I happen to be in the middle of researching a story on the arrival in Canada of video services that edit films to make them more “family friendly” — and lo and behold, there just happens to be an editoral on the subject in today’s Wall Street Journal.
I am, as often happens, of two minds on this particular topic.
In general, I oppose the impulse to make all films “family friendly,” and I agree with Pop Culture Wars author Bill Romanowski and others when they say that this impulse has historically stunted the maturity of American cinema. I am all in favour of helping those who watch movies to grow up — to go from the milk to the meat, as it were. I also believe that audiences need to learn how to “receive” works of art as the original artists intended them to be received, and I am concerned that hacking films up into “family friendly” versions is just another way of catering to the individualistic self-gratification that is so typical of our age.
But, at the same time, now that home video is upon us, I can’t say there is any reason people shouldn’t have the freedom to watch the videos they have bought in any way that they want to watch them. We already have alternative audio tracks and up to three versions of a film on a single DVD. I videotaped movies off of TV when I was 12 years old and deleted scenes that I did not want my 4-year-old brother or 3-year-old sister to see. My wife often fast-forwards through movies that start to bore or annoy her. And films are already edited all the time for TV or for exhibition on buses and airplanes. Flexibility is the order of the day, and one of the consequences of the democratization of media technologies is the fact that, not only can people say whatever they want to say, but they can also hear whatever they want to hear.
Really, it’s intriguing to realize how the first American copyright laws gave exclusive rights to intellectual property for only 14 years, or possibly 28 years if someone successfully applied for an extension. If that were still the order of the day, then we would be in a position to restore the original Star Wars to its proper, original form in just a few months, and there would be nothing George Lucas could do to stop us! (Which reminds me, I still have never gotten around to seeing The Phantom Edit…) As it is, though, major multinational corporations now “own” films that have been part of our cultural memory for decades, and they are free to meddle with them as they see fit, and they continue to reap all the money for the work that was put into them by people who died years ago. Say what you will, but that’s just ridiculous.
But now I’m off on another tangent…