Archive for March, 2012
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a documentary called BULLY that accurately and agonizingly depicts the acts of in-school bullying taking place every day in this country. I believe it to be an important film that should be screened in as many places and in front of as many people as possible, especially in our schools.
That prospect was threatened, however, when the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) slapped BULLY with an R-rating. This would prevent it from being shown in public schools, and from children seeing it without an adult present.
I’ve been following the story closely. I was pleased to read about twenty members of the United States Congress signing the petition to repeal the rating. I was less pleased, albeit not surprised, to learn the MPAA ignored the petition and that the rating will stand.
The Weinstein Company, who are releasing the film, have rejected the MPAA’s ruling altogether and are going to put it out unrated. I applaud their decision, even if it makes the film’s message harder to spread. Many theaters won’t show or promote unrated films.
I wrote about bullying as a problem and my own experiences with it at length. Now I’d like to write about the MPAA.
To summarize: The MPAA should not exist. Their members should be unmasked and lined up against a wall as if the revolution has finally come. Their headquarters should be razed to ash and the scorched earth left in its wake consecrated for all-time. Jack Valenti, the MPAA’s founder and chief goon for many years, should continue roasting in Hell with a demon cock pulsing brimstone in his rectal canal through the whole of eternity.
My hate-on for the MPAA goes way beyond censorship or artistic freedom. Those are what my sainted abuelita always termed “white people problems.” No, I see the MPAA as a cultural toxin that has polluted our society for nigh half-a-century in a very specific and damaging way. I charge them with no less than the shame we still teach our children for their bodies, the ignorance we gift them concerning sex and its consequences, and the violent world we’re forced to deal with every day.
The MPAA is notoriously more permissive of violence in film than they are when it comes to sex. The Human form, the most basic of sexual acts between consenting, even married adults, pleasure of any carnal stripe, these are things for which the MPAA absolutely will not stand. They will force you to excise them from your film if you want to gain a rating that allows your film to be advertised and seen by the largest portion of people possible.
Their leeway on violence, however, is astronomical by comparison.
Look, movies, video games, music; none of these things make people commit violent acts. I don’t believe any one thing is responsible for the actions of an individual, let alone an entire culture. I do believe a million little things contribute to an overall cultural climate, and movies are a major contributor. More than living in our consciousness, they help craft it. We quote them, we learn lessons from them, create role models from them.
If you see something, or don’t see something, often enough, whether you realize it or not, it begins to take root. If a billion people see it often enough, it becomes a societal standard.
The MPAA has taught generations of filmmakers that high levels of violence are always preferable to sexuality. The two are always equated as taboo, yet it has taught them to go for the kill instead of the fuck if they want to get a racy scene past the ratings board. As a result the balance between sex and violence… there is no longer a balance between sex and violence in movies.
Throughout their unchallenged and totalitarian regime they have literally created the vernacular for commercial film, and it’s a language that expresses titillation, passion, and excitement with violent action rather than perfectly healthy Human sexuality. You can beat a woman to a bloody pulp in a movie, but if you go down on her and give her an orgasm the MPAA will force you to cut it out if you want an “R” rating.
That is an insane attitude, let alone the foundation for an entire ideology that has proliferated for decades. The MPAA promotes a puritanical, shame-based culture in which violence is a far more common and acceptable outlet for baser Human instinct and emotions than sex is, regardless of how consensual or commonplace the act. Their doctrine has created an unending flood of violent saturation that desensitizes and promotes at the same time, while reinforcing the arcane notion that sexuality is dirty and not to be explored. Ever.
The MPAA’s treatment of BULLY is another example of them suppressing a realistic, everyday aspect of Human existence they find ugly. Bullying is happening in schools everywhere right now. It is hurting American children on a mass scale. The MPAA doesn’t want you to see that. They want you to repress, repress, repress.
There are filmmakers and studio executives with the power to usurp the MPAA. There always have been. They’ve failed to do so. This is a fight that should have been fought and won before I ever got to Los Angeles. The Weinsteins have fired a shot. I don’t know if it will mark the beginning of a war, but I hope so.
A society that trades sex for violence is doomed. A society that crushes the souls of its children is doubly doomed. The MPAA is a leading promoter of both practices, and they need to be condemned and cut from reality for it.
I once said it started as a way to fleece the rubes. That hasn’t changed.
You should know that before we go on.
Last year I started running an on-line writing workshop geared toward those aspiring writers who want to work. Read: work, not sit on their brains talking about writing and being writers and the angst and pathos thereof. I called it The Loose Cannon as a take-off on my “Bad Cop” gig over on author and my arch-nemesis Mur Lafferty’s award-winning I Should Be Writing podcast (where this whole insane thing began).
My plan at first was to run one every few months or whenever I needed the money and present it Robert McKee-style, meaning I’d keep repackaging the same tired lecture over and over for a different group of marks until I barely had to think about what I was saying. That plan was quickly foiled. The reason is simple. The bastards kept showing up. I have a core group of TLC (the ironic acronym which has evolved from the title of my experiment) alumni who have attended every single incarnation of the workshop I’ve put on. It’s baffling, really.
Yet no matter how much or how loudly I yelled at and abused them, they just kept coming back. This had two unforeseen consequences: 1) I had to think of new things to say and do with them, and 2) I actually saw them begin to improve.
Little by little my kids, who were all varying degrees of god-fucking-awful when I first made them put fingertips to keyboard, have gotten better. They’ve begun selling stories. I’ve begun, slowly, to enjoy teaching them things. It’s a fun gig. Everyone seems to have a good time. And above all we value brutal, uncompromising honesty about how much we all suck and need to improve. That’s the essential ingredient, and what I feel keeps them coming back.
That, and my undeniable sex appeal. Eighty percent of TLC attendees are women. I’m just saying.
Because of that support/demand, and because it keeps my edge sharp, I’m now taking TLC monthly. Each month I’ll be running a workshop on a different topic. The frequency will allow me to cover a broader range of the craft and get more of you sad directionless hacks in on the action. The next two dates are set, and the material they will be covering is as follows.
March 24th – “Action!”
Action scenes. Sword fights, shoot-outs, car chases, big battles sequences, and all of those fast-moving, hopefully ultra violent elements of entertaining storytelling. It ain’t easy presenting a highly visual concept in the form of mere words. We’ll work on writing action that is clear, concise, and draws the reader into a total sensory experience. There will be blood.
April 21st – “Worldbuilders”
Whether you’re creating your own utopian, dystopian, or tweentopian world of the distant future, or whether you’re writing a period piece set in a historical past, you have to sell your setting to your reader. We’ll go over the large and tiny details that can make a world seem real, and talk about the stupid shit a lot of writers do that bring that world crashing down in the eyes and mind of the reader.
I still have a few spots open for both sessions. I’ll post future dates and topics as I decide what they are. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or for registration info. You can also read reviews of TLC written by attendees themselves here and here.
Chances are you suck. Most writers, aspiring and working, do. I can’t fix you.
But you will suck a little less. Or your money back (not really).