The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Ratings Game

I just watched the 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated on Google video (bless online video sites!). The doc is an expose of the MPAA's (Motion Picture Association of America, hereafter referred to as film fascists) arbitrary ratings "system". In sum, the film demonstrates that a shadowy body of unknown American citizens determines the ratings of films, and that anything deemed objectionable to these people will be slapped with an NC-17 rating, which effectively restricts the film's audience, exposure, revenue, etc.

I was reminded of this by, of all things, a student essay I graded just before the holidays. In an otherwise fairly mediocre essay, the student had a very interesting section on the V-chip. If you haven't heard of it, it is a device parents can install on their televisions to block out, say, all R-rated programming. Seems harmless, right? Despite its apparently innocuous intentions, the V-chip, as well as the MPAA, perpetuates the dominant ideology.

How does it do this? Think about it for a moment: a very violent war movie in which people are graphically decapitated (or, think Sin City) receives an R-rating, but a film discussing homosexuality, even if it is devoid of any explicit sexual content, gets slapped with an NC-17. Thus, though even if one were to admit that both films are objectionable, the rating tells us that something is more objectionable than something else.

Incidentally, the Europeans have a sensibility opposite that of North Americans: many European films display overt sexual acts, etc, but it is only the violent movies that receive the most restricted ratings, whereas in this part of the world, it is the complete opposite (Note: I'm not making this up, but the MPAA considers any sexual position other than missionary and woman-on-top aberrant!)

I wonder what Roland Barthes would have to say about all this.

I just received word today that Neophilologus, a Dutch journal, received my article today, so fingers crossed on that one. Now, I must get back to Tome Jones (no typo).


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