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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Self-censorship in the Film Industry

           It's family movie night.   You've brought home a DVD that has received rave reviews.  Your mother-in-law, spouse, three kids, and a neighbor kid are all there to join in viewing the movie on you 50" flat screen TV.  Then it starts:  a few F-bombs and gratuitous s**ts are uttered, clothes come off, people engage in sexual acts, heads are graphically blown off, and all in the name of entertainment.  Is all of this graphic display needed to get a point across?

           Pre-60s films were able to suggest activity without getting graphic about it and it worked quite well, thank you.  We knew that Bogie, James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson were really tough guys that you wouldn't want to mess around with and yet you never heard them utter a profanity.  In fact, I think a tough guy who speaks intelligently can be much more frightening than some obnoxious street thug whose every other word begins with an "f".

          Likewise, when you saw a couple kiss passionately, the camera might pan away as the scene faded with billowing curtains or waves crashing on the beach.  You could imagine what was going to happen after that and didn't have to be titillated with a lesson in romantic biology and the kids could be left with a mystery that they would be unlikely to question.  Come on, let the characters have their moment of privacy and let us get on with the real story.

          I'm not saying to eliminate the genres that are now mainstream.  I'm just saying to let the pornography, slasher, gore, or whatever genres that are distasteful to many of us remain separate from mainstream film releases.   There has been a routine influx of what was formerly taboo slipping into films without adding anything particularly worthwhile to the stories.

          As an example, check out the edited for television versions of R rated films and see how much of the film is lost in the censoring.  To cite a specific example I like to use the Viet Nam war film Platoon.   When I first saw this in the theater I was so distracted by the profuse profanity that it detracted greatly from my enjoyment of the movie.  Later I saw the edited version on television and it seemed like a much better movie without the profanity.

          Some may argue that profanity is necessary for realism because that's the way people, like gang members for example, talk in real life.   My argument is that movies and certain popular forms of music like (c)rap have set a standard for popular language usage and that since the early 70s, profanity is much more broadly accepted then it was prior to that time.  When I was in high school in the late 60s I heard very little profanity.  Now I can listen to the middle school kids using language that would have made a sailor of old blush--odds are they got this from movies and music.

          My topic for today's discussion:

Should the Film industry exert more self-censorship?

        Would the quality of the resulting product be improved?  Would any artistic merit be lost through censoring that which might be objectionable to some?   What benefit was gained by being able to show anything and say anything we wanted in films?  What films can you think of that you did not enjoy as much as you might have because of some element that could have been left out?  


  1. Wow, Lee. This is a very brave post, because I feel the majority of people aren't going to agree with you. But, of course, you're entitled to your opinion. I don't agree with you, but I see where you're coming from.

    But didn't you just say the other day that you disliked Pulp Fiction until you looked deeper? Pulp fiction is chock full of profanities. Isn't it? But it ended up o a favorites list, right? Why?

    It's all just growing with the times. Art transforms with the emotions and desires of those who make it. Things change. Life changes. Movies, music, art changes along with it. (PS: I can't believe you put down a style of music! You! Lee, who is open to so many styles! LOL)

    Perhaps you should do what you did with Pulp Fiction? Search for the deeper meaning in these movies you feel are distastful.

    I'm pretty sure the directors have exact reasons for including specific things. No scene in a movie is kept unless it is vital to the story and the way they want it to be told and protrayed.

    Bad things happen in this world. It's either going to be seen in the movies, or in real life. There's no point sheltering ourselves when the world is just what the world is.

    Great post! Good luck keeping up with everyone's opinions!!!

  2. Once, we were in Germany in a rented condominium, mother-in-law(s), father-in-law, grandchildren, daughter, son-in-law all sat down to enjoy a late tv session (after all we were on holidays), and as we switched channels, lo and behold the full porn just came on without any notice!

    When I was little, whenever there was a kissing scene, my Mom would explain and say they were whispering. And here I was watching and wondering how they could hear each other when they talked at the same time.

    Nowadays, my children are the ones bringing movies into the home through downloads etc.. And so the movies do not go through Malaysian censorship (that could really chop up a movie). And so there are scenes that I do not have enough palms to cover my sons four eyes, plus they would tell me they have seen the scenes before I saw them.

