2005-05-12 / This Week's Attitude

Courts Must End Censoring Tactics Of Movie Sanitizers

This Week

This Week’s AttitudeBy Neil S. Friedman

The fictional Thought Police of George Orwell’s “1984,” written over 55 years ago in which a totalitarian government dominates every facet of life, are alive and well in America’s heartland.

I’m aware there are Christian fundamentalist groups — and others — that abhor some of the content in contemporary movies and music, but I was unaware, until recently, of the degree to which they’ve been imposing their sanctimonious beliefs. And, more dangerously, their campaign has attracted a budding minority seeking more control over what their children see and hear. (Might I suggest improved, more vigilant parental responsibility and guidance as an alternative?)

The cable channel American Movie Classics recently presented a 45-minute documentary, “Beep! Censoring Hollywood,” produced by ABC News Productions (which, ironically, is an arm of the family-friendly Disney Company) that demonstrates how a handful of self-appointed movie sanitizers profess they are making films “safe for American families.” It also explores the broader debate of censorship vs. artistic freedom in the digital age and addresses the motives and passions of various political and entertainment advocates involved in this controversy.

A snip here, an edit there, is making Hollywood honchos crazy because it’s done without the consent of the films’ directors, film studios and distributors of home entertainment products.

Several small businesses, with names such as CleanFlicks and Family Flix, purchase copies of popular Hollywood movies then “cleanse” them by editing out sex, violence and foul language — without authorization of the copyright owners. These homemade, “family-friendly” versions are then soli-cited to consumers, but not one penny goes to the property’s rightful owners. The businesses claim they can edit the legitimately obtained movies because it is their right to alter what they own. That argument is unconvincing because the homemade versions are just as illegal as bootleg copies sold on the street.

Another group with the same goal, ClearPlay, uses a different tactic. It sells software that allows consumers to view purchased or rented DVDs that automatically edits out what it deems unsuitable material for younger viewers. While I don’t agree with this approach, it does not appear to breach copyright laws because it doesn’t tamper with and retail the product.

Gratefully, the rights of these self-appointed sanitizers are being challenged in the courts by, among others, movie studios and the Directors Guild of America, the directors’ union.

Movie ratings took form nearly 40 years ago (and since amended to reflect society’s shifting behavior) when there was a growing concern about the liberties in language and nudity being taken by up-and-coming filmmakers. Today, when conscientious parents determine whether or not a particular movie is fit for their children, they should explain that judgment and appropriately punish children who defy the prohibition.

When someone objects to a movie’s content, as per its rating or review, they have an option; no one’s forcing them to see or buy it. It’s not difficult and doesn’t take much effort or discipline to ignore something you don’t like.

That’s essentially the point! Consumers have a choice without resorting to undemocratic tactics that violates the tenets of freedom.

Parents are supposed to instill in their children a sense of morality then be responsible for maintaining that lesson and pay special attention to their children’s leisure habits. While it is critical for parents to be aware of their children’s drug or alcohol use, it is just as important to know what they’re doing, whether it be surfing the Internet, watching television or playing with friends.

Everyone has a right to an opinion, but when individuals and groups start broadly editing bodies of work to correspond with their faith-based beliefs without the sanction of the materials’ creators and owners, it’s barefaced censorship that must be stopped and outlawed.

Beauty — or, in this instance, aversion — is in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, writers, filmmakers and other artists must be allowed to flourish with nothing but their creative abilities to limit them.

As we move forward in the 21st century, it appears that a few influential, yet self-righteous groups of Americans are turning back the cultural clock based solely on their narrow-minded concepts of what is acceptable. More importantly, they are attempting to repress the rights of the boundless creative process.

Let’s hope when the lawsuits concerning these issues are heard in the nation’s courts, they put these prim, prudish puritanical prigs in their place or send them packing — back to the 1800s!

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