This Document is Rated X…

for Aberrational Honesty: Arguments for Ignoring MPAA Ratings

by Clifton Smith

Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

—Bertrand Russell,
   Marriage and Morals
   (1929)

Ahead, I will discuss documentarian Kirby Dick’s This Film is Not Yet Rated and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Those involved with the MPAA claim its purpose is to warn consumers about potentially objectionable material (sex, violence, language, and drug use, for example) in films. It does this, but in a way that outsiders, myself included, often find puzzling. The MPAA has also, relatively recently, expanded to become a major anti-piracy force.

This Film is Not Yet Rated focuses on Jack Valenti’s MPAA. Valenti was an aide to President Lyndon Johnson and was also involved in developing the TV ratings system.[tippy title=”*”]The 11 Myths of Media Violence
“Myth 10: The rating systems and V-chip will help solve the problem.”
page 172
W. James Potter
Sage Publications Inc., 2003

The television ratings advisory board began with the MPAA system and made some minor adaptations by moving to six age-based categories: two for children (TV-Y and TV-Y7) and four for general audiences (TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA) (see Table 11.1). The television industry grudgingly agreed to this rating system, and it was first instituted in January 1997 (Mifflin, 1998).

Although Valenti headed the development of the TV ratings system, he said he did not want the television system to resemble too closely the MPAA system of G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. His reasoning was not that the content in television is different from content in movies and therefore two different systems are warranted. Instead, Valenti said. “I don’t want to diminish their effectiveness as ratings for motion pictures, nor would I want to diminish their effectiveness on television” by making them interchangeable (Biddle, 1996, p. 59). This is very curious reasoning. Apparently Valenti believes that a certain kind of violent portrayal may be appropriate for a 7-year-old in the movies but not at home, or vice versa.[/tippy] He presided over the MPAA as president for thirty-eight years and in August 2004 was replaced by Dan Glickman, a former congressman and Secretary of Agriculture during the Clinton Administration.[tippy title=”*”]Jack Valenti dies at 85
Anthony Breznican
USA TODAY
April 26th, 2007

Jack Valenti, a colorful former White House aide who became Hollywood’s top lobbyist in Washington for four decades and created the modern movie rating system, died Thursday.

Valenti, who was 85, had left Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University Medical Center on Tuesday after being treated for a stroke suffered in March. He died of complications from the stroke at his Washington, D.C., home, said Seth Oster of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Dan Glickman, a former congressman from Kansas who succeeded Valenti as head of the MPAA after his retirement in 2004, called Valenti “a giant who loomed large over two of the world’s most glittering stages: Washington and Hollywood.”

President Bush said Valenti “helped transform the motion picture industry. He leaves a powerful legacy in Washington, in Hollywood, and across our nation.”[/tippy] Because Glickman’s tenure has been comparatively short and because he has made no substantial changes to the MPAA, I will also focus on Valenti.


Jack Valenti

I can’t see a thorough discussion of the MPAA being possible without an accompanying discussion of the origin of the MPAA. I try to condense decades of history into a few paragraphs that should cover this origin. Following this MPAA historical background, I will present evidence that I think proves the MPAA is guilty of inconsistency, hypocrisy (especially in their treatment of sex and violence), and censorship.

 

The Background
Movie Bosses Vote for Self-Censorship: The MPAA is Born

The MPAA web site offers the following about itself:

The initial task assigned to the association was to stem criticism of American movies, which were then silent, and to restore a more favorable public image for the motion picture business.[tippy title=”*”]from the MPAA Web Site
About Us
“MPAA”

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its international counterpart, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) serve as the voice and advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries, domestically through the MPAA and internationally through the MPA. Today, these associations represent not only the world of theatrical film, but serve as leader and advocate for major producers and distributors of entertainment programming for television, cable, home video and future delivery systems not yet imagined.

Founded in 1922 as the trade association of the American film industry, the MPAA has broadened its mandate over the years to reflect the diversity of an ever changing and expanding industry. The initial task assigned to the association was to stem criticism of American movies, which were then silent, and to restore a more favorable public image for the motion picture business. Today the association continues to advocate for strong protection of the creative works produced and distributed by the industry, fights copyright theft around the world, and provides leadership in meeting new and emerging industry challenges.[/tippy]

Before film industry self-censorship began, city police and state-level organizations like the National Board of Review tried to deal with potentially objectionable material in films.[tippy title=”*”]The Transformation of Cinema, 1907-1915
“The Recruiting Stations of Vice”
page 51
Eileen Bowser
University of California Press, 1994

By June 1914, censorship was considered the crucial issue for the National Exhibitors’ Convention held in New York City. “A year ago,” it was noted, “local censorship, by the police of various towns and cities, was the only form of regulation the exhibitor had to meet.” Major Funkhouser, of the Chicago police, responsible for censorship in that city, had gained a certain fame by such actions as banning a film demonstrating the hesitation waltz, the turkey trot, and the tango. It wasn’t so much the dances, he said, as that young people would be led to go to dance halls where liquor was sold, to try them out. Major Funkhouser’s censorship was decidedly erratic. An advertisement of that time claimed that another film had been accepted by him: “This film teaches a deep moral lesson. Passed by the Chicago Board of Censors.” The film was Henry Spencer’s Confession, made with the cooperation of Henry Spencer himself, who was the slayer of Mrs. Mildred Hexroat and nineteen other victims. I don’t know this film, but surely the notorious The Unwritten Law was considerably milder.27

By June 1914, laws for state censorship existed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kansas, while Massachusetts and Connecticut had already taken some action toward similar legislation. The ability of the National Board of Censorship to handle the problems had been challenged by the state legislators. Many importers and distributors of foreign feature films were simply ignoring the National Board, and their more sensational features had aroused the nation to the need for some kind of censorship. Since the National Board of Censorship had no legal powers, some saw it as useless. Nor was it only foreign films that gave trouble. In late 1913 a World editorial called the six-reel The Stranglers of Paris a “Powerful Argument for Censorship,” “reeking with the depiction of crime. “The film, based on a Belasco stage production, was “well-made” by the Motion Drama Company of New York, but the World urged that “the producer should destroy the negative and swallow the cost.”28
[/tippy] Government censorship was a background concern of filmmakers and filmgoers nearly since the first film was produced.[tippy title=”*”]Media Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences
“Production: The Media Industry and the Social World”
page 104
David Croteau, William Hoynes
Pine Forge Press, 2003

The story of movie ratings is one example in which the perceived threat of government regulation was enough to spark industry self-regulation. TV ratings are an example where government-imposed requirements were coupled with industry self-regulation, this time taking advantage of new technology. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required development of a rating system for television programming along with the establishment of standards for blocking programming based on those ratings. In 1997, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) collaborated in producing the ratings system. It designated programs aimed at a general audience as either TVG (general audience), TVPG (parental guidance suggested), TV14 (unsuitable for children under 14), or TVMA (intended for mature audiences). In addition, children’s programming was divided into TVY (suitable for all children) or TVY7 (intended for children 7 and above) (The system exempted news, sports, and unedited motion pictures on premium cable channels.)[/tippy] Where written media has shortcomings in accessibility, film transcends literacy and puts the filmmaker’s vision right in front of us. Many who experience this immediacy find it enjoyable. However, the psychological and moral impact of this immediacy has been—and continues to be—a source of deep unease for many others.

