The Motion Picture Association of America is a talented organization. They have managed to become the forefront offenders of two issues I most like to drone on about the importance of - intellectual property freedom and quality of cinema. And they've recently done yet something else profoundly stupid.
Strap in. This one's going to take a few articles to hash out to my satisfaction.
I hate the MPAA. I can't say it any more clearly or accurately. Everything they stand for I find reprehensible. The methods they use to enact what they stand for I find reprehensible. They are essentially a secret censorship agency that is accountable to no one, especially the public they claim to serve. "They" is the only way to refer to them, since while they represent several entertainment production studios and companies, their actual employees, including these people's qualifications and demographics, are much less certain. They have nothing to do with the government, as many people seem to assume, and thus are without even the dubious credibility that would bestow. The ratings they place on movies are without a transcribed set of criteria or standards - even, as far as we can tell, a private one, much less a publicly-published one. And these mystical, secretly-concocted ratings directly influence how movies are produced, released, and ultimately, who gets to watch them.
We, the movie-going public, have no say in the decisions. We aren't even allowed to know exactly on what these decisions are based, or whom exactly is making them for us. We just accept them. And the so MPAA keeps doing it.
Their defense against critics has always been the ever-popular "family values" stance. As a parent myself, I can understand the need for aid when deciding to what your children should not be exposed. But I want to be reassured that the aid I'm getting accurately reflects what I believe in, for myself and my child. I have many more objections about their rulings that children should watch the innuendo-laden, comically violent fests of stupidity that are movies like the Scary Move franchise rather than an amusingly satirical film such as But I'm a Cheerleader because it happens to deal with issues of homosexuality than the other way around. I don't even know who these people really are. How do I know I agree with the mandates and presuppositions they are placing upon the education and intelligence of my own child?
Lately, they have started taking steps to make more information about their rating process available to movie-goers. Completely independent of the fact, I'm sure, that Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated raised a huge stir about their shady practices. But while detailing their criteria is a good step, I still see little about revealing the individuals who apply that criteria. Without a completely transparent system, there is no complete accountability.
And then there's the filmmaker's side of it. If you make a film that the MPAA doesn't approve of, and you refuse to accept their rating or to make the changes to suggest for a better rating, your film will suffer. It will not be in wide release or have marketing support. If it's rated NC-17, or unrated, huge retail chains like Blockbuster and Wal-Mart will not rent or sell it.
If you do what the MPAA tells you, however, they're happy, the studios are happy, and your film is allowed to see the light of day. What a nice system for fostering artistic creativity and an interested, involved movie audience.
And I haven't heard a damn thing about their intentions to change that anytime soon.
Next: I'll go into more detail about their assault on potential pirates (which is all of us, by the way - guilty until proven otherwise) and cover how their recent smoking ban only reaffirms their commitment to degrading movie-goers.
Note: The image of John Waters (by David Shankbone) I included may have only a tenuous connection to the actual article. But I'll take any opportunity I can to throw in him. Have you seen his CourtTV show, "'Til Death Do Us Part?" It is awesome.