Chinese censorship, MPAA ‘censorship,’ ctd

by Sonny Bunch on July 9, 2012

Variety‘s Ted Johnson was kind enough to cite my Doublethink column on the MPAA, Bully, and Chinese censorship in a piece he wrote on the accommodations studios are making with the Chinese regime to ensure access to Chinese cinemas.

Another blogger, Sonny Bunch of Doublethink, saw irony in the furor that greeted the MPAA’s R rating for the documentary “Bully,” yet little over the many times Hollywood blockbusters have been edited to meet the demands of Chinese film authorities.

Of course they’re right, but censorship is seen as a part of doing business in China, and for the studios, it’s a price they’re willing to pay to avoid missing out on an exploding market.

Well, okay. That wasn’t really the point of my piece. I totally understand why the studios are eager to get a piece of the Chinese marketplace: China puts a strict cap on the number of American films that are shown in that country and only doles out licenses to those who kowtow sufficiently. I may find studios doing business with the Chinese distasteful—just as I would have found Hollywood studios doing business with Hitler distasteful, even before the beginning of World War II—but I understand why they’re doing so. The all-ighty-ollar remains all-ighty.

No, my ire was directed at our cultural leaders—our critics, our writers, our bloggers, our malcontents—who have no problem with censorship as practiced by the Chinese and get all worked up by “censorship” that bears no resemblance to actual censorship:

Why the silent acquiescence to such venal behavior by our movie studios—to say nothing of the behavior of the Chinese? Why do our pop culture blogs say nothing as the Obama Administration helps set up crooked deals between major studios and the Chinese government? Why do our pop culture blogs say nothing as the Chinese government funds that nation’s biggest businessman’s purchase of AMC, one of our nation’s largest theater chains?

Few of our pop culture mavens seem to think that it’s a particularly big deal that movie studios are clawing each other’s eyes out—and cutting anything the Chinese deem unacceptable—to get one of the limited licenses to show their films in China. None of our nation’s prominent cultural bloggers seem particularly upset that a nation committed to censoring cultural products it proclaims unfit for consumption is forming the world’s largest chain of theaters.

The studios aren’t going to alter their ways and abandon billions of dollars just ’cuz. If we—as consumers and sophisticates—don’t embarrass them for their terrible behavior, their perpetuation of an evil regime’s most evil ideas, then the studios have no incentive to change. Indeed, they have every incentive to keep doing what they’re doing. We need to stand up and tell the studios that this is unacceptable, that they’re aiding and abetting evil while abandoning the West’s most cherished ideals. We need to make things uncomfortable for them.

Or we can all sit around and have another self-indulgent wankfest about how terrible the MPAA is. If I had to bet which our cultural elites are more likely to engage in? Well, my money would probably be on the wankfest.

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Gabriel July 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Part of it is the Chinese market power and part of it is the particular morality of Hollywood. Another piece of it is that Harvey Weinstein has proven a master at reshaping Hollywood’s institutions to serve his interests. Consider how we now have Oscar bait and Oscar season — this didn’t exist as recently as the early 1990s but Weinstein created it with things like the “Shakespeare in Love” upset. We have a very savvy entrepreneur who has figured out how to use attacks on the MPAA to get free media for Kings Speech and Bully but there is no such person with the talents and the stakes in keeping the Peoples’ Liberation Army insignia in the Red Dawn remake.

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