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The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn't Make X-rated Movies

Kevin S. Sandler
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Naked Truth
    Book Description:

    From parents and teachers to politicians and policymakers, there is a din of voices participating in the debate over how young people are affected by violence, strong language, and explicit sexual activity in films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) responded to this concern in 1968 when it introduced a classification and rating system based on the now well-known labels: "G", "PG", "PG-13", "R", and "X".

    For some, these simple tags are an efficient way to protect children from viewing undesirable content. But do the MPAA ratings actually protect children? InThe Naked Truth,Kevin. S Sandler argues that the rating system does not protect children but instead protects the Hollywood film industry. One prime indicator of this is the collective abandonment of the NC-17 rating in 1990 by the major distributors of the MPAA and the main exhibitors of the National Association of Theatre Owners. By categorizing all films released by Hollywood and destined for mainstream theaters into R ratings (or lower), the industry ensures that its products are perceived as "responsible entertainment" to all audiences and "incontestable" to politicians and moral reformers. By embracing a no-NC-17 rule, the industry collapses mature subject matter with pornography, creating a national cinema where certain representations of sex and nudity are taboo.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4146-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    TAKE ONE: Puppet sex. Two naked marionettes “making love.” This explicit two-minute sequence fromTeam America: World Policewas given an NC-17 (no one seventeen and under admitted) in September 2004 by the Rating Board of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), the movie rating system operated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated product (under seventeen requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) to Paramount, the filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone—who four years earlier had a similar ratings ruckus overSouth Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut(1999)—resubmitted the scene nine times...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Film Regulation before the Rating System
    (pp. 12-41)

    Cultural critic Thomas Frank calls the equating (or conflating) of the free market with democracy “market populism,” which for him is the defining feature of American capitalism in the last few decades of the twentieth century. “Market populism,” he suggests, “imagines individuals as fully rational economic actors, totally capable of making their needs known in the marketplace and looking out for their interests.”¹ In this view American leaders believe the market to be infinitely diverse, perfectly expressing the will of supply and demand, and more democratic than elections themselves.² This mythology, Frank argues, may breed reverence for market forces and...

  6. CHAPTER 2 CARA and the Emergence of Responsible Entertainment
    (pp. 42-82)

    A regulatory facelift could not have come at a better time when the MPAA established the Code and Rating Administration (CARA—changed to Classification and Rating Administration in 1977) on November 1, 1968; the motion picture business in the United States was in shambles. Declining attendance, shifting cultural mores, cinematic free expression, and independent and foreign film competition led producers, distributors, and exhibitors to discard long-standing codes of industry conduct and cooperation for short-term personal gain. These abandoned “gentleman rules,” as Jon Lewis calls them, dissolved a business arrangement between the three branches of the motion picture business that guaranteed...

  7. CHAPTER 3 From X to NC-17
    (pp. 83-121)

    Not a single mainstream film was released with an X throughout the 1980s. The conscious abandonment of this product line by the MPAA and NATO solidified the R rating—the Incontestable R—as a seal of responsible entertainment for the Hollywood film industry. The X, in turn, fortified itself as a marker of obscenity, artistic worthlessness, and anything other than responsible entertainment for the moviegoing public. With the X rating’s stigma left over from the 1970s, most NATO exhibitors refused to play X-rated films, many newspapers prohibited ads for them, and pay cable networks like HBO refused to air them....

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Incontestable R as a Code of Production
    (pp. 122-169)

    As we have seen, self-regulation in the classification era required the collusion and cooperation of the MPAA signatories and NATO exhibitors to adhere to an industry-wide standard that I have referred to as responsible entertainment. This standard called for the abandonment of the product line of the X/NC-17 rating by the major Hollywood distributors, as well as entrusting the negotiation of all R-rated entertainment to the Rating Board and Appeals Board of CARA. The channeling of most products into an R rating—what I have called the Incontestable R—functioned to safeguard the industry’s economic and political interests. This practice...

    (pp. 170-199)

    AfterHenry & Junethe Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners, and the Video Software Dealers Association overlooked the cosmetic change in the X rating and went back to business as usual: the business of the Incontestable R and responsible entertainment. The MPAA signatories shunned the distribution of mainstream NC-17 films. Few mainstream movie houses would play NC-17 films. Most major video-store chains refused to carry NC-17 films. The year after the rating change, film critic Peter Rainer lamented, “It’s one thing to sanction more adult-oriented movies; it’s another thing to make them.”¹ A number of...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 200-204)

    If we return to the rating battles that began this book—the controversies over Team America: World Police and The Cooler—we can see that the line between the R and the NC-17 rating is about so much more than puppet sex and one and a half seconds of pubic hair. Boundary maintenance between these categories endows the Hollywood film industry with an affirmative cultural function in the classification era, what I have called “responsible entertainment.” Negotiating the terrain of this boundary is the Rating Board of CARA, which calls for the arranging and filtering out of particular images, words,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 205-242)
  12. Index
    (pp. 243-252)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)