While film content is surely a topic of moral concern, it’s also a topic of economic concern. Cheap admissions meant audiences of all ages could experience blown-up “immorality” first-hand. Movies where women were disobedient and interested in sex; and where men drank, cursed, and shot each other were, according to revenues, movies many patrons wanted. Movie producers found it difficult to strike a balance between dull, wholesome movies and edgier fare with generous amounts of sex and violence.[tippy title=”*”]Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
“In Search of Censors”
page 5
Frank Walsh
Yale University Press, 1996

But reformers interested in movies as a means of cultural enrichment for the masses were soon disappointed. Jane Addams, for example, discovered that the film adaptations of literary classics shown in her Hull House theater could not compete with such nickelodeon offerings as The School Children’s Strike, The Pirates, and The Defrauding Banker. The problem with Hull House films, one young viewer pointed out, was that they were just plain dull. “People,” he confided, “like to see fights and fellows getting hurt, and robbers and all that stuff.”4

For every observer who saw something positive in movies, a hundred worried about their negative effects. Because there was no hope that movies would disappear, concerned citizens felt that the only way to render them harmless was to eliminate what was dangerous. That was easier said than done; it seemed that every topic the movies dealt with annoyed some group or other. Bankers saw nothing entertaining in a film like The Defrauding Banker, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police failed to see the humor in the Keystone Kops comedies. In 1910, an American Federation of Labor convention condemned films that made heroes of bosses and villains of union workers. Conversely, the Ohio Industrial Relations Committee denounced The Strike at Coaldale (1916), which portrayed a successful walkout by the miners, as a threat to American industry.5[/tippy]

Many groups complained about film content, but conservative moralists won out. The most vocal group, by most accounts, was the Catholics. An early example of selective outrage from Catholic leaders involves a 1918 U.S. military sex hygiene film called Fit to Fight. This film showed several young soldiers-to-be who let their sexual urges get the better of them. Two of the five men are spared syphilis and gonorrhea after a night at a brothel. Those unscathed are the ones who paid attention to an army hygiene lecture which covered sexual health.

Protestant and Catholic religious authorities within earshot of the production responded by condemning the film’s frank sexuality. The underlying objective of the film was to produce physically healthy soldiers that would not be hindered in battle by genital discomfort. If it occurred to any of the film’s opponents that the film sought to protect the soldiers from sexual dangers only to cast them into mortal danger, none seems to have mentioned this. Father John J. Burke of the National Catholic War Council urged the army to remove titillating scenes such as those of the men in the brothels and shots where contact is made between the men and the prostitutes.[tippy title=”*”]Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
“In Search of Censors”
pages 13–14
Frank Walsh
Yale University Press, 1996


News of the film provoked a wave of protests, and not only from Catholics. One Protestant minister characterized it as “the vilest thing that I have ever seen,” while a colleague declared: “I felt as though I had been obliged to listen to a smutty story and, though I heard it against my will, it will stick and dirty me.” At first, Father Burke of the War Council tried unsuccessfully to block the release of the film, arguing for a more positive approach based on morality and idealism rather than fear. Rebuffed by Fosdick, Burke urged the army at least to eliminate any titillating scenes from the picture, such as the interior of the brothel, along with all shots of contact between the men and the prostitutes, for “such caresses,” he argued, “are calculated … to arouse in every man who beholds them, sexual feelings, particularly … for men who have visited houses of prostitution.” Even the letter from Billy’s sweetheart on the need to remain pure was out of bounds. “We discuss such things in social hygiene circles,” he exclaimed, “but we don’t discuss them with the women we love.” Fosdick made a few concessions—interior brothel scenes were shortened, and the letter from Billy’s sweetheart was eliminated—but he refused to meet the priest’s other demands because they would have cut the heart out of the picture.21

Father Burke could draw some comfort from the fact that Fit to Fight was to be shown only to male audiences; the second government film, End of the Road, didn’t offer even that small consolation. Fosdick had become alarmed by the large number of complaints like the one from Decatur, Illinois, that half the young women in the senior class of the local high school had become pregnant after the construction of a military base in the area. It wasn’t the plight of the women that bothered the CTCA; its only concern was the increased risk that military men might contract venereal disease.29 [/tippy]

Perceived onscreen lewdness and a rich variety of Hollywood scandals earned the film business a lot of unwanted attention from state and federal government entities who were being pressured (again, most prominently, by Catholic organizations) to take action. Comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s trial involving the unintentional 1921 murder (involving sex and drugs) of model/actress Virginia Rappe is an oft-cited last straw.

Government intervention loomed. A group of studio heads including Marcus Loew, Lewis J. Selznick, Samuel Goldwyn, William Fox, and Sam Warner called upon Warren G. Harding’s morally immaculate Postmaster General Will H. Hays to form a self-censorship organization.


Will H. Hays

The organization Hays oversaw would be called the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America. Hays was charged not only with reining in the eclectic opinions of religious conservatives across the country, but also of any other groups with complaints about film representations. (Mexican salons, for example, banned American films for frequently depicting Mexicans as “greasers”—robbers, rapists, and murderers who terrorized the Southwest.[tippy title=”*”]Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination
“Preface”
pages xiii–xiv
Steven Bender
NYU Press, 2003

Hollywood embraced the “greasers” label to describe its unflattering creation of despicable Mexicans who robbed, raped, and murdered their way through the Southwest. Familiar enough to reach the marquee, the Hollywood greaser image of the 1900s was the villain of such films as The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908), Tony the Greaser (1911), The Girl and the Greaser (1913), The Greaser’s Revenge (1914), Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914), and, simply, The Greaser (1915). Although almost uniformly villainous, the Hollywood greaser occasionally had a good heart, as reflected in the movie advertisement for the 1911 silent Tony the Greaser: “From force of habit, some might call him a ‘Greaser'; true, he is a Mexicano, but a man of noble instincts and chivalrous nature.”8

Prompted in the 1930s by the threat of losing distribution of Hollywood films to crucial Mexican and Latin American markets, Hollywood’s self-policing body at the time, the Production Code Administration, helped eliminate the most virulent anti-Latina/o references from Hollywood films, including references to greasers. By the time these economic pressures had relaxed in the 1950s and this self-censorship board’s influence had waned, the term greaser and its close cousin greaseball had gradually given way in Hollywood and American society to other derogatory references to Latinas/os—although Hollywood resurrected the greaser from time to time, beginning with the 1961 western One Eyed Jacks.)[/tippy])

Hays knew that, alone, he couldn’t handle the work of promoting the morality of movies across the country and still make sure the movies maintained even a small level of morality. He established the Studio Relations Office in 1927 and put American Red Cross veteran Colonel Jason S. Joy in charge.[tippy title=”*”]
All About All About Eve: The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made!
“Zanuck, Zanuck, Zanuck”
pages 53-54
Sam Staggs
St. Martin’s Press, 2000


Today All About Eve strikes viewers as “adult” in the sense that it is sophisticated, but in 1950 much of its dialogue stopped just short of raciness and some of its situations didn’t conform to Code standards of “good taste” (e.g., Bill, explaining to Margo why he didn’t immediately come up to her room: “I ran into Eve on my way upstairs and she told me you were dressing.” Margo: “That’s never stopped you before.”).

