Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Legislation approved to allow "family friendly" versions of movies

Congress has approved new legislation to permit people to use services that edit theater versions of films to remove sex, language, and violence that they do not want to hear. It is about time. Those who claimed this was a violation of intellectual property rights might just as well say that it violates their copyright and their artistic integrity when people fast forward through their films or leave the room to get a sandwich.

As I noted on this subject here,

Most of the material these companies take out of the films has nothing to do with art and everything to do with marketing. The DGA [Directors Guild] does not object to the adulteration of its members' artistic vision when they enter into multi-million-dollar studio contracts that require them to create a film that meets certain MPAA rating requirements and that also comes with the additional material required to provide "airplane" versions. Those alternates are used not just on airplanes, but also for broadcast television and overseas release. If the DGA is so concerned about artistic integrity, it should work to make those personally supervised versions available to families who want to see them.

[The services that edit films for families] open up new markets to parents who are eager for movies they can share with their children. "Legally Blonde" is no less delightful for the removal of a couple of crude jokes. "Lord of the Rings" is no less stirring because the violence is slightly less graphic.

This is not about artistic vision or about copyright infringement. It is about the right of parents to protect their children from the crude and violent material that Hollywood seems to think is essential for selling movie tickets.


Joe Albert said...
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Joe Albert said...

I wasn't at all aware of this issue, although I do agree with you completely that the service is no different from the somewhat lower-tech hand cupped over eyes. This seems somewhat similar to Marvel's copyright case. I wish I had come up with the idea of this service myself, although I do doubt it's effectiveness, seeing as not only the specific incident, but rather the theme, might be found to be inappropriate. One possible foul road this service might take is trying to "clean" movies based on themes found to be "inappropriate," thus either failing to sufficiently clean the movie or significantly changing it's meaning. True, Lord Of The Rings might still stand this service without losing meaning, but perhaps Hotel Rwanda wouldn't.

Nell Minow said...

You're right, Joe, as usual! But I think that perhaps 80 percent of movies can be trimmed a little without losing any of their artistic merit or entertainment value. After all, as you know, quite often brief bad language or other "mature material" is often inserted as a cynical manipulation of the MPAA ratings process, just to get a particular rating for marketing purposes. Thanks for bringing up the Marvel case, one of several that show how ineffective the traditional intellectual property laws are in dealing with new technologies.

David Apatoff said...

While people have the right to view art through any filter they choose, and even the right to cut up a Rembrandt into little lace doilies once they have paid for it, one would hope that as a cultural matter this practice would be discouraged except for when it comes to shielding the very young and vulnerable.

Technology now enables us to customize our movies, just as we can customize our newspapers, magazines and television, to feed us information that makes us comfortable and reinforces our existing biases. Subscription copies of Time magazine can insert your very own name into the ads, which are already tailored to what people in your zip code want to read. Tivo and Amazon now tell you what you should want to watch and read. And if you choose to believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and really did have WMD, you simply select the version of facts depicted on Fox News and everything is right with the world once again.

Well, there is an important cultural value to the unsettling impact of art, and there is a wisdom to be gained from having to confront the totality of another human being's artistic statement without the luxury of mixing and matching the convenient parts. The fact that the digital world can so easily be custom fit to suit our individual temperament leads to the illusion that the real world is equally malleable. That may be one reason why the country seems to have so many people running around convinced they are absolutely right and unwilling to compromise. To the extent that art makes them think, to the extent that it sensitizes them to human differences and exposes them to a broader range of human experience, it contributes to the great center, the overlap on the Venn diagram where different human beings might find common interests.

So sure, people can avail themselves of personal cyber shields to protect them from the unpleasant parts of movies like Sid & Nancy or Saving Private Ryan, but I would hope this technological ability would be accompanied by a cultural bias that frowns upon and stigmatizes such ostrich like behavior in most circumstances.

PS-- love your blog