ClearPlay and Censorship: If You Could Change a Movie, Would You?

BlogHer Original Post

I may be the wrong person to post about television and movie censorship for kids. I, after all, was raised by parents who did not believe in censorship of any kind. My older brother and I spent the entire 1970s in the back seat of the family car at the drive-in movie watching one blaxploitation movie after another. Chock-full of sex, violence, and profanity, these films drew my parents in like bees to honey. If you censored out the inappropriate subject matter in these movies in accordance with one of those child-censoring services or devices, all you’d have left is the opening credits and a small portion of the closing credits … without the music … because Shaft was a bad mother shut your mouth …

The irony, on the other hand, is my parents had true disdain for television. At the dawning of the sitcom and the TV weekly series, my parents refused to partake. Practically all we watched on TV was the news and the Movie of the Week. They thought sitcoms and series, such as Emergency, were a total waste of time. They did not stop us from watching them, but with one television in the house, we had little opportunity.

Fast forward, if you will, to February 2010. I, like many participants at this year’s Mom 2.0 Summit, listened as one of the exhibitors, ClearPlay, stated their case for home movie censorship. ClearPlay is the company that offers a system by which parents can filter out objectionable content of DVD movies.


Woman Grimacing

The company is not new. In fact, ClearPlay is apparently the only censoring company still standing after the movie industry screamed foul and brought suit against the whole lot of them several years ago under copyright laws. ClearPlay was saved by the passage of the Family Movie Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2005. The Family Movie Act basically allows companies to cut out profanity, nudity and graphic violence for home viewing as long as they do not offer an edited, finished product for sale. When you invest in ClearPlay, you get a special DVD player and thumb drive that you use to download filters from your computer and plug into your DVD player. You subscribe to a service that allows you to update your filters for newly released movies. The filters do not alter the DVD. They just filter out the unwanted content as you watch. You determine the type of content to be filtered and  the level of filtering.

My first reaction to the concept was negative. Not only am I my parent’s child, I am also a strong believer in the “just say no” approach to family movie decision making. But in truth, I often fudge my no-rated-R-movies policy for my youngest kids when I think the overall message of a movie warrants it or (more commonly) in the interest of convenience. Sometimes I have been right, and sometimes I have been wrong. I have been known to stop a movie mid-reel (so to speak) when the movie has proven to be too mature (for them) or too gross (for me). I can imagine if you have a stricter parental code than mine, movie choosing would be very difficult, as most movies are rated PG-13 and R . PG-13 is the rating that movie makers seem to feel confident that families will decide to view anyway — even if the children are younger than thirteen. The G-rated movie is all but extinct.

TV and movie censoring has an interesting history. It has long been recognized that movie makers, especially cartoon makers, should be held to a standard that upholds a moral code and does not offend the average sensibility. In the 1930s under the watchful eye of the Will H. Hays, the movie industry’s self-governing “morality czar,” Porky Pig and Petunia could not kiss on screen; monsters could not be too monster-like (as in scary); characters could not spit or make the razzberry gesture or sound; and women, even cartoon women, could not show their navels. (See Censoring Animated Films ) Though these rules prevailed well into the 1980's, they have gotten looser and looser, catching up to the comfort levels of many current viewers and going well beyond many other's.

In 1999, the federal government stepped in and mandated the placement of the V-chip in all of our televisions. With the V-chip, parents have the power to block programming based on the “TV Parental Guidelines” rating system. Most cable companies also allow you to have considerable parental control over channels and movies. DIRECTV, for example, allows you to block entire channels, channels at specific times, TV shows and movies based on ratings, and even movies based on title. Really, considerable content control has been in the hands of parents for some time. But studies consistently show that few families actually use them. For the parents that do take controls seriously, censoring devices, like the ClearPlay, take things a giant step further.

On the ClearPlay blog site, they say this about their version of the recently released DVD, 2012:

As one can imagine, watching continents slide into the ocean prompts some unfortunate language on the part of those sliding in and those watching others slide in. ClearPlay excises an F word, a few S words, and lots of other profanities and religious exclamations. A couple of scenes dealing with sexual dialogue and disturbing deaths are also cut. Very watchable with ClearPlay.

