CMU School of Drama

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

If You Build A Censorship Machine, They Will Come

Electronic Frontier Foundation: If you have the power to censor other people’s speech, special interests will try to co-opt that power for their own purposes. That’s a lesson the Motion Picture Association of America is learning this year. And it’s one that Internet intermediaries, and the special interests who want to regulate them, need to keep in mind.

11 comments:

Vanessa Ramon said...

This article does a great job at presenting the problem that the Motion Picture Association of America and the special interest groups are facing. My first impression of this article was the the MPAA had too much power with owning six major movie companies and being in charge of assigning the ratings for all movies. That set up really doesn't leave any room for checks and balances so I wasn't surprised when the article mentioned that they had been suspected of rating independent films more harshly. When I got further into the article however, I realized that the problem is much more complex than a monopoly company. If the MPAA was forced to censor smoking and tobacco use in children's shows, then where will the line be drawn for other special interest groups to have a say. After reading this article I realized that this problem is much more complex than it looks at first glance. Perhaps a first step toward fixing the problem is to change the ownership of who has the power to rate movies and maybe create a law which states that no producer of movies can be in charge of the company who rates them. I am interested in learning more about this topic and seeing how this problem progresses.

Jacob Wesson said...

This article is an elaboration of another article I had commented on pertaining to the use of smoking in films that weren't rated R and the group in question's efforts to force the MPAA to reevaluate what content makes something restricted to children 17 and under. The idea that by allowing one special interest to grab the ear of the MPAA will entitle other groups to attempt to take advantage of the precedent to push their agenda through. I agree that special treatment can't be given to one interest, since any "bad" behavior could have potentially fatal outcomes if followed to ridiculous outcomes. I agree with Vanessa that the MPAA has too much power in the first place, and that the interests of money often override the interests of truly monitoring who can see what content. A prime example of this is Suicide Squad, an incredibly violent film with female characters who dress in skimpy outfits that got a PG-13 rating, since there was no blood or actual nudity. By showing the tiniest bit of restraint, film companies are able to circumvent the ratings system to achieve a rating that will allow the broadest audience to pay money to see the film, regardless of whether or not the content is actually appropriate for the audience that can see the film. Power has to shift from the big companies into the hands of people who don't have dollar signs in their eyes before any of the real change can occur, but I also worry that that could lead to hyper-sensitivity. The key to the issue is in finding the middle ground.

Brennan Felbinger said...

Censorship certainly is a slippery slope. The founding fathers may have been misguided on many topics, but the right to free speech in the US seems like a very well thought through idea. It completely avoids many of the complications that come along with people having their free speech taken away. It's also very interesting to consider that the MPAA is using an argument that they're attempting to use an argument that they don't want to be forced to bend over backwards for private interest groups, but they're also more than okay taking subsidies from movie production studios to influence how certain high-budget films get rated. It seems a bit outrageous on their part, while I do understand their argument legally, and I think what they're saying is important. I'm just not quite sure that the MPAA system really works if high-profile films are given massive preference over indie films, which essentially forces film artists to conform if they want to be able to distribute their art in a mainstream manner.

Rachel said...

This article makes a lot of excellent points, particularly about how special interests often seek to control other machines of control. Is that always bad? Well, no. I’m an environmentalist and I’m quite pleased that the EPA exists. And I’m quite pleased that there are special interests I believe in lobbying the EPA for ideas I believe in. We all want people out there fighting for the change we desire.

Having said that, the topic of censorship is something special. There is something deeply essential about the right to communicate and express thoughts. And there’s a line, right? There’s a point at which, even if it’s your own cause, you say, nope, we can’t go there. I’ll fight for the right to regulate pollutants all day long, but if someone suggested you’d fight pollution by not showing pollution in art or rating the depiction of pollution as “R”, I would say “never.” Feeling just doesn’t justify using tainted tools. And censorship, even well-meaning censorship, has proven time and time again to be a corruptible, damaging tool.

I’m usually wary of slippery slope arguments because they can be tricky and rely heavily on assumption, but not all slippery slopes are fallacies and let’s face it, sometimes you really *can* see, clearly and with rationality, that slope coming. I’m amused at the irony of the MPAA dealing with being strong-armed into censorship, but concerned as well. It bears watching.


Kimberly McSweeney said...

The idea of censorship has always been a weird one for me, because I understand the need for ratings on movies, but I have not always agreed on the parameters on which they set these ratings. I understand not wanting to show kids tobacco use, coming from a smoking family it’s pretty easy to see the affects – both socially and mentally – that exposing children to smoking does. The main concern here, I’m certain, is imitation; kids will always want to imitate or copy their parents or cool and funny people in their movies. If these companies allow for tobacco use to be exposed to kids, and then kids start being curious and replicating these actions, the companies could be held accountable for exposure. But to make a movie rated R just for tobacco seems a little ridiculous and I’m happy the author is sure that this lawsuit will be turned over very quickly.

