Last week, we ran a commentary about a recent court ruling that it's now illegal for companies like CleanFlicks and CleanFilms to "scrub" objectionable content from movies
Mark Moring's commentary, titled "No More Smut Editors?", agreed with the judge in principle. Moring's article didn't so much examine the legal technicalities of copyright law as it explored thephilosophical issues of the practice. Moring argued that such "scrubbing" is essentially tampering with art and an artist's creative vision. He also noted other ways for families to deal with movies that have objectionable content—including making the decision of not watching them at all
It was one of those topics that sent readers straight to their e-mail, because we received more than 100 letters on all sides of the issue. Here's a sampling of their replies:
So you think every film coming out of Hollywood is a piece of art needing the protection of a Renaissance painting? That's what filmmakers would like you to believe. If you were really thinking critically, you would recognize most films as unoriginal trash. "Teaching moment"? Sounds more like you're having a Senior Moment. I'm beginning to think the Christian mind is more than being watered down, it's melting down.
The CleanFlicks trend speaks to something about the evangelical culture. We demand to entertained (myself included). We're basically saying, "Give me movies and make them clean. I need stuff to watch." In reality, there is no form of entertainment we have to see. There is no must-see TV. If it hurts our Christian walk, if it violates our purity, get rid of it.
Your argument about maintaining the artistic integrity of the films becomes specious when I think about how, for movies, this has long been the practice. Movies are edited all the time when they appear on non-premium cable. It's art when a family organization does it, it's not art when a television station does it. The art argument sounds good, but frankly it's artsy talk without artsy action.
This article is excellent and offers some wonderful advice to parents. Too many Christians stick their heads in the sand pretending that bad language, sex, etc. don't exist. Hiding it from children or teenagers does not prepare them to respond to it, and they will have to respond because it's everywhere.
I refuse to pay $10 at the theater to see a movie and then be surprised by the swearing, suggestive talking, etc. I would much rather pay Clean Films to remove the "surprises" for me. I prefer to sit on the edge of my seat because the movie is exciting—not because I am trying to catch something I do not want to hear or see and hit my fast forward button.
I am delighted with Mark Moring's article on why tampering with art is a bad fix. I'm an illustrator and art teacher who sees art as a language and each product as a message. The artist needs to say something on his/her own terms. The potential listeners/viewers have a responsibility to get savvy enough to listen or avoid. There just isn't any way for children to get discernment but to have guided exercise in it. Tampering with art lets parents be lazy, and nearly ensures that we'll keep raising kids who "eat" everything and stay flabby. It's a fallen world. The things we can expect from those who don't understand truth are filth, depravity, and twisted philosophies. The way we encourage them to look higher is to starve them out when messages aren't fit to consume. Approval is also a motivator—but if Christians have shown themselves to be an audience who will gladly modify a message for their own purposes, their good opinion is worthless to filmmakers. With our own actions, we encourage them to disregard us.
I think this ruling against editing services such as CleanFilms, which I use, is a terrible decision in the balance of copyright law and free market enterprise. I use CleanFilms for me and not for my two girls. I've decided that seeing nudity and sexual situations is bad for me. After they have gone off to bed, I want to be able to sit down and watch a DVD and not have to worry about when the "if-only-they-hadn't-included-that" scene is coming. I'm not looking to preview it before my children can see it. I don't even want to see it to begin with. I don't need those images in my mind. That's what's best for me and I want the freedom to be able to pay someone to do my "self-editing" for me.
I once loaned my copy of Magnolia, which has a powerful message, to a friend who had never seen it. She said she couldn't get past the first 20 minutes. There was no condemnation of the filmmakers or judgment of me for owning a "sinful" movie. It just wasn't in her to watch such a film. This is called "discernment," and if more Christians would practice it in a positive way, they wouldn't need companies like CleanFlicks to tell them what is appropriate for them to watch. They would be able to make wise decisions by thinking for themselves. What a concept!
I strongly disagree with Mr. Moring's idea that editing or sanitizing movies affects the "art" of the movie. I travel internationally for the ministry and have watched hundreds of movies that were cleaned up so they would be suitable for more viewers. The removing foul language and nudity in many of these movies didn't affect the movies' "artistic flow" nor the theatrical content. I think there should be more companies cleaning the unneeded filth from most of what comes from Hollywood.
