I realize I’m not the only one on this beat. Jen Chaney asked “Why Is Everyone Projectile Vomiting on TV?” for Vulture back in 2017 (heads up that if you click through, there’s a screenshot of a character vomiting about halfway through the article), and a few years before that, Neil Genzlinger rang the alarm bell over the accelerating trend of vomit detail-creep for the Times:
It used to be that if a television or film character were required to throw up, you would generally see him or her dash from the room, hand over mouth, and that would be that. The rest was left to your imagination, which had no trouble filling in the details, since just about everyone has vomited at one time or another….maybe 15 years ago, tastefulness began to give way to retching excess. And lately, it’s as if some kind of contest had been going on among the makers of TV shows to see who could get the most vomit onto the screen.
At this point, if someone’s decrying the increasing frequency and detail of onscreen vomiting, they’ll self-consciously compare themselves to Hayes-Code-era sexual prudes, and attempt to draw a distinction between a reflexive dislike of sex scenes (or other boundary-pushing subject matter, like frank discussions or depictions of non-vomiting bodily functions, graphic violence, abuse, certain phobias, etc) and a reflexive dislike of seeing a character vomit unexpectedly onscreen. I’m not so sure there is much of a distinction to be made! People do vomit; people have sex; movies and television shows might have any number of interesting reasons for wanting to depict such things in any number of ways, and it’s always struck me as childish to want to demand certain things only be depicted onscreen if they “advance the plot.”
My justification is simpler: If I see or hear someone vomiting, I am overwhelmed by the impulse to vomit, too. I experience such an impulse as an involuntary physical reflex rather than mere distaste or emotional discomfort. I do not want to vomit unexpectedly while watching a movie, and all too often such explicit vomiting scenes appear without warning (most recently in Disney’s The Jungle Cruise; and if one cannot rely on Disney to prioritize the squeamish, one cannot be sure of anything), such that I have insufficient time to turn my head. I assume I am not the only one plagued with such an overabundance of sympathy, but I do not care about other people in this instance. Nor do I have any interest in adjudicating what is “necessary” in filmmaking, or whether “necessaryness” is of any particular good.
My argument is as follows: Movies should stop depicting vomiting unless absolutely necessary.* In cases where it cannot be avoided, the depiction should come with sufficient forewarning (say, ten seconds) and with an overabundance of audiovisual discretion, solely because it would benefit me, Daniel Lavery, and my general sense of ease and well-being. I have seen a lot of movies over the years, and I think I have earned the right to make a simple request.
Herodotus’ “On The Customs of the Persians” claims that “to vomit or obey natural calls in the presence of another is forbidden among them. Such are their customs in these matters,” and quite right they were too. Let all directors and screenwriters take their cues from the ancient Persians in such matters, assuming Herodotus had his facts straight. Please see to it that this message is circulated widely among Hollywood circles. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. I hope no further articles ever need be written on the subject, now that I have made my feelings known.
*Edited 11:50am EST to add: Damn, I have fallen prey to the very error I decried earlier, and suggested “necessaryness” as a determinating rubric! This should not in any way prejudice filmmakers against my request.