Aubrey Sirtautas said...

I do not seem to share the views of many individuals who have already commented on this post, but I think there is a difference between “slippery slope” and choosing to take a public stand on something that has already been proven to harm (and kill) upwards of 1,300 each day in the United States alone and that rate is only growing because of the public representation of smoking as “cool” or “fun”. Because is this a question of censorship or actually monitoring how symbols are being represented in the media. I agree with the fact that the MPAA already has too much power and that many movies slide by on ratings because they make strategic choices with the intention of doing so; however, without flat out asking if we can do away with the private system of monitoring what young people watch, we have to hold the private system accountable for their impact in the long run. Or is the alternative to have a monitoring agency list every potential harmful thing that occurs in a movie with no associated rating and have parents make their own decisions about what their children can see? This might be more effective and hold parents more accountable, but at the same time, how would you define “harmful”?
In the end, I would ask this question of the people at MPAA, how much does cutting out a cigarette actually change the plot of the movie you are viewing? If it doesn’t, the movie is glorifying the action and should not contain it anyway.

Julian Goldman said...

I haven’t really liked the MPAA every since I watched “This Film is Not Yet Rated” a couple years ago. This article hits on one of the biggest problems I have with the MPAA. Because of the fact an R or NC-17 rating can drastically limit a movie’s ability to make money, the MPAA has the ability to indirectly censor what is in movies. And given how much power the MPAA has, it is no surprise that various groups will want the MPAA to make choice that advance the goals of those groups. I understand why we have a movie rating system, but I’m frustrated by the fact a very small group of people is given a lot of power to decide what should be deemed appropriate by our society. I’m not sure what the solution would be, perhaps it would be something involving more than one organization that rates movies or some sort of change to how the MPAA is run and structured, but I think the current system needs to be changed.

Lucy Scherrer said...

Censorship and offensive speech is general is one of the hottest topics today, especially among the younger generation, so this article showed an interesting aspect on the issue that I hadn't thought about before; namely, the commercial implications of being able to censor and control information. To me, the idea of censorship is almost purely ideological, and currently I think most people approach it as such. We think of people limiting our ability to express ourselves and silencing ideas that "they" (a Big-Brother figure) don't agree with. While this article did mention that, I think the most interesting spin is who would financially benefit from censorship. Ideas have much more weight than I think we give them credit, since as this article mentioned, those who can control how people think can then control what they buy and who they buy things from. At first I was slightly confused to see this on the greenpage, because there isn't a lot of immediate overlap with the theater industry, but I suppose that if corporations can control media then all forms of media would be effected-- including theater. Since theater is widely considered less restricted than film and TV in what they are allowed to say and the kind of controversial themes that are conveyed, I can see this being a big issue.

Chris Norville said...

UNRESTRICTED INTERNET AND ONLY UNRESTRICTED INTERNET. People must be allowed to make their own bad choices. Any lowest common denominator argument, however noble, is an ultimate detriment to our common cause. Parents are the censors of their children, not our laws or society. Bad parents will have a negative impact on their children, no matter how much we try and restrict their ability to do so. However much I do not like the MPAA, I hope that this case is thrown directly out. The MPAA may in the long run be worse than what is currently being done to the MPAA, but that doesn’t mean we should let it happen. The MPAA either directly, or just on top of a slippery slope, is attempting to censor the internet. I cannot pretend that my opinions represent any other groups opinions. My opinions are that we should be raising a generation of adaptable, seditious, blaspheming people that have written their own moral code. If I over badly towards the noble cause of preventing tobacco exposure to children, it is only because I don’t want the thought police knocking on my door.

John Walker Moosbrugger said...

The biggest problem I see in this article is actually with the MPAA’s monopoly on rating movies. The lawsuit is obviously a hot button topic of debate but the idea that it is morally wrong to censor things like smoking, in my mind, also makes it wrong to censor other kinds of graphic content. Now there are obvious issues with allowing minors to see some kinds of graphic scenes but right now there is a monopoly on deciding what is “graphic”. That is in my mind a huge issue. I would much prefer to see a system of 2-3 ratings companies each rating new movies so we might be able to get a less biased system than the one we currently have. On the other hand however now that I’m 18 I can at least go see R rated movies by myself, even though it still blows my mind that a year and a half ago I wasn’t “mature” enough to hear fuck more than a few times in a movie.

Galen shila said...

This article brings up some great points about how the system sometimes works to rate harder on movies that arent their own and how outside influences may effect this. but the most intuiting part of the article is the bit about rating tobacco use in films as R. Not only is this a blatant infringement on freedom of speech but it stems from a larger issue of "protection" in media. it seems that more and more people censor themselves to protect the populous from one thing or another but that is plain stupid. If a parent had a problem with their child seeing smoking in a movie it is the parents responsibility to tell the child to smoke not the movies. Now while i dont support smoking i support peoples right to use it as a form of speech.