If we don't like the stuff, then don't watch it. If you want to watch it, then learn from it and use the lesson to bring others to Jesus. Don't complain that the world's entertainment is what it is. What do we expect from lost people? Christian entertainment?
Hollywood seems incapable of producing a movie that is appropriate for families and children. Often, as you said, the movies are good except for brief objectionable scenes. So let's clean them up and rent or sell them to families. Hollywood should have no complaint. They make their money, we get a good product, and everyone should be happy. You were wrong, and I believe the judge was wrong. I hope CleanFilms, etc., appeal—and win.
Pastor Charlie Swank
Mr. Moring's analogy was right on target. Most of us would cringe if a museum decided to cover up nude art because it was deemed distasteful or obscene, and so the same principle applies to the movies. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church did this with many original works of nude statues and other art by placing "fig leaves" over privates, breasts and other parts. I saw many examples of this travesty while I was in Rome and was sorely disappointed. What CleanFlicks and the like were doing was a return to this type of methodology—an oppressive church or company altering the work of an artist.
Robert Gutierrez, Jr.
While it's true that editing videos for content might alter what the original artist had in mind, so what? Once I purchase a piece of art, whether it's a movie, painting, sculpture, etc., it's mine to do with as I please. If these movie editing firms (I use CleanFilms) purchases a copy for every copy they edit, and the original is never used, the movie company is not losing a cent. In fact, if Hollywood would get a clue, they might find a whole new way of making money doing the same thing, which would allow the artists more input into this process.
Just because we edit a few scenes does not make the objectionable film OK. We are saying to Hollywood that just a click of a button will make what you have produced OK, and it is not. Just because you change a label on dog food, it still is dog food.
First, the "artistic vision" argument does not hold up in today's society. The ending of many a movie is chosen by polling target audience sample groups at preview showings. The most marketable ending is the one that is used. Not artist vision, but marketing vision. Second, the content of many movies is edited for broadcast already. If it is okay to edit or sanitize for the marketing bucks earned through broadcast, why not for DVD? If they are to be consistent, then the film must not be edited for television.
Thank you for acknowledging the importance of art and how it is a reflection of the individuals creating it. Art has to be a "true" expression. Without that, we are spoon-feeding ourselves with false and "sanitized" versions of films (or whatever) that do not help us learn what makes people tick, or what observations of life that we might have missed. Life can be beautiful and blessed, but it can also be quite ugly at times. We need to see both sides.
David C. Waggoner
If a video company legally purchases a movie and edits it and then resells it to those who want to buy it, everyone benefits. The Hollywood corporation makes a sale they might not have made otherwise, the video company that does the editing benefits from the value they added to the movie they purchased, and the consumer benefits from receiving a produce he desires. If I as a private party purchase a work of art, I own it. If I want to put drapes over the private parts of my statue, I am free to do so. It is ridiculous to think the artist could sue me for what I do with what I purchased and now own.
Thanks for your commentary. You made me think about the issue from a deeper perspective. We must respect another's art even if we don't enjoy it. How would a Christian filmmaker feel if all references to Christian themes were "cleaned up"? As usual, it can go both ways. Again, as Christians we settle too easily for following the world and not creating our own art. If people are so upset by the filth in movies, create something positive and of quality to put out there.
I agree that parents should be the filter for their children; I do the same things with my own children, skipping scary moments and whatnot. However, I think that the author has missed an important point. We can only edit for our children if we've seen the movie before. But what if I haven't? What I don't want to subject myself to the "offensive" parts? That's where CleanFlicks comes in.
While I don't subscribe to the sanitizing services (I do think a movie loses something when it has been edited), I recognize there's an audience for services like this. Maybe the solution is that the studios themselves should provide CleanFlicks, etc., with the sanitized versions that will eventually be used on broadcast TV or by the airlines. And then everyone wins. Those of us who still prefer the unedited versions can continue to use Blockbuster, but those who want a clean version on DVD can have an option.
David W. Crenshaw
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