17 January 2007

Ironic Surrealism

... or is that surreal irony?

On occasion, the self-important press in various parts of the entertainment industry manages to come up with a story that — intentionally or otherwise — demonstrates the almost-complete insulation of industry leaders from reality. This morning, it's the goofy Variety, with its desperately pretentious vocabulary (e.g., CBS is The Eye, ABC is The Alphabet Network, and viewers are auds), desperately mathematically challenged content, and desperately ill-informed reviews. The headline of the moment is this one:

MPAA, NATO Reform Ratings System

Before you check to see whether this reform involves NATO-standard 7.62mm or 5.56mm small arms, you'll need to understand that this NATO is the National Association of Theater Owners. In other words, one of the few large organizations more rife with conflicts of interest, historical animosity, and almost complete absence of purpose than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The real irony, though, is that it concerns the absolutely broken ratings system... and that this headline points out exactly why. On the one hand, the system concerns itself almost exclusively with sex, with occasional nods toward naughty words and naughty deeds. It's ok for an action hero to deliver a beating that would kill a healthy individual if the blows were real, and get an R (or possibly even PG-13) rating... but don't even think about an erect penis. And that's where the headline comes back to haunt this story. The ratings board consists of "parents" (all from Southern California, one might add, but that's yet another problem for yet another time). I'd be fascinated to find out if any of those parents had any significant military or law-enforcement experience.

In fact, I'd put down $20 that not more than one member of the ratings panels does. The only explanation I can come up with is that the "parents" on the panels must not understand anything about the application of violence, but do have some kind of fear related to the application of hormones. In all probability, these parents were also shocked by even the concept of Lady Chatterly's Lover — they'd probably drop dead at Naked Lunch — and they find it difficult or impossible to separate the fiction from the reality. Separating fictional violence from real violence, though, seems second nature. So, too, does a strangely self-denying treatment of substance use and abuse.

I'm not advocating censorship and pseudorestrictive ratings; I'm advocating honesty in what the MPAA really believes. Dammit, hypothetical-Peoria-through-the-eyes-of-Encino is not the gold standard — or, indeed, any standard — for how to categorize films. And Peoria (90 miles from here) has its red-light district, too...

NATO isn't just coming to a theater near you. It's already there.

(Oops, pressed post before I was done.) And, on top of that, this is an industry that is pretending to pay attention to, and be sensitive to, flyover country's values... but doesn't consider having a film play in flyover country important enough to determine eligibility for the Academy Awards. A fair number of Oscar candidates, nominees, and even winners have premiered in New York and Los Angeles only during December of year x to gain eligibility for Academy Awards, but were not available in flyover country until year x+1 ... despite that "plays in Peoria" foundation for their ratings.