Harvard tells Hollywood to ban cigarettes.

Inside the big picture show.
April 6 2007 1:05 PM

Puff Piece

Harvard tells Hollywood to ban cigarettes from kids' movies.

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Given the vileness of the ads in question, we didn't expect many to pick up the freedom-of-expression cudgel for the film. Even Moriarty on Ain't It Cool News has expressed support for the MPAA in this instance, and he's a horror guy. We also checked with a top executive at a company that's involved with some especially gruesome horror films, and he, too, had little sympathy for After Dark. "Those of us who skirt the rules—we may obscure the line but we try not to obliterate it," he says.

But interestingly, he says After Dark would have been better off using an ad that hadn't been submitted for MPAA approval instead of one that had been rejected. That's an example of how the studios play cat-and-mouse here. When they do it in such a fashion that children are exposed to outrageous and inappropriate materials, that's when people might start to think that government regulation of entertainment companies isn't such a bad idea.

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Lest you think that the MPAA has turned a corner of some kind by cracking down on Captivity, this executive makes a convincing argument that there's a double standard at work. He points to the fact that the MPAA has approved plenty of material that seemed offensive even to him. As one recent example, he cites a campaign for Black Snake Moan (scantily clad woman, chains). But that film had the might of Paramount behind it. The MPAA is showing some muscle in the case of Captivity "because they can," he says. "[After Dark] is an independent and a small one at that."

The MPAA is no doubt mindful that the Federal Trade Commission is about to issue a report on the entertainment industry's selling of horror and violence to kids. So it may think the crackdown on Captivity will provide a scrap of cover. But the MPAA would be a lot more credible if its ratings system was a little less opaque and irrational. It's hard to convince anyone that a system is serving parents when the ratings board sees a naked man tied to a chair and having his testicles beaten, and says, "PG-13." (That was the latest Bond movie, if you missed it.)

With all the executives in town attending fund-raisers in recent weeks, you'd think the studios would realize that it's a political season. Even friend-of-Hollywood Bill Clinton turned on those who lined his pockets when it came time to beat up on the industry for selling junk to kids.

Hollywood has provided a great deal of grist for the political mill. And unless the government at least threatens to act, the studios can't be expected to stop. On the other hand, our horror-friendly executive is starting to wonder how the industry can satisfy the public's lust for blood. "What's next, short of making actual snuff films?" he asks. (link)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TheLos Angeles Times has not only dumped the special Sunday section that was to be guest-edited by producer Brian Grazer but is now examining past opinion sections to see whether other assignments smelled of conflict.

For those who don't follow media controversies, editorial page editor Andres Martinez resigned in a huff—on his blog, no less—last week after the Times killed the Currents opinion section that was assembled under Grazer's auspices. The reason was not that it's profoundly embarrassing for a major daily to turn over a section to a prominent figure in an industry that this paper is supposed to be covering in its own backyard. No, the reason is that Martinez has been playing slap-and-tickle with a publicist who works for Grazer.

Certainly Martinez was painfully clueless about the conflict issue in this case. But the relationship-with-a-publicist tree obscures the forest—that is, the embarrassing idea on which the whole exercise was based. The Times has reported that Publisher David Hiller canceled plans to invite future guest editors that included Hiller's friend and associate, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as ex-Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Rumsfeld was a former director of the Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times.)