From the comments to Why The Destruction In MAN OF STEEL Matters | Badass Digest
Superhero stories have become an insufferable drag, because far too many people involved in their creation have the mistaken idea that adult art is relentlessly violent and dark.
I know I've been burned out on such things. This isn't to say that I won't watch challenging stuff like Salò, just that I've become less and less enamored of the work involved in doing so, and less interested in the diminishing returns that come from it.
But the general idea that "adult" = "VIOLENTY G-for-GRIMDARK McDEVASTATORSON" has infected everything from young adult novels to television (cough, Game of Thrones, cough). As someone else once put it, this isn't adulthood; this is surly adolescence, showing up at the dinnertable with a mohawk and two tons of eye makeup.
Back when the MPAA was first minted (1967 or so), there was some talk about what the X category would signify. One of the first boardmembers went on record to say that it didn't imply violence, obscenity, or pornography — just that it was not a story suitable for children. The ratings were (and still are) intended for the sake of parental guidance, which is why they now sport those goofy tags that seem more like recommendations than warnings ("RATED PG-13 FOR NON-STOP MARTIAL ARTS VIOLENCE" — whoa, I'm so there I'm furniture!). An "adult" story can have any MPAA rating, but more because the MPAA is so hopelessly lopsided about things than anything else.
The one germ of truth lurking within all those misguided behaviors at the MPAA was that an adult story means something that might only be comprehensible to people who have had some life under their belt. I always felt this was the reason why giving high school students like The Great Gatsby was a well-intentioned mistake. Not that they should be prevented from reading it; only that they're not likely to get from it the same things that someone further on in life will. I've long suspected this has been one of the ways a lot of perfectly good books — not to mention a lot of potential readers — are ruined.
There's a similar discussion going on elsewhere about "authenticity" — who gets to decide what is "authentically X"? The full implications of that discussion deserve a separate post, but for here and now: is a story "authentically" adult if it is grim, dark, mean-spirited, cruel, etc.? Or are those just attributes of certain stories which only adults can process completely, because they have the experience and the context to do so?
Let's not confuse the ingredients with the spot occupied on the shelf. Ugliness is not a total synonym for "truth".