About sanitized movies

You can’t live in Utah for long before getting swept up in the controversy surrounding companies like CleanFlicks, CleanFilms, and ClearPlay regarding the "sanitizing" of adult-oriented films for general audiences. These companies buy DVDs and use a variety of tricks, including digitally trimming footage and creating audio drop-outs, to remove sex, violence, and foul language from today’s R- and PG-13-rated movies. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about this issue, and I confess that I do see both sides of it: on one hand, it’s nice to see individuals taking a stand for decency in entertainment – and truthfully, there’s a lot of unnecessary garbage in movies these days that adds nothing of value to a storyline. On the other hand, I understand how the actors, directors, cinematographers, and everyone else involved with a film project see their work as artistic expressions which should not be tampered with. As one who received an intensively arts-oriented education at my high school, I can understand these feelings quite easily. Not all art is intended to be pleasing to everyone – in fact, some art is made for the specific purpose of evoking strongly negative reactions from us. If you’re one who falls into the camp of the potentially offended, the artists say that you’re free to ignore their art and move on.

There’s just one complicating factor in it all, and it’s a BIG one: Hollywood is a business industry. Most people who make movies do so not just for the love of their craft, but also to make money. And it’s a long-established rule that studios are quite willing to edit this "art" to fit the specific needs of a given audience – airlines and television being two major examples.So why are they all up in a lather about what these little ol’ Utah companies are doing? Well, the answer has nothing to do with copyright laws or preserving free speech, as noble of causes as they are (let’s face it, the law only comes into play when people want justification for taking your money); it’s the fact that Hollywood isn’t getting a piece of the pie.

But this is all beside the point. What’s fascinating to me is the ethics of watching edited DVDs in a predominantly LDS society.

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but as a faithful member of the Church I feel a great pressure (most likely perceived, but some of it real) about the movies I watch and the movies I display on my bookshelf. For instance, I think that Titanic is an excellent movie, but it has been so thoroughly vilified here in Happy Valley that I wouldn’t dream of owning it for fear of getting kicked out of the Church. At the same time, I would also never even think about displaying a CleanFlicks copy of The Green Mile or The Insider (two edited films I’ve seen which I think are just outstanding) on my bookshelf. Why? Because people might see the titles but not know that the discs inside are edited for content. Every time I mention to someone else that I’ve seen an R-rated movie, I must be quick to mention that it was the "edited version" so he or she doesn’t think I’m a heathen or something.

An even more socially risky prospect is the one proposed by the ClearPlay model: stick in your unedited DVDs and place your faith in the system software to protect you from all the garbage. I visited a ClearPlay demonstration last Friday, and had enough questions about the hardware and software product to clearly make the demo guy quite nervous. When I asked him if there were ever any instances where the software failed (for whatever reason) to detect and omit offensive content, I was quickly rebuffed. "No," he flatly responded.

Zero defects? Are you serious? From the technological side of things, that’s living in a dream world. What the ClearPlay model asks consumers to do is rest their whole set of moral guidelines regarding entertainment on the promise of perfect technology. Seems like a pretty shaky foundation upon which to build your faith to me. Secondly, do you think I’ll actually take the chance of going down to my local Blockbuster, grab a copy of House of Wax off the shelf, stand in line, and hope that no one I know sees me and judges me for my actions?

Now, I know what you’ll say: it’s everyone else’s fault for judging you. Yes, it is. But the sad truth is, that is the reality of being a member of the Church. People are always looking at you, making decisions about your character without your notice or your permission. We must always have the appearance of being Christlike. Our appearance does matter. So, let’s say my bishop happens to walk into said Blockbuster store and sees me proudly holding my copy of said movie. Do you think he’ll see me and think, "Oh, Bryan’s going to be watching House of Wax on his ClearPlay DVD player tonight, because I know he’d never watch movies like that otherwise." Not a chance! So, those are two reasons why I’ll never be a ClearPlay subscriber.

But what about human-edited and authored DVDs from CleanFlicks and CleanFilms? Well, those I obviously have less of a problem with. But here’s the kicker: By watching these edited films, I’m still supporting the R-rated industry. How, you ask? Well, companies like CleanFlicks and CleanFilms are the ones buying all the unedited movies. The more customers and the more demand they have, the more unedited DVDs they’ll buy. So I as a consumer may feel like I’m sending a message to Hollywood by refusing to watch its filth, but the message is completely lost on it because it’s still making plenty of money in Utah. And there’s the ethical concern.

We subscribed to the CleanFilms program for a little over a year, and through it were exposed to many movies we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But you’d have to give me some kind of magic memory elixir to remember the names of all the films we saw, because frankly, most of them were pretty forgettable. And there’s the sad truth about R-rated movies: most of them just aren’t worth your time anyway.

We cancelled our subscription to CleanFilms a little while ago because of budget shortages. There are a few films I’m still somewhat interested in seeing "cleaned up," but I think a better solution is to just be a more discriminatory viewer, period. If the art offends you, move on to something else. With the exception of our CleanFilms period, I consider my movie-watching choices very seriously. I feel more at peace with my decisions that way. If I’m not willing to deal with everything contained in a movie, then I’ll simply pass on it and move to something else. It makes my entertainment time more meaningful and less all-consuming as a result.

But if I do get that sanitized version of The Green Mile, there’s no way in heck I’m letting you see it on my shelf.

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