Saturday, September 16, 2006

This Film Is Not Rated

This is the title of an excellent documentary that I saw last night. It is a devastating attack on the movie ratings system put in place by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) since the 1960s. The main point of controversy is over how the top-secret ratings board distinguishes between two classes of adult-themed movies: R and NC-17. The documentary argues convincingly that the NC-17 rating is given exlcusively for sexual content, especially it it seems too real (such as between a committed monogamous couple), or involves anything remotely homosexual. On the other hand, the most obscene violence will be merely slapped with a R rating. In one particularly egregious case, the director of American Psycho, was granted an NC-17 rating. Now, anybody who has seen that movie will remember some really disturbing violence, as the protagonist brutally murders women after sex. The director thought this was the problem (one particularly horrible scene involved a chainsaw). Not at all. It was the sex scenes themselves that incensed the raters.

A key theme in the movie is that the ratings system discriminates against independent movies. Big studios are often treated with kid gloves and told where to cut (often only a few seconds here and there), while independents are given no such guidance. An independent that treats sex in a serious manner is penalized; a big studio that has a body count in the hundreds and blood oozing off the screen gets a free pass. Another thing: the movie raters are completely anonymous (the movie actually tracks them down). Nobody knows who there are. We do know they have close relations with the big studios, which makes a mockery of the claim that anonymity is needed to protect the raters from undue influence.

No, the whole ratings system is designed to rake in big bucks for the movie studios, who have a vested interest in selling violence to teenage boys. To justify this, they censor any realistic portrayal of sex. And this is supposed to be healthy. It's not, it's sick. But it fits neatly with the priorities of the Christian right in the United States. Yes, sexual sin is all that matters, while violence is nothing to worry about. Kind of explains their differing reactions to Clinton and Bush, doesn't it?

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