Like the other studios, 20th Century-Fox employed experts to forewarn of anticipated problems when the script was submitted for Production Code approval. Colonel Jason S. Joy, Fox’s director of public relations, acted as ex officio liaison to Joseph Breen and the formidable script-vetters of the Johnston office.

Colonel Joy was ideal for the job, since he himself had formerly worked in the Hays office. A native of Montana, he came to Hollywood in 1926 from the American Red Cross. He left the Hays office in 1932 to join the Fox Film Corporation—three years before it merged with 20th Century to become 20th Century-Fox.

By the time of All About Eve, Colonel Joy was a gray-haired man in his sixties. With his conservative eyeglasses and loose-fitting business suits, he might have belonged to that multitude of character actors who played uncles and businessmen and politicians in movies and television shows. Even his voice, which was pleasantly staid, added to the typecasting.

During Colonel Joy’s time at the Hays office, the Production Code lacked real teeth. Tolerant and enlightened, Joy did not have a large appetite for censorship, and his admonitions were frequently ignored. According to film historian Kenneth Macgowan, “Some producers played ball, some did not. Others sent in only parts of their scripts, and paid little or no attention to Joy’s criticism.”

But the Code, and its enforcers, grew increasingly rigid under Breen, who blamed the Jews in Hollywood for just about everything. Writing to Father Wilfrid Parsons, editor of the Catholic publication America, in 1932, he characterized the Jews as “a rotten bunch of vile people with no respect for anything beyond the making of money. Here [in Hollywood] we have Paganism rampant and in its most virulent form. Drunkenness and debauchery are commonplace. Sexual perversion is rampant…any number of our directors and stars are perverts. Ninety-five percent of these folks are Jews of an Eastern European lineage. They are, probably, the scum of the earth.”

[/tippy] Joy quickly produced a list of “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls” and sent it out to filmmakers; the filmmakers ignored the list.[tippy title=”*”]
Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry
“A New Moral Code”
pages 47-48
Frank Walsh
Yale University Press, 1996


Hays had formed the Studio Relations Committee in 1926 under the direction of Jason Joy, the former head of the Public Relations Committee, to help producers identify potentially troublesome script material. In the same month in which The Jazz Singer opened, Joy, in cooperation with a committee headed by MGM’S Irving Thalberg, drew up what became known as the Don’ts and Be Carefuls, a codification of the most common city, state, and foreign rules for elimination. The “Don’ts” consisted of eleven topics, including profanity, white slavery, sex hygiene, sex perversion, and “scenes of actual childbirth,” which were prohibited from the screen. The twenty-five “Be Carefuls” contained such items as crime methods, rape, and wedding-night scenes which were to be handled with special care to avoid “vulgarity and suggestiveness.” In order to keep the regulations current, Joy visited the major censor boards twice a year.4

Despite the fanfare surrounding the introduction of the Don’ts and Be Carefuls, they suffered the same fate as NAMPI’S “Thirteen Points,” which they strongly resembled. Originally hailed as a panacea that would cleanse the screen of immorality, they quickly became in the eyes of the reformers one more example of industry double-talk. A few years after the new regulations were adopted, Colliers dismissed them as “don’t forget to before you have gone too far” and “if you can’t be good, be careful.” The Don’ts and Be Carefuls, as with all Hays’s previous reform efforts, relied on the studios’ willingness to cooperate. Hays had hoped that the moviemakers’ self-interest in avoiding the costs of complying with the censors’ cuts would ensure success for the new guidelines. Indeed, when the studios followed Joy’s advice, it proved helpful. In 1927 his staff reviewed 349 stories and treatments. Of the 163 films that incorporated his recommendations, 161 passed state and city censors with no major eliminations. Nevertheless, most producers resented any outside interference and ignored the Studio Relations Committee, submitting fewer that 20 percent of their films to Joy’s staff in 1929.5

The result was a steady stream of cuts ordered by the increasingly active censorship boards. In 1928, the New York State censors ordered the elimination of more than four thousand scenes, while Chicago’s found some six thousand that posed a danger to the morals of its citizens. Most of the cuts, according to Joy, related to the same old problems: crime and sex. Censors, especially sensitive to anything that might teach would-be criminals how to hone their craft, regularly eliminated scenes involving planning a robbery or disabling an alarm system. Similarly, any “suggestive” shots of a couple lying on the floor or kissing on the neck invariably fell victim to the censor’s scissors. As United Artists found out, ignoring Joy’s office could be costly: by the time all the censors’ demands were satisfied, the length of Two Arab Knights had been reduced from 8,250 feet to 4,000 feet.6

Producers recognized that Joy’s staff could help them reduce the expensive overhead associated with censorship, but they feared that too much sanitizing meant death at the box office. Carl Laemmle, president of Universal, confided to a colleague that “our pictures are too namby-pamby and…the public knows that [they]…are too damn clean and they stay away on account of it.” Nevertheless, the producer promised to cooperate fully with the Don’ts and Be Carefuls, posting copies of the regulations around the studio lot.7

But did the public really want movie reform? According to Variety, by 1929 even the farmers in rural areas wanted pictures with excitement and chorus girls. Furthermore, studio heads could always justify their disregard of the Don’ts and Be Carefuls by claiming that they had to keep up with the competition. A Universal spokesman charged that the increase in “dirty” pictures could be traced to the “natural lasciviousness” of Paramount’s Ben Schulberg and MGM’s inability to “tone down” Irving Thalberg. Similarly, Harry Warner, whose studio was often criticized for ignoring the Hays Office guidelines, charged that the vulgarity of the Fox studio threatened to undermine the film industry.8

[/tippy]

As perceived immorality continued, so did outcry from religious conservatives. Martin Quigley (devout Catholic and publisher of the Motion Picture Herald), Joseph I. Breen (public relations officer for the 1926 Eucharist Congress), and Father Daniel Lord (national director of the Sodality of Our Lady) were able to produce the Production Code.[tippy title=”*”]
The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code
“Welcome Will Hays!”
pages 9-10
Leonard J. Leff, Jerold L. Simmons
University Press of Kentucky, 2001


Hays was rescued by Martin Quigley, the publisher of Motion Picture Herald. Quigley had married an heiress and constructed a power base on what one observer called “clever Irish politicking.” A devout Catholic, he had been matchmaker for the Church and Hollywood when the 1926 Eucharistic Congress of Chicago was filmed; Hays’ speech at that assembly “tied up the picture business for all time with the churches.” Quigley wanted to harness the movies’ power over American culture and morals. Though he had an iron conscience, he also understood that control over Hollywood could boost both the ad sales and influence of the Herald. Throughout the late 1920s, he scourged the West Coast producers and cultivated both the East Coast studio presidents and the Catholic hierarchy. And by 1929, when Hays chose euthanasia for the battered Don’ts and Be Carefuls, Quigley had convinced the industry that he was the moral barometer of the nation.

