Archive - Jan 2007

January 24th

Sex Scene And Seventeen

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You gotta love the MPAA's slow slide into oblivion. It's just so fun to watch. They're besieged on all sides - by content makers who want to free themselves from restrictions, from distribution channels that let people see movies outside of theaters, by documentaries that expose them as a bunch of secretive fuddyduddies, and of course by parents who freak out if their kid sees a nipple.

At the risk of making us all feel ancient, it's been seventeen years since, in an attempt to create a venue for mature content that didn't involve actual penetration (or did, but did so for artistic purposes beyond exploring the life of pizza delivery men) without it being labeled as "X-Rated", which everyone knew meant pizza delivery and blowjobs.

So they created NC-17, meaning that nobody under 17 would be admitted. And the experiment failed miserably approximately fifteen seconds later, when the bluenoses in the newspaper and theater industries decided to reject ads for NC-17 movies and actual NC-17 movies, respectively. So for seventeen years, we've had exactly the scenario NC-17 was designed to fix: filmmakers having to choose between cutting scenes (usually in an arbitrary or homophobic way) to get an R rating, or releasing their movies unrated and take the financial hit that inevitably results. The only difference now is that when the thing comes out on DVD, it can be released uncut and sit in Target where anyone can take it home for about the price of two theater tickets.

Fearing the inevitable, the MPAA is swearing they're going to fix it. All of a sudden, they want to rehabilitate NC-17, and get theater owners to play the films right next to the PG 3-D animated wacky-wildlife movies. So what's their plan for this? I give you Dan "No Jack Valenti" Glickman, chairman of the MPAA. RATED Q FOR ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"It's one of our ratings, and I'd like to see it used more. We are going to talk about this with the Directors Guild of America and the National Association of Theater Owners."

It's a plan that's almost brilliant in its simplicity. Almost, except for the implication that the MPAA has spent the better part of the last two decades NOT talking to directors or theater owners. What is there about this brilliant plan that makes it possible now, when it wasn't in, say, 1994, 1997, 2001, or any of the other times the movie ratings system was patently a clusterfuck? Luckily, if saying "pretty please" to theater chains doesn't work, these dickheads have an even worse idea: a new rating.

Yes, a whole new rating between R and NC-17, that would be less restrictive than an R, but not carry the stigma of an NC-17. And they know it'll work, because nobody's tried anything like it for... SEVENTEEN YEARS.

You can't create a rating between R and NC-17. There's no continuum between them on which to place it. An R rating means you have to have an adult with you if you're under 17. An NC-17 means you can't get in at all if you're under 17. The only thing you can do that's between those two points is increase the number of adults required per child. So maybe they'll have an R3 rating - children under 17 admitted only in the company of three parents and/or guardians. That way, they'll sell more tickets, too! It's a win-win for anyone with an IQ under, well, seventeen.

To give them infinitesimal amounts of credit, the MPAA is making a couple of much-needed changes, such as making the raters' names public and allowing filmmakers to appeal ludicrous, illogical decisions by pointing out how ludicrous or illogical they are. But they wouldn't be doing any of this if they weren't feeling the pressure of unrated DVD's, the Internet, cable TV, and a society which, despite all protestations to the contrary, loves nothing more than fucking, killing, and watching people fuck and kill.

As an institution, the MPAA will probably be around for a few more decades, imposing its will through cultural inertia, familiarity, and marketing. But as an actual force in society, the MPAA makes things worse for the rest of us, and is therefore by definition DUMB.