26, had a bad haircut, wore a silly bowtie, and did not believe in love; but it also makes him a prophetic, even messianic figure who was stoned by hypocrites simply because of his selfless quest for truth. His enemies are portrayed as one-dimensional tyrants (John Lithgow as his father) and oily humbugs (Tim Curry as a rival professor at Indiana). There's a lot of manipulation there, and little truth-seeking.
Because the film chose the safe path, it has been overrated by the critics. You should expect that because it is a film which told the critics everything they wanted to hear, confirmed their own sense of superiority to the unwashed masses, and hid from their view any findings that would have made them uneasy and would therefore have lumped them, the enlightened liberal intellectual critics of 2004, with the ignoramuses of 1953.
At any rate, I suppose I have strayed too far into what the film should have been and have gotten off the path of describing what it actually is. Go back up to my earlier point. Biopics are sort of like basketball players in that they have many ways to score and don't have to master every single way. A biopic may score on education, on entertainment, or on provocation. Basketball players may score on lay-ups, long jumpers, or acrobatic aerial maneuvers. It is not necessary for a basketball player to do all three in order to be good, because if he can do all three, he is Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, and is not merely good, but of unearthly brilliance. Kinsey is not of unearthly brilliance. The film cannot do it all. It is not innovative in either style or content. It is not provocative except to the same close-minded types who found Professor Kinsey's original books provocative. It is not immensely entertaining, although it is very funny in spots. It does not have an especially tight script.
But it does teach about an odd, fascinating man and his ground-breaking work in a completely painless, easy-to-digest format, laced with lots of humor, and I enjoyed the learning process immensely. It might be whitewashed, and it ain't Michael Jordan great, as some critics might lead you to believe, but it is still mighty good, and I enjoyed the film for what it is, no less so because Dr Kinsey was the Prometheus of his own time, bringing light to a subject which had previously been shrouded in darkness and ignorance.
Tuna's thoughts in yellow
Kinsey (2004) is a first rate biopic of someone that
not many people know much about. Kinsey was the first American to do a
scientific study of human sexuality. His first publication was the
male half of his study, and was very well received. The second volume,
four years later, was the female story, and was met with outrage in
1953. After all, it reported that grandma masturbated, had
premarital sex and extramarital sex, and sex with other women.
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