"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 May 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Ratings Sweeper


Stanley Kubrick was known for

giving all - and demanding all

plus points - for his art. We

can't help wondering whether the

fella known as the world's

greatest living movie director

right up until the moment of his

death didn't engineer his recent

and "unexpected" demise as part

of the massive Eyes Wide Shut PR

machine, of which the most

well-lubricated part to date has

been the widely distributed,

90-second teaser clip that

features a naked Nicole Kidman's

tits and ass being groped by a

similarly unclothed Tom Cruise.

After all, if Kubrick could film

Slim Pickens riding a nuclear

bomb to ground zero in Dr.

Strangelove or the beloved

Scatman "Stick Out Your Can,

Here Come Da Garbage Man!"

Crothers getting cleaved by an

ax in The Shining, he was

certainly capable of planning

his own death to achieve a

desired aesthetic effect.


But at least Kubrick will be

spared the interminable

discussion about sex, violence,

and media ratings that his last

flick has helped reignite. Eyes

Wide Shut - the title of which

is rumored to refer to the

clinical catatonia induced by

viewing Kubrick's own Barry

Lyndon, a 183-minute,

live-action Commander McBragg

set piece - was initially

rumored to have received an

NC-17 rating from the Motion

Picture Association of America

because it reportedly contains

"some of the most sexually explicit

material ever encountered in a

mainstream film." (After loud

protests from Kubrickians,

including an "over my dead,

naked body" ultimatum from Cruise

himself, the film was awarded a

distributor-friendly R rating.)


Created in 1990, the

"NC-17: No One 17 and Under

Admitted" rating - MPAA

President Jack Valenti assures

readers of the group's Web site

that the phrase is trademarked,

so don't even think about using

it as the name for a chain of

strip joints - replaced the

infamous X rating, which according

to Valenti, had regrettably

"taken on a surly meaning."



Here's a bonus reason,

incidentally, to envy Kubrick

his new 6-by-2-foot dirt

apartment: He has also been

spared the interminable

discussion about the

fan-fucking-tastic artistic

merits of Eyes Wide Shut that

his cast has already

inaugurated. Cruise, who has

boldly vowed that his and the

missus' genitals will not end up

on the cutting-room floor of the

final version of the picture,

has suggested that making what

increasingly sounds like a

stroker flick for the Charlie

Rose demographic allowed him to

finally understand "the

possibilities of film, the

possibilities of how to

communicate ideas and concepts

in a way that you never

thought." It's fascinating

commentary, until one realizes

that he said the same thing after

wrapping Legend, Cocktail, Days

of Thunder, and Mission: Impossible.


Coinciding with the controversy over

the Eyes Wide Shut ratings dispute

is, of course, the fallout from the

schoolyard shooting at Columbine

High. In the wake of the

shocking discovery that the

killers - unlike most other

American kids of all ages -

watched television, played

videogames, and listened to

music, there have been renewed

calls for stronger, stricter,

and more moralistic ratings of

popular culture. On Meet the

Press - yes, it was Sunday, so

it was Meet the Press, although

church is looking like a

less-and-less painful

alternative all the time - US

Surgeon General David Satcher

seriously mulled over the

proposal, pitched by host Tim

Russert, of slapping a cigarette

pack-like warning label on

videogames. To his credit - or

perhaps due to a petit mal

epileptic seizure brought on by

the anxiety of an actual public

appearance - the surgeon general

refrained from asking the

obvious: Did his husky

interlocutor pay much heed to

the nutritional labels already

glued to every Hostess Twinkie,

Swanson Hungry Man Dinner, and

tub of Crisco vegetable shortening

sold in the United States?


Then's there Al Gore. Despite

receiving an endorsement for his

presidential bid from the

Grateful Dead - a "rock" band

reputed to have some vague

connections to the country's

youthful "alternative" and

"drug" cultures - the vice

president and Second Lady Tipper

Gore, late of the Parents' Music

Resource Center and authoress of

Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated

World, have called for

larger-type labeling of the

moral garbage (such as Grateful

Dead records) that litters the

American landscape and turns us

all into so many teary-eyed

Amerindians, culturally

speaking. Gore's boss,

naturally, has made similar

proposals, although he has

pointedly declined to assign a

particular rating to his own

televised testimony in

l'affaire Lewinsky or to ponder

whether the mixed messages he's

been sending lately - "don't use

violence to settle disagreements

unless you have the firepower to

bomb your enemy back to the

Stone Age" - only further

confuse kids growing up in a

surrealistic world in which

pipes are not pipes and cigars

are not for smoking.



