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April 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Chad Dominicis <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Apr 1994 13:30:37 EDT
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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From: Chad Dominicis.
The recent discussion in this group in regards to "Man Bites Dog," its
merits, its availability, and the "censorship" exercised by Blockbuster is
very interesting. It seems to me that its purported extremely violent content
is what attracts any interest at all in the film, as I've yet to see anyone
comment on the technical values of the film, the directorial style, or
anything else that filmmakers are usually concerned with. As such, it reduces
this discussion to a review of the value of total freedom of expression. We
as communicators are mostly all very sensitive when it comes to free
expression and the danger of limiting it., as well we should be. But there
are other issues to which we should also be sensitive.
For one, there is the matter of the power of film, as a form of mass
communication, to touch many people. Now, some of these people are not
completely aware of the contexts and premises that have to be established in
order to view a work. Most people will establish these prerequisites almost
automatically, e.g., a regular viewer will suspend disbelief in order to
enjoy "King Kong" or will realize that the "killer" in "Man Bites Dog" did
not actually kill anyone ("it's only a movie.") However in the mass audience
there are some individuals who view a scene and conclude that it is a real
act or that it is an example of acceptable behavior. Doubtless, a filmmaker
is not responsible for the way his or her work is viewed, but he or she
should be aware of the potential impact of that work. The inclusion of
extremes -be it violence, sex,  or sweetness to the extreme- heightens the
possibility that a work will leave a wrong impression on a segment of the
audience. In my opinion, it also makes it more likely that the piece will be
a work of propaganda instead of a work of art.
The violence in "Man Bites Dog," as described in these postings, truly
unsettles me because it seems devoid of balance, and in a sense it seems to
be a pornography of violence. (Last week on NPR's "Fresh Air" John Waters,
speaking of his experience as a teacher in a penitentiary a few years back,
mentioned that some of the more violent inmates looked at very violent films
as a pornography of sorts, actually getting aroused.) Along these lines
Madonna's book "Sex" unsettles me because it seems to have been published
only to say "I've gone further" but for no other reason than to get
attention, (and yes, money.) I guess what troubles me the most is the
realization of an immature mass audience that is susceptible to extremes, and
a class of authors that is more willing each day to exploit this audience.
On the matter of Blockbuster, we should consider the relationship between
content and context. If we realize that Blockbuster is a private concern and
it is directing its business towards an audience that in general wants to be
"protected" from certain types of films, then we must accept Blockbuster's
decisions as to what it carries or not. I do take exception with the firm's
editing of the film. I believe that if the work is objectionable to you, then
just don't carry it, but don't MAKE it conform to your standards. In general,
I find that most Blockbuster branches are limited in content anyway. But when
I want to see a film that BB doesn't carry, there are other places to turn
to. As to Wayne Huizenga's wealth I don't mind adding to it if I'm getting
something in return, it adds to my emotional wealth when I see a good movie
or go to a good Marlins' game. In short, the assignation of material by
content to a distribution context does not constitute censorship, per se.
Thank you all for your attention and your interesting contributions to this
Chad Dominicis.