    Yes there should be an in-home censorship, but it can be a losing battle.

  3. I think entertainment is a reflection of society rather than the other way around. Society drops a moral level, so does the entertainment. However, it is an influence, because it reinforces that standard.
    Censorship begins in the home and sadly most parents don't do it. They scream at the entertainment industry to clean up their act, not for the sake of their children but so they can continue to be lazy and uninvolved in their children's lives.
    Anyhoo, that's my opinion.
    And as a former foster parent, I can tell you - real life is way beyond what you will ever see in a movie!

  4. With videos and dvd it's been going on for years, I well remember back in the 1980s my mother-in -law and her new husband to be came to spend the week-end with us, I knew my mother - in -law like a good thriller so got a video called"Killer Nun" well, there was our guests my husband young daughter and myself all seated to watch this film, Honestly it was the most disgusting film I had ever seen and could feel the atmosphere getting uncomfortable, it was porn at it's very worse, my husband switched it off and we all had a good laugh but my daughter saw things she should not have, there was no warning on the video as to it's content. I don't think my mother-in-law ever forgot it.


  5. Censorship is a touchy subject.

    I remember when my wife and I went to see Beowulf last year. Afterwards, she commented it was a pretty strong R and I had to tell her it was PG-13. She was shocked. I guess because it was animated, they got away with some questionable stuff.

  6. The film industry is all about money, power, fame, and position - it will not exercise self-censorship unless "there is something in it for them."

    The changing standards are out fault. We have become desensitized toward sin. We have allowed them to go further and further by purchasing their products, viewing their products, etc.

    As mores have changed (much of the time for the worse) values have changed, for the worse.

    The standard has never moved nor changed. We are willing to accept more and more to be entertained, placated, sedated, and even motivated. Asking the film industry to regulate itself is like asking the wolve to watch the henhouse. There is to much at stake.

    See, what has happened is what is called the "law of diminshed returns." The more one has or sees of something the more one wants. Films have had to become more bloodier, more violent, more sexual, and more graphic to hold audiences.

    The lid has been lifted from Pandora's Cinematic Box and it won't be put back on. The responsibility lies with the consumer. Start giving them dollars and they will change.

    With the law of diminshed returns the public as a whole does not want censorship. The opening day profits on many of these movies staggering - not to mention the overall profit from all sources.

    I would love to see Robert Denero, Joe Peschi, Al Pacino in Cassino, Goodfellas, Insomnia, and all the other great ganster movies with out swearing. I think it could be done. But alas, I am growing in my censorship at my late age both as as a Christian and as a movie lover.

    We have thrown away a good number of movies that have any nudity or one than one or two "F-Bombs." I know, Rome wasn't built in a day, let me progress at my pace.

    The point is it is too late to shut the gate when the cattle have left the barnyard.

  7. Some great comments and arguments so far. I'm still listening.

  8. --> What films can you think of that you did not enjoy as much as you might have because of some element that could have been left out?

    This could be a very long list. I'll just mention one: On my Dirty Dozen Movies list the other day, I included "One From The Heart". This is a movie I enjoy for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being relationships that the movie calls to mind for me regarding a couple of persons dear to me, both of whom have passed away.

    But I always recommend "One From The Heart" with a pang of guilt because there are a couple of gratuitous topless scenes in the movie involving Teri Garr. TOTALLY unnecessary nudity that doesn't add one single thing to the story.

    I could go on and on, naming almost countless movies that I would have enjoyed more had the gratuitous nudity and violence been left on the cutting room floor.

    L. Diane Wolfe said:
    --> I think entertainment is a reflection of society rather than the other way around.

    This is not entirely correct. In fact, it works both ways. Often people in culture-molding positions deliberately set out to remake the mores and morality of a society through their movies, music, art, psychological babble, etc.

    I could easily prove this by quoting directly the words of some of these people, but there's not much point in putting a lot of work into any one comment since a new Blog Bit will be posted here tomorrow and this one will already be ancient history.

