Hail to the 1st Final thoughts

So what more can be said about the 1st Amendment? Plenty, but I will try to keep this from becoming a novel-length blog.

As I said before, all writers, artists, musicians, and film-makers should be able to defend their work under this amendment. Let’s take a look at film-makers. In 1922 the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), then the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association, was established to bring together the disparate pieces of the film industry in order to advance their best interests. That would have been fine if that were all that happened as a result.

In 1930 the Motion Pictures Production Code was established to provide self-censorship to the industry. This remained in place until the MPAA Ratings code replaced it in 1968. This original code was set up by a lay-Catholic and a Jesuit priest; in theory to protect children (I won’t go into the irony of that.) In 1968 the new system was developed to provide artistic freedom to the directors (being able to show nudity etc.) and still inform parents of which films may be acceptable for their children to watch.

Although there have been a few modifications to clarify the levels (PG 13 and NC 17), the basic code has remained the same. The problem comes in when the MPAA ratings board determines that certain scenes will earn a movie a harsher level of ratings. So the studios demand that those scenes be changed, or cut, to make the film fit for the easier rating so that it will be acceptable to a broader swath of people.

This is a restriction of the 1st Amendment by fiscal means. It bastardizes the film=makers vision for his or her artistic output. When I emceed a horror movie premier a few years ago, one of the people in the audience asked me a pertinent question: “Why do PG 13 horror movies suck?” Well, there is your answer. To make a truly horrifying movie, the original vision of the movie must be preserved. When you have to pander to the studios and the MPAA coding, your vision gets lost and the film is watered down. It’s not quite that simple, but that is what is at the core of it. Self-censorship for monetary gain is still censorship.

In regards to artistic censorship take a look at the American Family Association’s reaction to displays of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. They called on the government to stop giving grants to him and other artists whose work they deemed morally indefensible. Simple solution: if you don’t like it don’t go see it.

If you buy music from Wal-Mart, you will never hear any swear words. Once upon a time the radio stations used to bleep out any of, to use George Carlin’s phraseology, the seven deadly words you can’t say on TV. But now bands have to do two cuts of any verse that has a swear word.

And it is not just swear words anymore. Take a listen sometime to the original version of the song Laid by the group James. This was one of the earliest examples (1993) of what I was just talking about.The original lyrics of the song: “This bed is on fire with passion and love, the neighbors complain about the noises above, but she only cums when she’s on top.” In order to get airplay, and to sell their record at Wal-Mart, they changed the one phrase (in the radio and Wal-Mart versions) to “she only sings when she’s on top.” Anyone would recognize that as a euphemism for the same exact thing, but changing the one word made it acceptable. Pretty ridiculous, don’t you think?

What would Lenny Bruce say about this? We know what George Carlin thought; he kept saying it continuously right up until he died.

Censorship can be overt or it can be subtle and progressive. It can exist in those who say they value freedom. And it can lie just under the surface of seemingly innocuous things. It can be wielded heavily in the hands of those who are in authority with pepper-spray and handcuffs. It can be said to be in defense of children, when it is actually in defense of the somewhat dubious moral code of those whose greatest hidden wishes are for power and control.

They will say that it can be used justly as in “not shouting fire in a crowded theater.” You really don’t know how sick I am of that trite cliche`. It is a rationalization only, and is unworthy for use in any intelligent conversation on the subject of censorship.

Here and now, in this theater called the United States of America, I am shouting that censorship is FIRE! You can hear it and run for cover, or you can stand up and begin to subdue the flames. Your choice.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tchris on February 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Hear hear!
    Remember that “yelling fire in a crowded theater” is acceptable in this case because there is one. Which makes that argument worthless for their needs.

    If people took responsibility for their actions instead of trying to weasel out of rules (“I didn’t technically break that rule so I can’t get in trouble” even though we know what you were up to), then a lot of these silly debates would go right out the window.


    • Too true. This has become a nation of sound-bytes replacing intelligent conversation.And the people with the power want to control what little conversation remains. And if that conversation is successfully subdued, we all lose.


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