Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NPR Protecting Homophobic Privates

A while back, filmmaker Kirby Dick directed a pretty decent documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated. It was positioned as an expose on the MPAA, the semi-anonymous body that every film studio voluntary submits to for ratings. These few people watch just about every movie and decide whether it should be slapped with a G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17. Often, these ratings are pretty arbitrary. In looking at disputes over ratings through the years, Dick discovered the well-known acceptance of graphic violence over graphic sexual content in American films, but he also showed how certain political motives shape how movies are rated. For example, two men kissing is often seen by the MPAA as more "adult" than two women kissing. Since the MPAA is supposed to reflect the average moral and political values of America, this makes some sense. Still, it's homophobia in action. So Dick decided to track down and expose the identities of some of the MPAA's anonymous members. This is where I started to part ways with the movie. I didn't really see the point in outing these people beyond a self-aggrandizing, Michael Moore-ish stunt on Dick's part, and violating these people's privacy didn't seem to further the thesis of the film in any meaningful way. We know that the MPAA has a lot of cultural power and little public oversight, but knowing members' names and where they work doesn't speak to the greater point.

This is all relevant information when you consider that Dick's latest documentary, Outrage, involves the filmmaker digging up dirt on conservative, gay rights-opposing politicians who may actually be gay themselves. The film has raised a lot of the same issues about the value in invading these people's privacy (Outrage apparently features interviews with men who claim to have had sex with these politicians). So much so that NPR has created a minor scandal by censoring the names of certain named politicians (former senator Larry Craig and Florida governor Charlie Crist, specifically) in the broadcast version of their review of the film. According to critic Nathan Lee, NPR approved the naming of those names when he submitted the transcript of the review, but they were later cut out due to the network's privacy policy when it comes to reporting unconfirmed rumor.

It's easy to see NPR's point here. The facts presented in Outrage haven't been checked by them, and NPR isn't in the business of spreading baseless accusations. But the reality is that this wasn't a news story. This was a film review. And if the content of the film involves the naming of these politicians, then that's fair game for discussion in a critical context. To drag Michael Moore back into this, it's obvious that his excursion to Cuba in the movie Sicko wasn't presented in the film exactly as it was staged, but that doesn't mean a review can't mention that it was presented in the film.

But although I haven't seen Outrage, what I'm hearing gives me the same kind of sick feeling I got about Dick's hunting down of MPAA members in This Film is Not Yet Rated. So what if these gay-haters are also gays themselves? For one thing, it's possible for a gay person to also be against gay marriage and other gay rights. For another, the implied hypocrisy isn't nearly as contemptible as these people's voting records themselves. If a 100% hetero politician votes against gay rights, it's just as bad. It seems like the whole point of Outrage is to show that some politicians are disingenuous and deeply morally compromised. This is not news.

By the way, I once heard that Rick Santorum gave a dude a rusty trombone in the bathroom of a Lone Star Steakhouse.

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