    But the bottom line is this: The Bible foretold all that we are experiencing in the world today. It also said that One is coming who will correct the errors of our nation and our world. This One will separate the wheat from the tares, the latter which will be bundled and burned. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Anyone who thinks there will be no negative repercussions for producing the immorality that today passes for "entertainment" is only fooling himself/herself temporarily. And I believe VERY temporarily.

    In the meantime, does anyone know how I can edit Teri Garr's boobs out of my copy of "One From The Heart"?

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

  9. Good post. My family and I would see more movies if more family friendly guidelines were in place. Censorship is a touchy issue, and I'm not sure the total solution. I do know that it cannot be good for our youth to be immersed in things unhealthy to the mind and spirit. Thanks for "Tossing this Out"!
    Have a good weekend,

  10. Oh gosh, I could write a lengthy treatise on this one Lee, but I will refrain.

    The Motion Picture Association (MPAA) along with the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) have established guidelines with their rating system G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, and they also include information about a film's content that enables parents and caregivers the opportunity to make an educated judgment on a particular film - so in essence the industry does police themselves.

    The problem comes sometimes in interpretation of what is appropriate, but that is always a parent's decision.

    Over the years, the rating system has relaxed the boundaries to reflect what society deems as acceptable.

    For me personally, I find very little being produced today that I consider appropriate for children and teens, but that's my opinion.

    Movies are produced for all audience age levels - each person has to be the judge as to what they prefer.

    Frankly, most profanity and action violence in many screenplays is a cop-out and oftentimes detracts from the story.

    I couldn't even begin to tell you the number of films I have found to be offensive and boring because they have become formulaic in attempting to grab the audience through shock value.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm far from being prudish - it just has to be appropriate.

    I will say this as well, I am strongly against advertising PG-13 and R rated films on television during times when children may be viewing.

  11. I think it's just a changing of the times. I don't even really notice those things unless they go to absolute extremes, but then again I've been watching movies like that for my entire life... I don't remember billowing curtains.

    I'm not really sure where I stand on the matter. I think some of it could be left out, but we're so conditioned for sensory overload now, we don't notice the "norms" any more.

  12. I don't know if I would want censorship...yet by the same token, sometimes the long arduous sex scenes can be over done. Foul language in an army platoon in the midst of battle doesn't bother me, but when in casual conversation it does bother me.

    Movies should be rated so that you have an idea of what to expect (and keep away if you choose to)

    Oddly...what does bother me in
    SMOKING!! Isnt that crazy ? It irritates the crap out of me more than anything else!!


  13. Well Arlee, I don't know that I could give you a proper answer to this.
    On one hand, I can live with old black and whites, no cursing, no sex. I can actually feel more emotion in these films. I love the drama. And oh are they ever over dramatic! I would be totally satisfied watching nothing else but those films. Not to mention, I am a background nut. I study the backgrounds of movies and find the old black and whites fascinating!

    On the other hand, one of my all time favorite movies is "Goodfellas". Blood, guts, violence and mild sex.

    I can't explain it. I guess censoring should be done by individual tastes and circumstances.

    But oh do I miss "The Good Old Days" ! Love Di ♥

  14. Thank you all for your well thought out comments. I did want to clarify my position. I would never call for outright censorship by the government or something like that unless it invades my space where I and my family have no choice but to be subjected to it. The FCC does this appropriately. I also think profanity should not be permitted on T shirts, bumper stickers, etc. But I think the entertainment industry should crack down on some of the immorality that it allows-- though I know it won't happen.

    Jessica--I don't recall exactly why I didn't like Pulp Fictionwhen I first saw it, but it could have been that I was partially distracted by the profanity. I think many movies today have gratuitously addly unnecessary things for who knows what reason. See what I have to say in my Friday post about the film Lost Highway. As far as rap I find most of it extremely annoying and redundant, not to mention a lot of the profanity.

    Gregg -- As usual I think you've said it very well.

    StMc --Likewise Stephen I think you got it right.

    Paula -- You are correct that it is an industry standard, but I tend to think it's more for show and tends to be arbitrary and inconsistent. Like the example Alex gave above, the rating doesn't really tell you all you need to know. I try to go to certain review site at times (reviews in the L.A. Times frequently can't be trusted) but it's kind of a hassle. I'm not a prude either--I've watched some pretty shocking stuff, but usually it has added nothing to the value of the art or my life.