As the shadows of Hearst and Brookhart fell across Hollywood in summer 1929, Quigley conceived the notion of a code that would include not only rules and regulations but philosophy. Chicago censor board advisor Father FitzGeorge Dinneen pointed Quigley toward Father Daniel Lord, a St. Louis University professor who could write the document; but the Church stalled. Perhaps more “tied up” with the picture business than he wished—or aware of the backlash that a “Catholic code” could foster—Chicago prelate George Cardinal Mundelein saw controversy ahead and opposed the involvement of Father Lord or the Church. Quigley needed the Catholics; he feared that without pressure from them, the movie company presidents would not approve the code. Yet too close an association with a Catholic code could damage Quigley. He needed friends in both Rome and Hollywood to continue to walk the corridors of power. “I do not want the principal executives of the motion picture industry to feel that I am not giving major consideration to their interests,” Quigley told Lord. “I feel that I can be most helpful generally by being left in the position of mediator and not advocate for either side.” Quigley batted the problem around with Joe Breen, a good fellow Catholic who was then a public relations man for Peabody Coal. As they sipped drinks, they talked “well into the mid-night” about “the gentleman on North State Street,” Cardinal Mundelein. The bottom of the tumblers held the answer: when Quigley later assured Mundelein that the code would be an “industry code,” one that would ban from pictures “things inimical to the Catholic Church,” the Cardinal allowed Father Lord to proceed.

[/tippy] Hays approved the code, but still couldn’t enforce it any better than the “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.”


(left to right)
Martin Quigley, Cecil B. deMille, and
Paramount president Barney Balaban

Realizing the ineffectiveness of the Code, Quigley then spoke to the Giannini brothers (Amadeo Peter and Attilio), devout Catholics heading the California-based Bank of America. The Giannini brothers had helped fund projects of Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Twentieth Century Pictures, and many others. Giannini warned producers against alienating the Church, as this would also mean alienating the Bank of America.[tippy title=”*”]
Banned in the USA: British Films in the United States and their Censorship, 1933-1966
“Production Code and Film Censorship in America”
pages 3–4
Anthony Slide
I.B.Tauris, 1998

The years 1933 and 1934 were ones of crisis. Reformers were threatening to march on Washington, DC to demand federal censorship of motion pictures. In desperation, on 5 March 1933, Hays met with the MPPDA board and urged the adoption of realistic self-regulation. In the meantime, the Catholic Church and Martin Quigley determined the need for dramatic action. For many years, the Bank of America (founded as the Bank of Italy) had been the leading financial backer of the film industry, providing funding for the creation of Columbia Pictures, the Walt Disney Studios, Twentieth Century Pictures, and many independent production companies. The Catholic Church took its complaints directly to the bank’s chairman, A. H. ‘Doc’ Giannini, who, along with his brother and the bank’s founder, A. P. Giannini, was a devout Catholic. On 1 August 1953, Giannini attended an industry dinner and warned producers that they could not afford to alienate the Church and, by extension, the Bank of America.

Still the industry was slow to respond. The first positive step came in December 1933, when Hays appointed Joseph I. Breen as administrator of the Studio Relations Office, replacing James Wingate. The Catholic Church continued its attacks on the industry, and on 23 May 1934, Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia urged the city’s 823,000 Catholics to boycott motion pictures, describing them as “the greatest menace to faith and morals in America today.” Earlier on 11 April 1934, the Episcopal Committee of the Catholic Church informed the Catholic bishops that it planned a “legion of decency” and wanted all Catholics to pledge support for “clean films.”[/tippy]


Father Daniel Lord, S.J.

Joe Breen wrote to Hays to persuade him that Breen would be best at enforcing the code. Breen was better at confrontation than Joy and other Studio Relations Office appointees. Energetic follow-through by Breen and continuing pressure by Catholics (and their Legion of Decency) eventually gave Breen and Hays the necessary leverage to enforce the code. In 1934, with the formation of the Production Code Administration by mutual studio agreement, it became mandatory, under threat of fine, for filmmakers to observe the code.[tippy title=”*”]
Collections
The Pre-Code Era
UCLA Film & Television Archive


From the beginning of American motion picture history, a debate has raged over film’s role in promoting social and moral values. In the late 1920s, increased local and state regulation of film exhibition, calls for federal censorship, and a series of Hollywood scandals united industry leaders in an effort to fend off threats to the industry’s autonomy and profit-making ability. And, in 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code was developed in order to appease Hollywood’s critics. The Code was a self-regulatory measure which outlined specific dos and don’ts concerning what should appear on American movie screens. The code began to be strictly enforced in 1934 when all films were required to have certificates of approval issued by the Production Code Administration.

[/tippy] The number one “General Principle” of the code was as follows:

No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

The following statements represent about 1/10th of the full Hays Code:

Sex

  • The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.
  • Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.
  • Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.
  • In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.
  • Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.
  • Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.
  • Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.
  • Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden.

Violence

  • Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.
  • The use of firearms should be restricted to essentials.

Crime

  • Methods of Crime should not be explicitly presented.

Drugs/Alcohol

  • The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.
  • Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.

Language

  • Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ—unless used reverently—Hell, S.O.B. damn, Gawd), or every other profane or vulgar expression, however used, is forbidden.

Religion

  • No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.

The Flag

  • The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.*


Joseph I. Breen

For the roughly twenty-five years following the creation of the Production Code Administration, the MPAA supervised the moral content of films and demanded edits where it deemed necessary. Occasionally, a few filmmakers would refuse to play along. Otto Preminger was probably the most influential of these filmmakers. He released his financially successful The Moon is Blue in 1953 without a Production Code seal after unsuccessfully arguing to include the words “virgin” and “pregnant.”[tippy title=”*”]The Fifties: Transforming the Screen, 1950-1959
“Censorship and Self-Regulation”
pages 89-90
Peter Lev
University of California Press, 2006


During the early 1950s, the film industry’s PCA-enforced morality gradually came into conflict with audience interests and industry conditions. For one thing, Americans were more worldly after the shocks and dislocations of World War II. with millions of men stationed abroad and millions of women in the workplace. There was also a great emphasis on sexuality in 1950s America, sexuality as both the cause and the solution of problems. The Kinsey reports (published in 1947 and 1952) and the popularization of psychoanalysis may have contributed to this emphasis. Also, the film industry’s internal problems provided a reason for filmmakers to challenge the status quo. With the number of North American movie spectators consistently dropping, studios and independent producers were under pressure to find new, more sensational subjects and thus revive audience interest. They pushed against the restraints of the Production Code in a variety of ways: with more revealing costumes for women (The French Line, 1954): franker attitudes toward adultery (From Here to Eternity, 1953); and well-made treatments of previously forbidden subjects (The Man with the Golden Arm, about drug addiction, 1955; Tea and Sympathy, about the fear of homosexuality, 1956).

The Moon is Blue (directed by Otto Preminger for United Artists, 1953) provided an early test of how the PCA would react to changing attitudes about sexuality. This was the adaptation of a very popular stage play that featured no revealing costumes or immoral behavior but a great deal of dialogue about sex. A young woman named Patty O’Neill (Maggie McNamara) meets architect Don Gresham (William Holden) on top of the Empire State Building and goes home with him for drinks and dinner. Joined at times by Holden’s upstairs neighbors, aging playboy David Slater (David Niven) and his daughter Cynthia (Dawn Addams), they have a lively conversation about seduction, virginity, and marriage. For example, when Patty asks what’s bad about the phrase “professional virgin,” Don answers “People who advertise are anxious to sell something.” After many misadventures, Patty angrily leaves in the early morning, but Don finds her the next day (again on top of the Empire State Building), and proposes.

