CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a writer and advocate of freedom of expression, censorship is one of my hot-button issues. I find it appalling that some people think it's a good idea to keep others from experiencing something the way it was meant to be experienced. Perhaps this is why I find the ratings given to films by the Motion Picture Association of America to be utterly useless.
What started as an attempt to guide parents on whether or not a film was appropriate for children has turned into a process to bastardize the artistic nature of film by giving it a rating.
For instance, the film "Boys Don't Cry" featured sexually explicit scenes that were intended to be brutal and unglamorous, but it was forced to be cut in order not to get an NC-17 rating, which, for distributors, is a death sentence. The film "A Clockwork Orange" featured unadulterated violence and sexual activity and was slapped with an X rating. (NC-17 replaced the X rating in 1990).
What's troublesome about this is that the MPAA seems to let films off the hook depending on how they handle violence. It plays favorites.
For example, Steven Spielberg's World War II film "Saving Private Ryan" is much more disturbing than the satirical "Clockwork," but the violence in it was filmed more artistically, using lots of slow motion and dramatic music. Because of the way the violence is handled, the film's rating was toned down.
And that's the problem with not only the MPAA ratings system but censorship as a whole. People have different tastes, find different things offensive and are disturbed by different things. No group of people has a right to tell another group of people what they are and are not allowed to experience.
There's a fantastic scene in "Inside Deep Throat," a documentary about the pornographic film "Deep Throat," that shows an interview with a woman in her late 60s at the release of the movie. "I wanted to see a dirty picture and I saw a dirty picture," she says.
That's the kicker with these movie ratings: they don't work. They don't stop people from seeing a movie.
Theaters don't even enforce them. I've been seeing R-rated movies in a theater by myself since I was 12. The only thing the amount of violence, sex and drug use that I've been exposed to has done to me is make me realize how hypocritical the ratings system is.
Temptation is a basic human emotion, and when you tell people they aren't allowed to do something, they're going to want to do it more than ever. This is the basis for many mythological tales, such as Adam and Eve and Pandora's Box.I wouldn't have much of a problem if these ratings were simply guidelines, but when they lead to people being denied access to art, it bothers me -- especially because, in the end, their attempt at denial fails.