If it's Kevin Smith or the MPAA, the MPAA has to go

by Paul William Tenny

This film is unsuitable for adults, children, and small
woodland creatures.
I'm no expert on Hollywood but if I had to make a choice, I'd pick the MPAA rating board as the most embarrassing thing in the business.

It's really easy to trash them for making stupid, overly conservative choices that make a mockery of the home of the supposedly free, but more than the frustration at having the sacred right of personal creativity put under a microscope to be dissected and classified and placed in a neat little box -- all in secret -- what we ought to be most upset about is how the studio system is making all of us, from the audience to the movie makers, feel ashamed to even be a part of it.
It may seem like such a simple and silly thing to get in a twist over, but the problems that Kevin Smith is having with the MPAA over his new comedy are a great example of a system that is steadily allowing some of the most disgusting graphic violence imaginable (Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes) into theaters and our homes while turning every scene involving crude humor, salty language, and sex into watered-down PG-13, fit for all ages, races, religions and creeds, crap that is completely and utterly devoid of entertainment value.

Of course that's the point.

What kind of story film makers want to tell isn't relevant, only what stories and kinds of movies the ratings board want to see is what will pass with flying colors.

Doesn't matter if the film is tailor made for adults that actually want to see some of this stuff, if it's not what the ratings board wants to see, then it won't get a pass. Smith knows it, and everyone knows it. If it wasn't so offensive it might actually be comical, because light hearted comedy is all we're going to be left with if industry players don't give serious consideration to dismantling the MPAA rating system.

If you haven't seen the documentary that Kirby Dick made about the rating system, do yourself a favor and rent or it. There's little I can say that isn't perfectly illustrated in that film; the absurdity of it all is laid bare. But what Dick didn't cover in his film was the length to which the MPAA will go to censor movies, and lets be honest about this and call it what it is: censorship. One group gives the movie a rating, and another group that shows movies won't show movies that get a certain rating. That's just begging people to using the most extreme rating whether it is warranted or not to keep a movie out of the public square.

The MPAA claims authority over ancillary material that is not the film itself, but related to it. I didn't even know this was possible and was horrified to find out that it's actually legal. We're talking TV trailers, radio spots, even movie posters. In the recent case of Kevin Smith, he cut together a trailer of his own -- something the studio usually does when it's official -- made up entirely of scenes that were not in the final cut of the film. It's like a DVD extra given away for free online, something Smith has done previously with no complaints from the MPAA or anyone else.

This time the MPAA cried, stamped its feet, and had the trailer taken offline until they could rate it.

Seriously. They claimed the authority to rate a movie trailer containing scenes that don't appear in the film that was only shown on the Internet. That's bad enough since it unquestionably goes beyond censorship into rank fascism the likes of which are only supposed to exist in theory in this country, a quaint idea you'd find in a history book or read about in other countries.

It's not supposed to exist here, and yet the studio system relies on it every day.

I reluctantly support the idea that the government should step in and be involved in rating films because, as has been stated in Kirby Dick's film, in that instance at the very least you have the option of judicial review. If something doesn't happen to your liking, you have a fair venue of objective appeal. That beats a closed, rigged system any day, even if run by the government.

The story unfortunately only gets worse from there.

Reports are floating around now that the MPAA, after doing a fantastic impression of Stalin a few weeks ago when they purged his unofficial trailer from the Internet, has rated Zack & Miri Make a Porno -- a comedy with little and probably not any real nudity at all -- the most restrictive it could have possibly gotten: NC-17. There probably aren't even a dozen theaters in the entire country that will screen NC-17 films, meaning if it were to stand, the movie might as well not have been produced at all.

The Weinsteins and Smith will edit the film down to get it out to audiences of course, even though it's probably just fine as it is. What choice do they have? Smith doesn't appeal to or write for children, he writes for young adults and those are the people who want to see what he's selling. People actually want that stuff (including me) and the MPAA is saying to our face that we're not mature enough to see it, and even if we are, we're evil, filthy, disgusting sinners for wanting it and we can't have it anyway.

It is long past time for the MPAA rating system to be retired.
in Feature, Film


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