The PCA reviewed the play script, then the film script, then the finished film, and
consistently found The Moon is Blue unacceptable. A 10 April letter from Breen to Preminger summarized the PCA’s attitude as follows: “The picture contains an unacceptably light attitude towards seduction, illicit sex, chastity and virginity.”9 Preminger and United Artists decided to release the film without a seal, with United Artists temporarily dropping out of the MPAA to avoid paying a fine. The film’s reception was interestingly mixed. Many reviewers endorsed it. with Bosley Crowther of the New York Times exclaiming, “The theme of this confection is as moral as a Sunday school book. It is that virtue triumphs. The good little girl gets the man.”10 On the other hand, Showmen’s Trade Review said that it was “a shock even for the most sophisticated” to hear words like ‘virgin’ and ‘seduce’ in a motion picture.” The Legion of Decency condemned the film, but this action was primarily aimed at supporting the PCA.12 Three state censorship boards banned The Moon is Blue, but four approved it.

Largely because of the various censorship controversies, The Moon is Blue became a big hit. Film historian Tino Balio reports that it “was shut out of many theaters, but where it did play it broke box-office records.”13 United Artists and Preminger had won their gamble of releasing a film without a Code Seal. This suggested that the Production Code, written in 1929, was no longer a good fit with audience expectations and needs in the 1950s. The PCA responded by being more flexible, and eventually by revising the Code.[/tippy] The fifties saw more and more filmmakers bypassing the code while still attaining financial and critical success. It wasn’t until the sixties, though, that extensive changes in political, social, and sexual attitudes forced the film industry to adopt a different type of moral watchfulness.


Otto Preminger

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The 60’s
Friendlier Censorship: The New MPAA and the New Problems

Jack Valenti would be put in charge of the different type of moral watchfulness demanded by a changing country. He wrote the following about why he was brought into the MPAA:

By summer of 1966, the national scene was marked by insurrection on the campus, riots in the streets, rise in women’s liberation, protest of the young, doubts about the institution of marriage, abandonment of old guiding slogans, and the crumbling of social traditions. It would have been foolish to believe that movies, that most creative of art forms, could have remained unaffected by the change and torment in our society.

The result of all this was the emergence of a “new kind” of American movie—frank and open, and made by filmmakers subject to very few self-imposed restraints.*


Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Mike Nichols’s
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Woolf marked the big screen debuts of the
word “screw” and the phrase “hump the hostess.”

Valenti helped develop the modern film rating system and created the ratings board. The MPAA web site lists the following ratings and explanations:

G—Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated motion pictures. Depictions of violence are minimal. No nudity, sex scenes or drug use are present in the motion picture.

PG—There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.

PG-13—Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.

R—[M]ay include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.

NC-17—[C]an be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.*

Established in 1977, the modern division of the MPAA that deals with film ratings is the Classifications and Ratings Administration (CARA). The following is a description the MPAA gives for CARA on their web site:

The movie ratings system is a voluntary system operated by the MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). The ratings are given by a board of parents who…view each film and, after a group discussion, vote on its rating. The ratings are intended to provide parents with advance information so they can decide for themselves which films are appropriate for viewing by their own children. The Board uses the same criteria as any parent making a judgment—theme, language, violence, nudity, sex and drug use are among content areas considered in the decision-making process.*

CARA is often intentionally vague about what it does and why. Spokespeople claim this is because the organization doesn’t want to be identified with censorship. This is apparently the explanation for phrases like “The Board uses the same criteria as any parent” where “any parent” is not defined and probably isn’t definable. We run into an extra problem if we then try to figure out what these murky “any parents” view as “appropriate for viewing by their own children.” We can’t simply ask raters what is appropriate because, as the MPAA web site indicates:

The identity of the Raters will not be disclosed, to protect them from being subject to pressure from members of the public and producers and distributors of motion pictures with respect to the rating of individual motion pictures.[tippy title=”*”]Classification and Rating Rules

The above link is to a searchable Adobe Reader document. If you’re not able to open the document, you may need to visit this site.[/tippy]

The board is supposed to consist of people who are like most American parents. One potential problem with this is that most American parents do not work for the MPAA. Most American parents do not, therefore, have more than a relatively small number of children to consider when deciding what is and is not suitable for viewing. Also, it seems likely that most American parents have plenty of opportunities to be pressured by members of the public (friends, family, and co-workers, for instance) and producers and distributors of motion pictures (whose opinions are easily accessed on-line and on DVD commentaries).

Just as we cannot directly consult the raters for explanations, we also cannot consult their notes. These notes would presumably outline the carefully considered explanations they surely must have made. The Ratings Rules clearly state, “The Raters’ ballots are treated at all times as confidential and are not disclosed outside CARA.”[tippy title=”*”]Classification and Rating Rules

The above link is to a searchable Adobe Reader document. If you’re not able to open the document, you may need to visit this site.[/tippy]

All of this, as far as I can tell, leaves us with only one way to try to figure out what “any parent” thinks her/his kids should be seeing and hearing: we have to consider, compare, and contrast ratings she/he and fellow raters have given movies. If we look at just the movies the board gave its strictest rating, NC-17, we find that thirty-eight out of forty-two (roughly 90%) of these ratings were due to sexual content. (John Waters’s 1972 Pink Flamingos has the distinction of receiving the NC-17 rating for “a wide range of perversions in explicit detail.”)*

It is difficult to pose arguments in favor of a ratings system or of censorship. To do so, we must assume that hearing “bad” words and seeing violence and sexuality have some impact on the human brain. This seems a safe assumption. We run into problems, though, if we then assume that hearing, for example, the word “shit” will adversely affect a human of any age. Currently, we have no evidence to support such a claim and, if we apply the same assumption to the effects on the brain of seeing violence and sexuality, we encounter the same lack of evidence. The only studies I have personally encountered—from the Payne Fund Studies of 1929-1932, onward—indicate that many factors determine the cognitive impact of media on the brain.

In the earlier quote from Jack Valenti I cited, the former MPAA president states that it was societal upheaval that resulted in “a ‘new kind’ of American movie.” He mentions nothing of movies contributing to this upheaval and societal “torment.” If Valenti accepted the assumption that movies can radically shape our consciousness, it seems he would have stated the opposite: “cinematic upheaval resulted in a ‘new kind’ of American.” This makes me wonder how many at the MPAA view “protect the children” as part of their objective.

It seems impossible to argue that the MPAA is actually protecting anyone. If we accept this, we could still possibly argue that the MPAA is a harmless entity that gives concerned people an idea of what to expect from a movie. This would be fine if not for another problem: an MPAA rating has a large impact on whether or not a movie has the opportunity to become successful. The most damaging rating for a film to receive is the NC-17 rating. Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films has said that receiving an NC-17 rating is ruinous because “many theaters won’t play your movie, you’re not able to advertise on TV, and many newspapers don’t take your ads.”[tippy title=”*”]
Time Magazine (web edition)
Murder Gets an R; Bad Language Gets NC-17
Richard Corliss
Time Magazine, in Partnership with CNN
August 29, 1994


Oliver Stone eagerly tells you about the 150 shots he had to remove or trim in ( Natural Born Killers to secure an R rating from the classification board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). There was the bring-me-the- head-of-Tommy-Lee-Jones scene, where prisoners put the warden’s head on a spike. There was the see-through-the-palm-of-Robert-Downey-Jr. shot, after Mallory blows a hole in the newsman’s hand. Stone has more, if you want to hear them.

