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I love Midwest Teen Sex Show, the sassy and sharp-witted bimonthly sex education show produced by Britney Barber, Guy Clark and Nikol Hasler. In an era in which actual conversation about sex has been sanitized from both schools and Hollywood films, you’ve gotta love a video show that follows up a question like “Does anal play during masturbation mean you’re gay?” with the answer, “No, it means you have nerve endings.”
The first eight episodes largely blended dry yet funny lectures with illustrative skits, usually starring Barber, a raspy-voiced blonde whose versatility and fearlessness sets her apart from most Internet ingénues. But the most recent episode broke from that tradition. Released on Halloween, it’s an STD safety lesson in the form of a dead-on (no pun intended) spoof of the sexually-active-teens-in-peril horror genre. A teen couple meets at an empty house for a less-than-satisfying sexual encounter, only to end up having to fend off a hooded, chainsaw-wielding villain named Syphilis.
As a non-condescending, bona fide piece of sex education, MTSS is clearly on the cutting edge, of both online video and popular culture as a whole. But the general attitude of the show is that of a familiar wink; subject matter aside, most episodes don’t address the audience in a way that’s markedly different from most other web shows that incorporate a combination of talking heads and staged scenes.
In the Halloween episode, however, the violence escalates from scene to scene, ultimately reaching a point of intensity that I haven’t previously seen in a web show. In quantity and style of execution, I found the violence in this episode to be really shocking. Here, too, MTSS is breaking new ground: There just isn’t a lot of visceral violence in narrative videos produced for the web.
The violence in the Halloween episode disturbed me enough that I watched it several times in an effort to diagnose why. A throat-slitting early on is fairly tame, while a chainsaw vivisection is notably grotesque — a step above the usual low-budget splatter — yet still tonally closer to funny than frightening. But a strangling scene goes on for what feels like an unbearably long time. By my count, it’s only 12 seconds, spread across three shots, but it quickly passes the point of being laughable. The overall metaphor of virus-as-predator isn’t handled as smoothly as it could be, but this scene nails the primal fear that makes the teen sex/horror genre so effective.
Maybe it’s just that the level of performance in MTSS is higher than par for the medium — it’s certainly a credit to Barber’s acting skills that I actually, for a moment, believed her character might be in danger. Ultimately, I wonder if violence of this sort has been a rarity in web video because it’s just too difficult to pull off with untrained actors, small crews and low budgets?