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Notes from the coffee mill...

February 2000

Happy Chinese New Year

Xing Nuan Kuai Li!

...and I'm not even Chinese.

It's now the Year of the Dragon, for those of you who follow the more traditional lunar calendar. (The Japanese don't for daily use, but they still do when it comes to oriental astrology. Otherwise, things just wouldn't work out!)

According to my books on Chinese astrology, this is supposed to be a really wild year -- real party after the recuperative Year of the Rabbit. In Chinese lore, the Dragon is a symbol of great spirit, benevolence, and larger-than-life actions. When things happen, either good or bad, you can be sure that it won't be half-way!

This month, I'm going to discuss the current state of affairs in the rating system. Part of the reason why Bryan Pfaffenberger devised the original Parent's Guide was the fact that there were no MPAA ratings for anime distributed in North America. Why? Well, the MPAA ratings are merely suggestions to assist theatre-goers and theatre players in establishing admittance guidelines. Since most anime is done in a direct-to-video format for the North American market, no such rating is required. Since then, Pioneer has taken it upon themselves to establish a similar system for their own titles. Perhaps other companies will voluntarily use their ratings, or even come up with their own.

Who are the MPAA ratings board? Would you believe that they are a group of twelve volunteer parents, who all live in the Southern California Valley -- a necessity of convenience, since the screening room is located there. The only requirements to become a member of the ratings board are (a) you must be a parent, and (b) you must have a lot of spare time during the day to screen movies. The board currently consists of seven women, and five men.

Amy Taubin of the Village Voice did a very interesting article (The Pleasure Police: The MPAA and the Antiquated Views of What Little Girls Are Made Of - August 3, 1999) about the dual standards which exist in the rating board's recommendations, especially when it comes to gender relations. Ms. Taubin noted (quite correctly) that the board is more likely to allow scenes of female homosexuality over male homosexuality, without resorting to the feared "NC-17" rating. Also, the board will be much more tolerant of violence, and implied sexuality over any display of nudity. Odd, isn't it?

The NC-17 rating, is one reserved for movies in which children under the age of 17 are not permitted. This rating can spell a death-blow to films from smaller independant studios. It's roughly equivalent to the old "X" rating, and films of this rating are often not seen in theatres, primarily since their building leases often included clauses stating that they are not to show any feature which may be deemed as "pornography." Blockbuster's, in keeping with their family values tradition, will not carry titles with the NC-17 rating. However, it should be noted that Blockbuster's influence in the video rental world is so large, that they can demand to get an R rated edit of an originally NC-17 rated feature. If you're looking for an original, unedited feature, be aware that titles at Blockbuster's Video may not be what you think it is.

Anime might be one means to influence, and possibly balance this apparent discongruity. Causal nudity is not necessarily viewed in sexual terms in Japan. Not that the Japanese censor boards are particularily progressive, either -- the display of pubic hair was a real no-no in any domestically shown movies for a long time. Still, I wonder if we're not placing too much restrictions on the display of the human body in purely non-sexual situations (a very "natural" state of things, if you will -- after all, what's one of the first things a newborn will see right after birth?), versus the constant barrage of violence we see on every day television -- a decidedly unacceptable pattern of behavior. Yet which scene is more likely to be shown to our kids?

This is hardly a new moral issue. As many of you know, the Japanese animation industry voluntarily toned down the violent and sadistic nature of anime after it was learned that a mass murderer in Tokyo was an anime otaku. The MPAA itself was instituted to replace the terribly outdated Production Code Standards -- but have we fallen back into the same trap as we had back in 1968? Perhaps, if we are able to truly balance the gender gap, and come to grips with what "should" be acceptable social behavior, we might have a more balanced, and smoother-running society.

dewa matta,

- Akio Nagatomi, 2000.02.05

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