And next year, you’ll be able to see them. Like other films that lost scenes in ratings wrangles, NBK will have a “director’s cut” in video stores. Bruce Willis promises a similarly complete version of Color of Night, the steamy drama that opened last week in R-rated form after love scenes of the frontally nude star were excised. Willis has decried the board’s “sexism,” noting that Basic Instinct, with Sharon Stone displaying roughly comparable areas of her anatomy, got an R.

The R rating is so desirable because the restrictive NC-17 category (no children under 17 allowed) can mean “economic suicide,” says Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films. “Many theaters won’t play your movie, you’re not able to advertise on TV, and many newspapers don’t take your ads.”
[/tippy]

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NC-17
This Film is Not Yet Rated: Sex and Independence Make CARA Squirm

Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated is primarily about the MPAA’s NC-17 rating. Dick also explores more thoroughly the problems with the MPAA as an organization and with CARA.

Early in the documentary, in order to establish just how many filmmakers have been affected by the MPAA rating system, Dick lists the following filmmakers who “have had their films rated X or NC-17, or have been forced to cut their films to avoid their ratings”:

Adrian Lyne, Peter Greenaway, Allen & Albert Hughes, William Friedkin, John Waters, Catherine Breillat, Martin Scorsese, Robert Aldrich, Oliver Stone, Melvin Van Peebles, Darren Aronofsky, Sean Mathias, David Cronenberg, Pedro Almodóvar, Allison Anders, Mike Nichols, Jane Campion, Michael Winterbottom, Jack Nicholson, Walter Hill, Vincent Gallo, Mary Harron, Brian De Palma, Roger Avary, Todd Haynes, Kevin Smith, Richard Rush, Ralph Bakshi, Wayne Kramer, Vincent Gallo, Walter Hill, David Mackenzie, Spike Lee, Patrice Chéreau, John Woo, Bernardo Bertolucci, Claire Denis, Marc Forster, Paul Thomas Anderson, Russ Meyer, Larry Clark, Philip Kaufman, Gregg Araki, Michael Cuesta, Louis Malle, Jamie Babbit, Stanley Kubrick, Nagisa Oshima, Sam Raimi, Ken Russell, Todd Solondz, Trey Parker, Quentin Tarantino, Wayne Wang, John McNaughton, Rémy Belvaux, Peter Jackson, Wes Craven, Neil LaBute, Abel Ferrara, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Kimberly Peirce, James Toback, Alan Parker, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Schrader, The Wachowski Brothers, Haskell Wexler, Amy Heckerling, John Schlesinger, Sam Peckinpah, Harmony Korine, Paul Verhoeven, and David Lynch.

What this catalogue shows, I think, is that NC-17 is not a rating that happens exclusively to pornographers (roughly, people who make movies that contain mostly sex). Included in this list are seventy-five of the most respected, influential filmmakers in movie history. If we look into the careers and films of each we can find at least one common characteristic: most, if not all, of these people attempt to honestly and thoroughly depict the many facets of what makes us human. Some of the films represented by this list are Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover, Phillip Kaufman’s Henry & June, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, The Wachowski Brothers’ Bound, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Dick’s 1997 film Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist is another that could never have made it to a theater near you without extensive cutting (I would estimate at least a third of the movie). Sick tells the true story of writer/musician/comedian Bob Flanagan, a cystic fibrosis sufferer, who found he could control the pain his illness caused, to a degree, through masochism. A fan of Flanagan’s (and fellow CF sufferer) that Dick interviews says Flanagan was a beacon of hope for her as people with CF are so often viewed as weak and hopeless before their illness. Due to Dick’s efforts, many more sufferers of chronic illness have access to this figure they can turn to for hope: a figure who represents bravery, honesty, and humor in the face of adversity.

Dick and the above-mentioned filmmakers aren’t alone in their wish to see and depict honest humanity. In Dick’s 2002 documentary Derrida about deconstruction founder Jacques Derrida, co-director Amy Kofman asks the philosopher, “If you were to watch a documentary about a philosopher—Heidegger, Kant, or Hegel—what would you like to see in it?” Derrida responds:

I would like to hear them speak about their sexual lives…Because it’s something they don’t talk about. I’d love to hear about something they refuse to speak about. Why do these philosophers present themselves asexually in their work? Why have they erased their private life from their work? There is nothing more important in their private life than love.

To be clear, CARA never publicly equates NC-17 movies with pornography. It would be surprising, though, if they didn’t recognize the devastating effect of this rating financially. One might expect that at least a few of the above filmmakers—many considered among the best the world has ever produced—might be able to convince the ratings board that it has made the incorrect decision. There is a problem with this as well, though: the ratings board members are kept secret and it’s extremely difficult to appeal their decisions.

John Waters talks about his MPAA experience after submitting his 2004 film A Dirty Shame for rating:


[[tippy title=”text”]

So, I sent it, I was a little nervous, and I got the call and they said, “NC-17.” And I said, “I’m…really surprised.” And the man said, “You are surprised?” I said, uh oh.” I said, “Well, what can I cut.” They said, “Well, to be honest, we stopped taking notes.” That’s when my blood turned to ice water. Because that’s what you fear the most. When they say, “From overall, that’s the reason.” …And they said, “There’s a thousand brush strokes in this—you can’t cut ten.” And I was very, I think, fair about sexuality. I was responsible. I made—it was safe sex. It might be perverted, but it’s safe—you can’t get pregnant, you can’t get AIDS. What’s the matter? I think, from what I read now, in 8th grade, girls give blow jobs routinely. Well, if I was a parent, I’d hope they were sploshing instead of giving blowjobs.[/tippy]]

As Bob Weinstein indicated and as box office analyst Dan Dergarabedian points out in This Film, the MPAA rating does have an impact on a film’s financial success. Dick shows us that the MPAA is comprised of Warner Brothers, Universal, Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount. He notes that, “Together these corporations control more than 95% of the U.S. film business.” This raises an additional question about whether or not the MPAA shows favoritism to its member companies over independent filmmakers and distributors. This favoritism would be in the best financial interests of the MPAA’s member companies. South Park co-creator Matt Stone believes the MPAA is guilty of this favoritism:


[[tippy title=”text”]When we did Orgazmo, which was completely independently financed, they gave us an NC-17. We got the phone call with the guy with the MPAA and the guy would basically say, “It’s for the overall sexual content.”
I said, “Well, is there anything we can cut out to get an R?”
“Um, you know, you’re welcome to recut it and then send it back to us and we’ll certainly look at it again.”
And their whole position was, when we did this film, was, “We don’t give specific notes. ‘Cause then we’d be a censorship organization. We just give you the rating.” Cut to five years later, we’re doing the South Park movie and we’re working for Paramount, big studio, and we turned in the first cut of the movie and we get a phone call and, “You got an NC-17. Well, you need to cut out this, this; change this to this, this, this…” and it was extremely specific: this word, this line, this joke. So, our treatment was…was a completely different experience.[/tippy]]

