Today's amusing item from behind the Zion Curtain takes a bit of set-up, but the payoff is utterly delicious. Bear with me on this.
The first thing you need to know is that many observant LDS people have a general policy of avoiding R-rated films. Their religion counsels them to eschew profanity and depictions of sex and violence on moral grounds, and since R-rated movies usually tend to have copious amounts of these things, such movies automatically go on the "do not see" list. While I can respect the moral stand taken by these anti-R Mormons, I personally think they miss out on a lot of good movies -- good both in the sense of entertaining, but also frequently in the sense of good art. (I think it's very difficult to intelligently explore many areas of the human condition without including profanity and sex, because life is just like that. I do find, however, that the constant use of the F-word in some flicks gets pretty tiresome. I've always said that I don't mind profanity in my dialogue, but I hate it when it is the dialogue.) Still, it's their choice to make, and I support their right to make it. And anyway, I much prefer that people who are offended by certain content simply not watch that content, rather than attempting to enforce any form of censorship that would prevent me from watching it.
A few years ago, a Utah entrepeneur named Daniel Thompson apparently thought anti-R Mormons were missing out on a lot of good movies, too, so he came up with a novel idea: he started a video sales-and-rental business called CleanFlicks, which offered popular R-rated movies with the offensive bits cut out so as to suit the sensibilities of the niche market he was targeting. A good idea, on the face of it. There was only one problem: Thompson and his staff were the ones doing the editing. They didn't have permission from the Hollywood studios that owned the films, and they didn't have any kind of input from the writers and directors who created those movies.
Thompson's rationale -- in as much as I could ever follow it, which honestly wasn't very far -- was that he was doing nothing wrong because he bought official studio-produced copies of the films at retail price before taking the digital scissors to them. In his mind, the studio got their filthy lucre, so what did they have to complain about? As the owner of the videotape or DVD or whatever, he claimed he was entitled to make alterations to that object, just as any consumer is entitled to tear a page out of a book from their personal library, if they so choose.
As I'm sure you can imagine, Hollywood didn't see things that way, and a series of lawsuits followed. But like a movie zombie that won't stay down until you finally put a bullet through its brain, CleanFlicks kept coming back in one form or another, always with a new argument for why it was okay to tinker with somebody else's copyrighted creative work. Mostly recently, Thompson has been operating a store under the name of "Flix Club," doing essentially the same thing he's been doing all along, justified by yet another legal loophole. (Apparently, Thompson was arguing he could bowdlerize movies for "educational purposes," although I'm not sure what educational value could be found in a cleaned-up version of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.)
However, I think the news that came out last week is probably going to kill the CleanFlicks zombie once and for all: in an ironic twist worthy of Rod Serling, Thompson and his partner, Isaac Lifferth, the great crusaders for good family values in cinema, have been arrested for paying two fourteen-year-old girls to give them oral sex.
So the story goes, these two kids wanted money so they could move out of their parents' homes, and they asked an older friend to put them in touch with guys who would pay for sexual favors. This friend led them to the two film "sanitizers," who then paid the girls $20 each (big spenders!) for a little, ahem, back-room mouth lovin'. The deal was uncovered when one of the girls' mothers found the money and asked where it came from... and the girl actually told her!
If that isn't tawdry enough, it gets better: police raided the Flix Club store and found, in addition to a version of Titanic where Rose does not bare her boobies for Jack or steam up the windows of William Carter's Renault towncar, a large stash of pornographic videos. Thompson claims the porn was for "personal use." Um, yeah, well, when you think about it, it would be, wouldn't it?
But wait! It gets even better yet! In addition to the stash of porno vids, the police also found two cameras hooked up to a TV, a keg of beer, and some painkillers -- sounds like somebody was planning a party, doesn't it? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking: according to the booking documents, "Thompson told the 14-year-olds that his film sanitizing business was a cover for a pornography studio. He asked the girls if they would participate in making a porn movie, but they refused."
Just in case it didn't quite sink in, let me repeat the salient point: the film-sanitizing business was a cover for a porn studio.
Irony, hypocrisy, karma... call it what you will, but these bozos are in a lot of trouble, and I, for one, am laughing my butt off. I'll be following this story closely...
(Just to be clear, I don't have an issue with people who have certain moral beliefs avoiding entertainments that make them uncomfortable. And I also think it wouldn't hurt Hollywood -- and in fact it would probably be plenty lucrative for the industry -- to cater to this crowd a little more by producing more movies that are truly "family friendly," as well as, perhaps, offering authorized edited versions of their more popular R-rated flicks. But I've got a very low tolerance for self-righteousness or censorship, and the CleanFlicks operation always annoyed me on both fronts. No, it did more than that; it outright offended me, because I think both the people who ran the operation and the people who patronized it were unbelievably hypocritical.
As I see it, if you make the decision not to view R-rated movies, then you've got to live with the consequences of that decision, namely that you don't get to see the movies everybody else sees, at least not until they come on network television. Renting an unauthorized expurgation of The Matrix from a rogue operation that justifies its activities via loopholes in copyright law may save you the moral problem of hearing bad language, but you're still flirting with something unethical, aren't you? Of course you are. You're supporting an activity of questionable legality. You are, in effect, an accomplice to a crime.
And as for the bowdlerizers themselves, come on... they knew what they were doing was, at the very best, in a legal gray zone. They were making a profit by playing games with a creative work that didn't belong to them. Editing a movie and then renting it out to the public is not equivalent to a consumer tearing out a page of a privately owned book. It's more like rewriting a couple of chapters of that book, then reselling the book as "the Joe Schmoe Edition" or something. You are profiting from a creative work that does not belong to you, and you are not entitled to do so. Plain and simple.)