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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What if we abolished the MPAA?

The latest fracas involving the MPAA — the board that rates films for release in the United States — concerns the indie Blue Valentine, which has received an NC-17 rating for its sexual content, which is actually fairly minimal and mostly not terribly, you know, sexy. The film does, however, feature an instance of Ryan Gosling pleasuring Michelle Williams orally, though not in any way that is graphic: we know what he’s doing, but we’re not giving a closeup on it, and there isn’t even any nudity in the scene to speak of. Female sexual pleasure always seems to get the MPAA’s hackles up… never mind that male sexual pleasure — up to and including scenes no more explicit than Blue Valentine’s of women pleasuring men orally — regularly receives an R rating.

Whenever we hear crap like this — like the recent to-do over Hatchet II, which was released unrated after the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17 for violence no worse than R-rated films regularly get — it’s tempting to wonder whether we could just get rid of the damn MPAA. My Film.com colleague C. Robert Cargill pondered this recently, and didn’t come to any positive conclusion:

The truth is that parents possess neither the time nor the resources to prescreen every film they show to their children — so they need some kind of guide to let them know what’s safe. And in a world where artists and corporations are always pushing the envelope in order to titillate some cash out of your wallet, a world without a review board would be 1) a mix of the entertainment you have now and 2) some of the most extreme, sickest cinema you’ve ever seen.

Take for example the internet. It isn’t rated, and it is harder to avoid offensive content than it is to find it. I have watched a lot of unrated and NC-17 films in my lifetime. I can tell you firsthand that I have never, ever seen a single film rated such that didn’t deserve it. The two films making waves now, Hatchet 2 and I Spit on Your Grave,, are the purest example of adults only-horror entertainment that I’ve seen recently. Neither film deserved an R rating and I wouldn’t tell a single parent that either was okay for their child. What I have seen is a number of R rated films that should have been NC-17.

Now, here, I agree: I wouldn’t mind, if we’re stuck with the MPAA, if it rated films more stringently: there should be more movies completely cut off from children by an NC-17 rating. But that’s not going to happen, because as much as the MPAA is supposedly about warning parents about a film’s content, the board also works for Hollywood, which is primarily concerned with making money. It’s almost too easy for the MPAA to get away with slapping an NC-17 on indies and/or films such as Blue Valentine that were never going to appeal to Hollywood’s cash cows — teenaged boys and young men — because it doesn’t hurt the studios to do so.

So: What if we abolished the MPAA? Would another MPAA spring up under a different name? Have other options — such as Web sites like Screen It! and CAP Alert — made the MPAA redundant? Or are we stuck with the MPAA for the foreseeable future?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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