My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Last night, i went to see This Film Is Not Yet Rated (and the director Kirby Dick) over at USC. I had wanted to see the movie since Cory reviewed it on BoingBoing. Wow.

While most people i’ve talked to are fascinated with the legal (copyright, first amendment, etc.) issues involved, what i really enjoyed was the portrayal of how we leverage protectionist rhetoric and “child safety” to uphold hegemonic moral values that will aid industry. This isn’t actually about the children; it’s about maintenance of power. One of the sections that really highlights this is a discussion on how the MPAA handles violence. Glorified violence (a.k.a. no blood) is PG-13 while imagery that shows the consequences of violence (a.k.a. blood) is R. In a country that is at war and with a generation of soldiers who think that war is like a video game, this bugs the shit out of me. God do i worry about those kids coming back – they’re not doing so well.

Mechanical sex is R while sex that shows female pleasure is NC-17. Heterosexual interactions are PG-13 while homosexual interactions are R. What values are we upholding here? For me, it was particularly compelling to hear the director of Boys Don’t Cry speak. I saw a pre-release viewing of that film with an audience of queer and transgendered folks. I started crying during the opening credits. In depicting the brutality that queer and trans folks experience, that movie broke my heart. And for that reason, i wish that i could get every teen on the planet who’s screaming faggot this and faggot that to watch it. I was ecstatic when Swank won the Oscar. I was horrified to learn that it was rated NC-17 for sexual pleasure and the rape scene (but not for the brutal violence). While i find rape scenes horrifying, most movies fail to show just how devastating being raped is; it’s simplified, pretty-ified. There’s nothing pretty about it in “Boys Don’t Cry.” It’s realistic and heartbreaking, the kind of thing that should be shown precisely because it is anti-glorifying.

Anyhow, go watch the film. It’s worth it.

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11 comments to This Film Is Not Yet Rated

  • Bertil

    > Mechanical sex is R while sex that shows female pleasure is NC-17.

    Is that something you consider wrong or absurd? Not sure I got you there. I remember many feminists complaining about the damaging influence “mechanical” porn had on virgins.

    > NC-17 for sexual pleasure and the rape scene (but not for the brutal violence)

    Haven’t seen it, but if it is anywhere near the one in “Irreversible”, by Gaspar Noe, it overwhelms any violence: I guess not, as Irreversible was probably R in USA (no info on imdb). I have no idea if that was realistic; “prettyfied”, neither, though is was cerainly part of a most peculiar esthetic overall.

  • Sorry, by mechanical, i meant robotic, repetitive, boring, no emotions… Sex as a functional babymaking act or where it’s simply a tool for the male.

  • john

    “You have to wonder about the values of a society where a naked body is obscene but a naked blade is not”…which is a paraphrase from an author I read long ago and wished I could cite properly, but it seems somehow apropos.

  • Yes, these things have annoyed me for a very long time here in the US. Here is a blog post about this I put up four years ago:
    http://campuscgi.princeton.edu/~eszter/weblog/archives/00000151.html

    I’ll quote the last paragraph:

      You have to wonder what kind of values are being advocated when people losing body parts and being killed in the most ghastly ways is completely acceptable for general audiences but seeing two people express love and affection for each other is a grave sin from which we must protect the next generation. Only one question remains, I guess: what is going to protect me from the kind of generation that grows up on such values?
  • Bertil

    That’s what I have understood — but as you were describing what is wrong in the rating system, I though you disagreed with having “mechanical sex” rated for more mature audiences than female pleasure.

  • Ron

    Art defines the context for the future. Little girls who play with Barbie dolls grow up to become the first generation to buy breast implants. Little boys pretending to be Buck Rogers grow up to advocate and fund Reagan’s Star Wars program. Film is still the dominant art form for this generation. How do ratings change our fundamental assumptions about desired and accepted reality? It’s hard to believe that the odd values priorities you’ve outlined have a positive impact.

  • sherver

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  • moever

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  • Jake

    Yeah guys, these comments are bizarre….

    NC-17 in the U.S. is what used to be called x-rated. Nobody under 18 is allowed to see it, period. And a majority U.S. theatre chains will not show NC-17 films, period, so the rating is often considered a kiss of death for a movie (the studios won’t spend money marketing them). So, as this film says, any gay sexuality (without nudity, as the film shows), or sex where the woman is enjoying it, or anything other than the missionary position = NC-17. And there are no precedents (they don’t compare to other films they’ve rated previously, so some r-rated movies seem raunchier than NC-17/X-rated ones, ex. American Pie, Scary Movie) or formulas – it’s entirely based on what makes the panel members uncomfortable.

    R is a “better” rating. Under-18s can get in with an adult.