I have a competitor. A competitor who could completely and utterly destroy the movie filtering business. And frankly, I hope someday it does.
Around two decades ago, when asked to list competitors, I pointed to a video store in American Fork, Utah, that edited VHS copies of the movie "Titanic," and a company out of Alabama that created a clever device to mute offensive words on TV.
Yet, deep in my heart I knew there was one competitor that was perhaps the most powerful of all. Hollywood.
At this point you may be thinking, “Yes, I’ve heard that Hollywood hates filtering.” While I have heard this conversation many times, it is not my point. The courts and motion picture studios have made it very clear that filtering lawfully obtained movies is legal.
My point is that Hollywood can make the ultimate competitive maneuver. It can choose to make more movies families can enjoy together.
And in this, I am cheering it on.
The content dilemma
Ten years ago, during a Democratic debate before many Hollywood filmmakers, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama commented, “I do think it is important for us to make sure that we are giving parents the tools that they need in order to monitor what their children are watching.”
President Donald Trump last week spoke about movies containing too much violence. He remarked that when there is killing involved, “Maybe they have to put a rating system for that.”
These comments are reflective of a deeper issue, and hand-wringing around this problem is nothing new.
Several years ago while I was visiting a yard sale, a 1929 business magazine caught my eye. The author, reflecting on a time before 1922, wrote, “Some of the (movie) producers were not in touch with American thought and ideals and aspirations and beliefs. They made distinctly the wrong type of film.”
During this early time in Hollywood’s history, nine companies formed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and hired Will Hays, then the U.S. postmaster general, to lead them.
Hays was also a Presbyterian elder. While Hollywood valued his distribution skills, Hays brought with him a strong sense of community standards from his upbringing in small-town Sullivan, Indiana.
These standards came to be embodied in the “Hays Code.” The code was a voluntary production standard established by the movie industry. In it were 11 themes that were forbidden, and 26 other subjects accepted as occasional dramatic necessities, which the producers agreed to handle with the greatest of care.
It’s worth repeating that the Hays production standard was completely voluntary. For example, in a favorite movie of mine, "It’s a Wonderful Life," we never see what became of the evil Mr. Potter — even though the Hays code prescribed that criminals should be shown being punished for their wrongdoings.
Frank Capra, the producer of "It’s a Wonderful Life," should be applauded for a great storytelling decision. Instead of slowing down the movie’s third act with a Mr. Potter comeuppance (per the Hays code), we are treated with the momentum and crescendo of George Bailey realizing how wonderful his life is among friends and family.
While the Hays production standards were certainly not perfect, it is worth noting that their establishment coincided with the successful period known as Hollywood’s “golden years.”
The Hays production code was eventually replaced with a ratings system. While movie ratings can be useful, much can be said about the imperfections of a rating system, and rightly so. How do you categorically group movies in a meaningful way?
On one hand, the inclusion of specific words gives a movie a restricted rating; on the other hand, repetitive violence may not.
There is also the problem of “ratings creep.” Studies document how content that would have received an R rating in the past now finds its way into PG-13 and PG movies.
Trump, in talking about movie ratings last week, rightly said, “You get into a complicated, very big deal.”
It is a big deal. So what can be done? I’ve thought a lot about this question, and there are several powerful influences at play.
Parenting is powerful. As parents, we can best guide our children as to the content they experience. Parents are best equipped to know what is appropriate and inappropriate for their families.
Movies are powerful. My family loves how good movies make us feel, how they bring us together, challenge us and encourage us to be better people. We applaud filmmakers who are thoughtful in the messages and influences their movies contain.
Filtering is powerful. We can filter violence from videos, crude language from commercials and pornography from the screens held by our children. As parents, we need to handle this technology with the greatest of care.
In conclusion, with all this power, let’s be thoughtful, reflective and active. Uncle Ben said it best when counseling the young Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”