What should give movie-goers even more cause for concern about MPAA competence is the ambiguous and often bizarre explanations they give for their decisions. All Movie Guide’s Perry Seibert and Jeremy Wheeler compiled a top ten list of explanations they feel are the most absurd:

10. Mother’s Boys (1994)
“Rated R for language and for a mother’s sociopathic behavior”

9. Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
“PG for mild language and brief video images of violence and sexy dancing”

8. All I Wanna Do (1998)
“PG-13 for teen sex-related material, language, and substance misuse”

7. The Hunted (1997)
“R for strong bloody ninja violence and a humorous drug related scene”

6. War of the Buttons (1994)
“PG for mischievous conflict, some mild language, and bare bottoms”

5. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
“PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime, and gore”

4. Skateboard Kid II (1995)
“PG for brief mild language and an adolescent punch in the nose”

3. Bushwhacked (1997)
“PG for language and a mild birds and bees discussion”

2. Twister (1996)
“PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather”

1. Jefferson in Paris (1995)
“PG-13 for mature theme, some images of violence, and a bawdy puppet show”*

Another area where the raters show inconsistency within inconsistency is in the specific area of sexuality. Dick is able to gather that the only type of sex that the MPAA won’t rate harshly is vaguely-photographed, missionary style sex between a man and a woman. Aside from many forms of straight sex, this completely excludes gay sex. To prove just how unfair the treatment of gay sex is, Dick shows us side-by-sides of nearly identical sex acts from different movies:

Because of this inconsistency, one might argue that we should err on the side of caution—that is, we should alert parents equally to extremes of language, sex, violence and drug use. If this is possible, it does not happen. Instead, we find a suspicious absence of sexuality and a conspicuous abundance of violence. In light of this, it seems we have to consider the following: if we allow for the possibility that exposure to “bad” words and open sexuality might turn our children immoral, we must, based on the same lack of evidence, allow for the possibility that suppression of “bad” words and open sexuality might turn our children immoral. If the latter is true and we add permissiveness of violent material to that sexual and linguistic suppression, we might have an even more volatile recipe for an even more threatening deviant.

As it stands, the current MPAA rating system can only prevent “children” (this seems, generally, to be a person between the ages of one and twenty-one) from seeing R-rated and NC-17-rated films theatrically and then only when the rating is enforced. What happens, though, when our children are given access to cable? We may block cable at our own houses, but what about the world? How can we possibly hope to keep the delicate eyes and minds of our children away from potentially detrimental material until they can no longer be “immoralized” by it?

One solution that doesn’t seem very realistic to me is that we place our children inside a bubble and hand-select all material they are ever to mentally process. Another solution that does seem both realistic and reasonable is that parents teach their children the consequences of sex (both the good and bad ones) when they begin learning the difference between things that are dangerous and things that are not dangerous. Parents could also teach their children the consequences of violence (are there good consequences?) and, possibly, of “dirty” language (are there bad consequences?).

In the end, there seems to be little to redeem the MPAA’s rating system. At best, it oversimplifies the content of a movie; at worst, it stifles free and honest expression. Back in the 60’s, Lenny Bruce offered essentially the same solution to deal with sexual problems that I’ve proposed above—we must all talk about them (preferably, with each other). Bruce expressed a lot of the same sentiments that the filmmakers in Dick’s above-cited compilation have tried to express.

I now offer Lenny Bruce, via Dustin Hoffman, from Bob Fosse’s 1974 Lenny. Bruce argues that a less restrictive stance on certain language and sexuality could save us from gonorrhea. In my mind, this puts him up with Dick’s censored filmmakers and all others who don’t play by arbitrary rules—people who have ripped the lids off of things we’re too often forced to hide.


[[tippy title=”text”]

Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt gave Lou Gehrig the clap?
“What’d he say, man? Jesus Christ, is that cruel. Does he have to get that low for laughs, man? What’s the point? That’s really bad taste.”
The point…the point is the suppression of words. Now, dig: Here it is 1964 and yet every doctor I know tells me that a certain disease is on its way to becoming an epidemic again, when everybody knows, man,—or they should know—that one good shot in the ass’d knock it out, right? And yet there it is, VD, right up there with the top ten. Why? Because nobody talks about it. Nobody even wants to say the word. In fact, if the community chest hits on you, do you say, “Excuse me, but, how much of my dollar is going for the clap?” I don’t think you do, man. What we have to do is we gotta start talking about it. See, what we really need is to get some of our national heroes to admit that they’ve had it. Alright: Eleanor Roosevelt gave Lou Gehrig the clap. She also gave it to Chiang Kai-shek…And he gave it to J. Edgar Hoover, man, which is how it really spread. Alright: a boy gets the clap. Can he go to his father? Forget it, man, he can’t relate to his father. He’s lucky if he can go to a schmuck who sweeps up the drugstore, not even the druggist.
“Hey, Manny. Come here. I gotta talk to you.”
“Yeah? What’s the matter?”
“Listen, I got the clap.”
“Oh, Jesus, where’d you get that?”
“Painting a car, schmuck! What’s the difference? I got it.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Well, come on. You work in a drugstore. Give me some pills.”
“Oh, all right. Here.”
“Dexedrine Spansules. Is this good?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s all the same horseshit. Keeps you awake so you know you got it, right?”
“Well, see, the reason I want these pills is I got a good job and I don’t wanna get laid off.”
“Oh yeah? Where you working?”
“The meat-packing plant.”

You know, I’ll tell you what we really need: Maybe one day Jerry Lewis would go on television, and instead of getting hung up with muscular dystrophy, he’d have a clapathon! Forget it. It’ll never happen. You know why? Because talking about it makes you the worst person in the community.[/tippy]]

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5 Comments »

Comment by maurice smith
2008-07-09 16:47:25

Very informative. I find it interesting to say the least. Personally, I find the rating system very helpful since I have children of my own, and don’t much like surprises when I watch movies with them. You’ll understand when you have children of your own. I discuss things we see and words we hear. They aren’t startled, but I know that they will not pollute the air with ignorant words when in public, and they won’t transition into a cartoon character when they go to college because of it.

The rating system gives adults with children the opportunity to view it before them and make the decision if the movie is okay for their children, because of nudity, sexual situations, violence, and anything that may cause them revulsion. I allow my children to watch adult humor movies unless they are too filthy, but suggesting we show movies as an education is insane. Perhaps the next thing you should crusade against should be height limits for rides, the lopped off appendages and bodies dropped from extreme heights should increase the sales on amusement park rides tremendously. Maybe we can rally for vehicle licenses at birth as well.

The rating system only boosts the ticket sales. If anything you should have created the theory of ratings being created to help push sales of goofy movies.

Comment by Clifton - Editor
2008-07-10 17:50:53

Maurice,

You say, “I find the rating system very helpful since I have children of my own, and don’t much like surprises when I watch movies with them. You’ll understand when you have children of your own.”
What will I understand?