I don’t know about you, but if a disaster of global proportions was happening around me, I’d kind of expect some expletives to fly … and not just out of my own mouth! The blog also talks about Where the Wild Things Are. Now, here’s one of my problems with censorship. What you might find offensive might not bother me and vice-versa. If they had edited that movie for my satisfaction, they’d have taken out the little boy altogether.


When I viewed this movie at the theater, I thought was going to see one my family's favorite book classics made for the big screen. I didn’t even consider that the boy would get on my nerves so much. ClearPlay would not have been able to take out the messages of recklessness and disrespect this boy was modeling for my 10-year-old son, who was watching with me. In addition, ClearPlay does not have filters for some of the more troublesome and enduring and, in my opinion, harmful underlying messages of sexism, classicism or racism, which many other movies contain. (Note: I am speaking generally now and not specifically about Where The Wild Things Are.) The bottom line is this: Parents just simply cannot control everything, and that’s a good thing, because most of the post-movie conversations about appropriate behavior and society’s ills need to be had. And even though ClearPlay might help smooth the edges of some adult-themed movies, a parent still has to choose carefully and just say no sometimes.

Nicolas, at, has another view :

Many times my family will find some great movies but we couldn't watch them because of those few words sprinkled here and there or maybe there was a scene. Well, now that we got ClearPlay we can watch all of your movies without sitting tensely holding that controller trying to beat the audio to that word.

Matt Asay, at CNET, sees the use of ClearPlay as “watching movies on your own terms.” He feels that Hollywood is out of touch with what audiences really want:

There's a rich irony in Hollywood today. If you look at where Hollywood makes the most money, the vast majority of its cash comes from PG-13, PG, and G-rated films. R-rated films? It's hard to find any in a list of Hollywood's all-time highest grossing films at the box office. Indeed, within the top-25 highest grossing films of all time, only one rated-R film even makes the list, The Matrix: Reloaded at number 28 … For me, I can do without the sex, nudity, profanity, and vulgarity: All of it. In most movies, this means that I miss all of 30 seconds of a movie that some Hollywood director threw in to appeal to her audience (conveniently overlooking that fact that an R rating might make a director look good with her peers, but it's a virtual guarantee that her movie is going to be a financial flop, comparativley (sic) speaking)


Assay asserts that Hollywood should make more money with the increased use of the censoring device because people will buy more of the movies they would , without the power to censor, have otherwise avoided.

Kristen at Motherhood Uncensored, who also encountered ClearPlay at the Mom 2.0 Summit, is concerned with the larger censorship issue:

The idea of locks on television channels and the internet doesn't really bother me. I do believe that there are shows that kids should not see, and websites that little eyes should not be viewing.
So maybe that's why I'm not quite sure [ClearPlay] is the answer. Isn't it better to explain to your kids that they can't watch the movie and discuss why? I mean, we can't censor life - though we might like to edit out things they see and hear.

Part of growing up is learning limits and boundaries. And it's about taking those moments when limits and boundaries are broken and using them as a chance to teach our kids about the nuances of life. Our existence is colorful - sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly.


Mom-101 also chimed in with a another dissent:


Complete censorship will not save our children or our future. I believe it does the opposite. That's not to say I will let my kids watch anything they want. There has to be a middle ground, and more importantly, *open discussion*.


On the other hand, Kelly, commenting at Motherhood Uncensored, says she wouldn't mind if some of Mel Gibson's early movies were altered just enough that her son could view them without the violence. Really, how bad could it be if you watched movies like Lethal Weapon I, II, III or IV, with no bad language and less violence? Is Lethal Weapon's basic Hollywood plot going to be hurt by edits that would essentially turn it into the network TV version? Probably not.

In fairness, I watched a demonstration of a before-editing and after-editing version of some movies by the ClearPlay device, and I don’t think that with many movies most people would perceive the difference. The edits are pretty seamless and not intrusive. You can also set the level of editing you want, so that you can have less taken out or you can choose the maximum.


But still, what would The Godfather be without the horse head in the bed? And what would Spiderman II be without the sensuous kiss between upside-down Spiderman and Mary Jane in the alley? And what would Book of Eli be without the awesome (though gruesome) fight scenes? Those elements are actually all crucial components to their stories. I personally would rather wait until my kids are old enough to handle the entire movie and then discuss with them the necessity of those parts to the story. But that’s just me …


What about you? How do you feel about TV and movie censorship for kids in general? And about the ability to alter a movie for family viewing? Talk about it now in Family Connections Group.

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