Friday, 24 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #856: What About The MPAA?



Yep, Harvey Weinstein is running around yelling at the top of his lungs that he's going to pull his company out of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because they gave TWC's documentary on bullying, appropriately titled Bully, was given an R Rating, when Weinstein was hoping for a PG-13.

Now yes, The Weinstein Company is not exactly a member of the MPAA, but let's not let technicalities like quitting a club you don't belong to fog our minds, and get to the meat of the issue.

The meat of this issue is that Harvey actually has a point, especially when it comes to the simple fact that the MPAA is an irrelevant organization that becomes more and more irrelevant as time goes on.

Let's look at the two main functions of the MPAA:

1. LOBBYIST:  As a lobbyist it's supposed to look out for the interests of the Hollywood studios in its dealings with the US government, and governments around the world.

It's obviously a complete failure in that regard.

As a lobbyist with the US government it's literally put all of its eggs in one basket, namely the Democratic Party.  Under its longest running chief Jack Valenti, himself a former Democratic official, it at least showed the common sense ability to play both sides of the political aisle.

Since his retirement and demise, the MPAA has shifted to almost entirely dealing with Democrats, while either ignoring, or actively working against Republicans.  They even hired former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd to take over the MPAA, who became well known in recent years for his total inability to work with Republicans.

The first rule of the lobbyist is to accept the fact that ruling parties change, and that the lobbyist must be able to go with the flow to protect the interests of their clients. Putting an obviously partisan and divisive figure like Dodd in the driver's seat was not a good move.

Then there's how it deals with international markets, especially with the issue of piracy.

Piracy is a problem.  The exact extent and cost of that problem can be debated until the cows call and tell you that they're coming home, should they pick up some milk on the way.  However, the MPAA is caught in a form of schizophrenia about the issue.'

They want to crack down, but a lot of the piracy comes out of China. They don't want to push China too hard to do something about it, because it's still basically a dictatorship. The odds are pretty good that someone high up in that dictatorship profits from the piracy, and will punish anyone who threatens those profits.

So you get the MPAA setting up legislative boondoggles like SOPA and PIPA. Those two intellectual abortions were basically yelling: "We don't want to risk losing the Chinese market, so here's a bill that will make it impossible to fart online without our permission."

Then Dodd had the temerity to threaten the congress-people who let the bill die with the loss of MPAA support.

First, a good lobbyist doesn't get their fingerprints all over something as badly constructed as SOPA and PIPA, and second, you don't go threatening those who let the bill die. Especially when over half of them get nothing but scorn from you anyway, and the other half knows you'll support them blindly, no matter what.

That's not good lobbying, that's bad strategy.

2. MORAL WATCHDOG:  One of the essential roles of the MPAA is to be the movie industry's self-policing agency when it comes to sex and violence on screen. 

During the 1920s Hollywood had been rocked by sex scandals, and people were banging the drum demanding the government step in and regulate the morality of the movie industry. Considering the bang up job the government was doing at the time regulating the country's morality in regards to alcohol the movie industry decided they would police themselves.

First they started the Production Code, which tried to keep the movies family entertainment, and it staved off the specter of government censorship.  Now the Production Code was very capricious, and overreacted to just about everything that came across its desk, and it got worse as time went by.

When TV came along the movies didn't have to be all things to all people, and filmmakers were looking to delve into more adult subject matter, but the old Code just wouldn't let them.  So a new system was created, and after a few iterations, settled on the ratings we know and are annoyed at today.  Family films were rated G for General, PG and PG-13 denoted films that required some parental guidance, R meant that the film was Restricted to people over 17 being allowed to see it without parental guidance, and NC-17 (formerly known as X) was for films that allowed no one under 17 into the theater with or without parental guidance.

For a long time this system sort of worked.  There were occasional controversies, but for the most part it ran along pretty smooth.

Then things started to change.

The rationale behind the ratings grew more and more opaque, and the ratings themselves became as erratic and capricious as the old production code.  

Filmmakers became frustrated as films they thought would rate PG/PG-13, were suddenly slapped with R-Ratings, limiting their potential audience.  The appeals system had more to do with how much you annoyed the board than any logic behind the case.

What does all this tell you?

That the MPAA, in its present form, has outlived its usefulness.

There's no logic or common sense behind it anymore.  There is a place for such an organization, but the one that exists now is failing at its two key missions.  They need to either gut the MPAA and reform it right down to its roots, or completely tear it down and build something new.

Because right now, it's just a disaster in the making.


  1. Blast Hardcheese24/2/12 1:32 pm

    Regarding the 'morality police' side of it, the thing that bugs me the most about the MPAA is that violence doesn't rate the same scrutiny as sex.
    You can show a guy getting the back of his head punched through by a machine gun no problem(Saving Private Ryan, R).
    If you must have sex in your film, but make sure it's dark and violent and degrading to women, again no problem (Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, also R).
    But make a film like Shame, which has consenual sex and one shot of Michael Fassbinder full frontal? NC-17 for you!

  2. It has something to do with the moviemakers involved as well. Spielberg generally gets a free pass, so "Saving Private Ryan" was never going to come under the scrutiny that, say, a George Romero film would.

    The PG-13 rating was, in fact, conceived as a way to get "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" into theaters uncut, with more violence than the PG rating would have allowed. So again, Spielberg has considerable sway with the MPAA, which goes back decades.