You say, “I discuss things we see and words we hear. They aren’t startled, but I know that they will not pollute the air with ignorant words when in public, and they won’t transition into a cartoon character when they go to college because of it.”
What are “ignorant words”? What does it mean for someone to “transition into a cartoon character”?

You say, “The rating system gives adults with children the opportunity to view it before them and make the decision if the movie is okay for their children….”
Why not preview all of the movies your kids might watch yourself? Why leave your kids’ mental well-being to the MPAA, who, as I think I clearly demonstrate above, may not have your interests or your family’s interests in mind when rating films?

You say, “…suggesting we show movies as an education is insane.”
I suggest in the above article that we talk to children about things they watch that they might be upset by. I did not mean to suggest that people should seek out especially harrowing or sexually exhibitive films as an instructional aid for their kids. Still, I don’t think that even this would be “insane.”

 
 
Comment by maurice smith
2008-07-11 13:42:14

Having children, or even being around children during scenes of gratuitous sex or vulgarity, makes me feel uneasy, which is common.
What I consider to be “ignorant words” are words of slang, like “pussy,” “cunt,” “cock,” “cum guzzler,” “fuck mouth,” and so forth.

The comment about “transitioning into a cartoon character” was about new found freedom (adolescence in college) pushing away common sense to use these types of words around any and everybody, like a savage.

When you say take the place of the MPAA and watch all the movies myself, you missed my point about the rating already being there, like “R.” An “R” rating doesn’t mean I won’t let my kids watch, it just means, “Do I feel like explaining or talking about it?”
A lot of movies are being released to theaters unrated these days, which only makes people want to watch them more. I find this to be a ridiculous argument because of that alone. People don’t give a flip about the rating system, so you are fighting for children’s right to watch movies above their rating. That’s why I said, “Why not try removing the height requirements on park rides?”

If you do not think it is insane to use movies as education, that’s fine. I’m sure there are a lot of magnet schools that would allow you to do so, as long as the tax money we pay for education gets sent to them while poor kids watch flicks to get their knowledge.

I am not trying to be difficult, but we all made awkward unknowing transitions through life. This will not change. Knowing you had a penis did not make it any easier on you the first time you penetrated a vagina, which according to books was supposed to happen. The same is true for having kids. You might have sex in front of them, get them in for a closer look while moving to the side, or smoke pot in front of them—all of that sounds good. And trust me, I still think on how I will teach my kids; it isn’t as easy as saying “equality for everyone.” It’s harder. Just like saying you wouldn’t blush during your first sexual conversation with a girl. Okay, you didn’t. Raising kids is hard. It’s even harder talking your wife or girlfriend into their third abortion. When the time comes, you will know. You can’t speak like a person who has climbed mount Everest if you haven’t. That’s what I mean about experience. No one likes it when someone is a pro, or has a lot to say, and has never even done the thing they have knowledge of. It’s preposterous.

Comment by Clifton - Editor
2008-07-11 23:44:37

Maurice,

You say, “Having children, or even being around children during scenes of gratuitous sex or vulgarity, makes me feel uneasy, which is common.”
In what way do you feel uneasy? Do you get aroused? Do your kids get aroused? Do you feel nauseous? I would like to try to know what you experience. Also, do you think you could ever overcome this discomfort? Can you try to describe what kind of impact you think it might have on society if people stopped feeling squeamish about kids being exposed to sex?

Why do you consider “pussy,” “cunt,” “cock,” “cum guzzler,” and “fuck mouth,” to be ignorant? Why is it against common sense to use these words? What is savage about using these words?

You say, “An ‘R’ rating doesn’t mean I won’t let my kids watch, it just means, ‘Do I feel like explaining or talking about it?’ ”
Do you mean that you wouldn’t discuss a PG-13 movie with your kids? Do you mean that you are hesitant to talk to your kids about material in an R-rated movie? If so, why?

You say, “A lot of movies are being released to theaters unrated these days, which only makes people want to watch them more. I find this to be a ridiculous argument because of that alone.”
I would be interested in seeing a list of movies you’ve seen released to theaters unrated lately.
The last movie I saw without a rating was Sex and Lucía. That was seven years ago and I had to present ID.

You say, “People don’t give a flip about the rating system….”
As I argue in my article, it doesn’t matter whether people give a flip or not. People who give even less of a flip about you and your family are deciding what you are able to watch. It usually takes somebody with a lot of clout to get financing for a movie that tries to deal realistically with sex and violence.

You say, “why not try removing the height requirements on park rides”?
As far as I know, some rides pose a threat of physical harm for those who don’t meet the height requirement. For instance, some safety harnesses will not fit a child who does not reach a minimum height. However, if there are cases where the height requirement is arbitrary, I am all for removing them. Your analogy does not work because you can’t prove that you do physical or psychological harm to children by exposing them to sex and violence. If I had found evidence that children could be harmed by exposure to sex and violence, I promise you that I would not have written the above article. I have absolutely no desire to see any child or adult harmed. My aim is only to support the free expression of ideas.
My hope is that the more freely we are able to express our ideas, the less likely we will be to need abortions. My first sexual encounters were silent and in poorly lit places. There was a mystery and taboo I associated with sex that I think contributed to my anxiety and bewilderment about it. I think the culture I grew up in contributed to that. I think the media I grew up immersed in contributed to that.

You say, “No one likes it when someone is a pro, or has a lot to say, and has never even done the thing they have knowledge of. It’s preposterous.”
I agree 100%. That’s why I consulted all of the material I could get my hands on from people who have relevant expertise and experience.
I read material from concerned parents, child psychologists and cognitive researchers. Those people saved me the trouble of having a child myself. Do I think this is a superior substitute for first-hand experience? No. Do I think that consulting the work of these people is useless? No. However, have you, with all your mountain-climbing experience, presented any good arguments against what they’ve uncovered?

 
 
Comment by maurice smith
2008-07-12 18:26:16

I feel uncomfortable around children during movies with suggestive speaking or behavior, or anything else we do not do around the house. I have also found the same if I walk into a bathroom stall I thought unoccupied, or if I fart in church, or if my cell phone goes off in the movies.

As for cursing, it displays the uncouthness and the ignorance of a person.

You asked if I discussed PG-13 movies with my children, and why I was hesitant to discuss “R” movies. I actually said I discussed anything that came up, and I do watch “R” movies.

My family and I have seen commercials for a dozen movies that say (on the commercial) “this film is not yet rated.” Whether or not it is rated when we go see it does not matter, because if it is an action movie, we are already sold on the lack of rating, which to my boys and me means gratuitous violence.

As you can see by the last paragraph, the rating does matter. And as you’ve noticed their lack of profitability, people don’t care about someone’s “realistic,” artsy fartsy depiction of sex and violence. Part (the most important part) of being a good writer, is getting your message out, while appealing to the audience.

Thank goodness for the good ole MPAA or NAACP, or whoever wants to rate it. Who cares? Oh yeah, you and three other people. So, band together and watch the dumbass films that didn’t make it, and talk about all the dumbass people that watch mainstream movies.

You go on to speak in length of the need for height requirements on park rides. You then speak of truth and research into the things you haven’t done some more. Then, you sum it up, saying that I should, “with all my mountain climbing-experience,” wage arguments against something I care nothing about.

 
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