    Tracy -- It's call desensitization. You see certain things so often that you eventually just accept it.

    Sig -- I'm not calling for censorship that is exerted from the outside. I'm in lala land hoping that artistic creators will use some discernment in their work to give us something that is uplifting, redeeming, or is purposeful.

    Diana -- I think filmmakers can learn a lot from the old b & w films.

  15. To Mr. McCarthy, before you go editin' boobs out of a film, remember-the human body is a work of art. Well, women's bodies. So nudity is ok as long as it's Charlize Theron doin' the disrobing.

    I jest. While I admit to liking to look at a pretty female form in the buff as much as the next guy, films do go a little overeboard and I'm not sure I buy the "every scene is critical to the story" or "art reflects society" arguments.

    What do I think, Lee?

    Sex sells. So does violence.

    And over time, you build up a tolerance to them. Just like a drug. So there has to be more to get your fix. Remember, "Dirty Harry" was considered a violent, violent film. Now it can be shown on television uncensored, and I'm not sure any movie violence is off-limits.

    Another way of looking at is as a variation on the Hegelian Dialectic.

    In the early seventies, "All In The Family" pushed the television envelope by (gasp) flushing a toilet. "Charlie's Angels" was considered risque.

    Filmmakers and programmers continued to push the envelope, so that over time, thanks to the magic of cable TV, what was racy became old school.

    Now, turn on most FX programming and the stars are dry-humping on camera.

    My solution: Turn the idiot box off and read a book.


  16. LC -- You are correct. And actually I don't watch much TV at all. But we keep breaking new barriers and pretty soon it will be anything goes.
    Just tonight I was watch Nightmare Alley, a Tyrone Power film from 1947. The movie was dealing with a lot of very risgue and mature issues, but nothing was really "shown". I knew what we going on but they didn't need to get graphic to get it across. If that film were made today, it would have all kinds of nudity, sex, language, and violence. And they'd probably leave out any redemptive lessons about God and instead show Christianity as evil.

    Things have changed, we have become desensitized to the change, and it has not made as any better as a society.

    You are quite correct. Acceptable levels of "entertainment" sexuality and violence are being forever relaxed in a way reminiscent of The Hegelian Dialectic:

    Filmmakers continually push for more freedom to put on the screen what they believe will get them additional attention (while remolding society's standards of morality). The "establishment" sets up rating guidelines, but these guidelines are also being moved continually to the left to accomodate the leftward movement of the filmmakers.

    Until eventually what you wind up with is a society that accepts on the family television set images and words that wouldn't have even been tolerated on the silver screen by the society 50 years ago. Meanwhile, the establishment can still maintain that it has attempted to forewarn viewers with its guidelines (which are now ridiculously out-of-date).

    [Just like I said yesterday, that those still images at the end of the movie "The Hangover" would have earned it an X rating back in the mid 1970s!]

    R-LEE-B ~
    Hey, buddy! Guess what...
    [OK, time's up.]
    A new development has developed just since yesterday. To my happy surprise, I have found out that I will be out of town this weekend. On Sunday and Monday, L.C. and I will be in... "VEGAS, BABEEE!"

    So, looks like I'm gonna have to post my "10 Favorite Love & Breakup Songs" list tomorrow (Saturday) instead of on Monday. Monday I will be in another state. Either a state of delirious joy, with a Vegas showgirl on each arm and a check for 3 million dollars in my wallet, or else a hungover state in Nevada. But either way, I won't be here to post.

    So, I'm posting early (tomorrow afternoon), and I believe DiscConnected is going to do the same. And may Lady Luck smile down upon us!

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

  18. Lee - I probably wasn't clear enough on my first comment, but the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA)issues commentary on individual films provided they are given a rating by MPAA- (some films are not, so viewer beware.) CARA provides the reasons for a film's rating they will discuss everything from sensuality, language, smoking, drug use and violence. I highlight this information in my weekly "Popcorn Report" @


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