Canada Censorship News

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hollywood - Liberal or Conservative

John Doyle, great television columnist for The Globe and Mail, recently started an article with this wonderful declaration:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hollywood and the entire U.S. entertainment industry teems with people who are described in the U.S. political vernacular as “liberals.”
He goes on to explain that this is incorrect, and that many television performers are deeply conservative. The adjective he uses is "nutbar." .And yet the notion that Hollywood is liberal persists. According to a study conducted by a religious think tank:
Nearly half of Americans (45%) say Hollywood and the makers of movies and TV entertainment shows treat religion unfavorably, compared with 31% who see them as neutral and 16% who believe they are friendly toward religion.
It is true that religion plays a very small role in mainstream entertainment, and when it appears, it is rarely a force for good. Despite that, the general tone of many films is conservative. Romances still follow the literally  classic new comedy format of traditional couple formation, no matter how outrageous the blocking events become (I'm thinking Bridesmaids here). Disney's earliest princess sang that one day her prince would come, but the newer crop still want to be up there (Ariel) or out of here (Belle) because that's where the best men are. Time and again the spunky independent woman turns into mush once the man comes along.

Perhaps the best example of this is (the beautiful) Caitlin Clarke's character in Dragonslayer. When the film begins, she is the brave village lad who leads an expedition to hire a sorcerer. Once he's brought back to the village, she reveals herself to be a girl, and is soon in need of rescue. Keeping with traditional roles, her father makes a sword for the young sorcerer, while she makes a shield. (However, it is at least a nod at equality - in Arthurian legends, the sheath was at least as powerful as the sword).

Meanwhile, the essential trope of the action/western/spy/caper/thriller/road/horror movie is the individual (usually male) hero who restores social order because institutions and groups are powerless and/or corrupt. It's not unusual for this hero to be a Christ figure. The one group that may be useful is the American military - helping out in Transformers and Avatar, among many others.  

So if Hollywood is conservative, why is it often accused of being liberal? Here's a theory: Suppose you wanted to make liberal people into conservatives. You are not going to reach them by blatantly praising conservatism. Instead, you promise rebellion, freedom, artistic risk - all the things that drive conservatives away - but you don't need them anyway. Then, once you have the liberals attention and sympathy, you twist the plot: The free thinker is punished, the free woman married off. Social order is restored, and all the good people in movie land are happy. You will be too, if you submit to order. Okay, this may be a little paranoid, but it does account for some Hollywood paradoxes. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bullying II

Since I last wrote about Bully, two boards in Canada have classified the film. British Columbia and Alberta both rated it PG, with various warnings. Read the BC decision here, and read the Alberta decision here. BC's decision, coming earlier, got media coverage in the United States - a chance to show off the more enlightened boards here. It has always been my belief that our boards are better than the MPAA, as they are part of the government, and therefore ultimately accountable to the population, whereas the MPAA is private and only accountable to the film industry.

The other development has been the more or less admission that the ratings controversy has been great publicity. As this article states, a "well-oiled Weinstein publicity machine has landed the issue on network TV and talk shows" and according to the director, the petition to decrease the ratings has been "a miracle and a dream come true. ... I can tell you straight up though, we couldn’t have dreamed this up."

Yeah, sure. Disney should have hired these folks to promote John Carter. If nothing else, they would have come with a less bland title.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Warning - Family Guy Has Cartoon Violence

As reported in the Globe and Mail, Global Television has been ordered to apologize for not providing a violence warning prior to an episode of Family Guy in which Bugs Bunny is killed by Elmer Fudd. There's a link to the scene on the Globe and Mail page. I don't think I need to put a link here, as the episode is seven years old, so by now anyone who watches Family Guy has seen it, and those who don't watch Family Guy are happier not seeing it.

Anyone familiar with the show knows that 1) it is frequently violent, and 2) among other things, it takes a delight in skewering childhood favourites. Similar scenes include Wiley Coyote catching the Road Runner, Yogi Bear being stabbed, and Lucy being beaten for her football prank on Charlie Brown. I don't always find Family Guy amusing - sometimes I find it disturbing - but I've seen it enough to be prepared for anything, and know it is not appropriate for younger children.

Presumably the viewer that filed the complaint was not prepared, and given the broadcast time of 5:00 PM, they may not have expected something this crude at that hour. So I don't think the viewer overreacted by filing a complaint. A number of people have noted that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the agency that ordered the apology, is the same organization that previously banned the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing, and are suggesting that the organization is too aggressive. The situations are not the same: the episode is not being banned or censored. Global provided warnings about language and sexuality, but did not provide any warnings about violence. The Standards Council determined that a violence warning was justified, and determined that Global erred in not providing that. I assume all future episodes will include a violence warning, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Bullying

The upcoming documentary film Bully has received a Restricted rating from the MPAA, resulting in some fuss and consternation, including an online petition to lower the rating. There's a concern that the rating will limit the attendance of teens who should see the film. There's nothing like a good old ratings controversy to get some publicity. The producers had to know that the amount of swearing in the film was risking an R rating, not to mention the more serious consequence of parents and other authorities (such as church groups) shunning the film - not because of the rating, but simply because of the language.

None of the Canadian Boards have rated Bully yet, so it remains to be seen how it will be classified here. As a general rule, Canadian Boards are a little less concerned about language elements than the MPAA. In addition Ontario allows for lower ratings that might normally apply for films "where social, historic and documentary significance warrants". This clause was used to justify lower than usual age ratings for Passion of the Christ and Saving Private Ryan. This clause is problematic - if specific violence is harmful for persons below a certain age, how does it become less harmful because the film is of historic significance?

In the interests of consistency, I could suggest the MPAA stick by its rating, and the film will probably gain more by the publicity than it would by having a lower rating. However, unlike the Canadian Boards, the  MPAA and its ratings are not subject to public scrutiny and government oversight. Problems with secrecy and inconsistency in the MPAA were well covered in This Film is Not Yet Rated. So maybe a little pressure on the MPAA is justified.