Only this much can be said about

the incessant calls for more and

better ratings from the troupe

of pasty-faced actors dispatched

by Central Casting to play

"congressmen" and "senators"

during this latest news cycle:

Such proposals seem almost adult

in light of the comments of the

undisputed winner of the

Columbine High Media Dance 50/50

raffle: Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

(retired), who has appeared on

virtually every television talk

show in the past two weeks to

discuss regulating Nintendo

systems as weapons. Looking

uncomfortably like a

shell-shocked version of

Niedermeyer, the ROTC fascist

from Animal House, and sounding

uncomfortably like Jack D.

Ripper, the battle-crazed

general obsessed with the

contamination of "precious

bodily fluids" in Dr.

Strangelove, Grossman has

assailed the "toxins" and "toxic

substances" polluting American

culture - e.g., videogames,

pornography, movies, music,

television, and beer, wine, and

sangria - and suggested that

they be taken out like so many

Serbian villages (or the

occasional Kosovar refugee

column mistaken for same).


This may be another reason to

see the story of Kubrick, Eyes

Wide Shut, and the MPAA ratings

as part of the master

cinéaste's fool-proof

marketing plan. Most ratings

advocates openly admit that they

don't merely want to label pop

culture offerings; they want to

restrict what is actually being

offered and they are ready to

use government muscle to

accomplish such a high-minded

goal ("It's for the children,

after all, so shut the fuck up

already about the First

Amendment, you irresponsible

bastard ..." ). Jack Valenti and

the MPAA seem to be an exception

to that rule, but their position

holds about as much water as

Billy Carter on an airplane

runway. "The basic mission of

the rating system," writes

Valenti, a former aide to that

lover of liberty and saturation

bombing, Lyndon Baines Johnson,

"is a simple one: to offer

parents some advance information

about movies." A similar thought

undergirds all ratings systems,

whether for TV shows,

videogames, music, or Granimals

children's clothing. Such logic,

alas, like LBJ's character, is

at least doubly flawed (triply

so if one remembers that no causal

linkage between media and violent

behavior has been established).



For starters, surveys have shown

that ratings, far from steering

people away from a particular

product, may actually lure them

in. Indeed, a 1998 Kaiser Family

Foundation study of the nascent

TV ratings system found that

about a third of 10- to

17-year-old boys were more

likely to watch a program if it

garnered a coveted V (for

violence) rating. A similar

percentage reported that they

would circumvent parental

attempts to limit their viewing

pleasure (an idle adolescent

boast, since by all accounts

nobody is using the mandatory

V-chip installed in all new

television sets to block

programs). We might further add

that it's never clear what will

set a killer off:

Milwaukee-based cannibal Jeffrey

Dahmer was reportedly obsessed

with the Star Wars movies, and

John Lennon's murderer Mark

David Chapman made a fetish out

of a well-thumbed copy of

Catcher in the Rye. Neither

psychological trigger rises to

the level of obviousness of,

say, Mary Hart's voice, which

has been known to trigger brain

seizures in certain

Entertainment Tonight buffs.


Second and perhaps more to the

point, who precisely needs more

"advance information" about

movies, videogames, TV shows, or

music? Perhaps we're confusing

reality with Bewitched reruns

again (it happens) - but don't most

of these culture industries employ

advertising and marketing agencies

to make absolutely sure that

potential viewers have at least

a glimmer of their product lines?


Let us be blunt: Come 16 July,

the release date of Eyes Wide

Shut, those parents who aren't

already painfully, tediously

aware of the film's subject

matter and its generous dollops

of A-list butt cheeks have

bigger problems to worry about

than whether this particular

movie was rated PG-13 or NC-17.

They will doubtless be wondering

whether they will ever be able

to get their heads out of their

asses, whether they forgot to

turn off their ovens before they

started cleaning them with

gasoline-based cleanser, and

whether their kids gave them all

the change back from the last

time they sent them down to the

corner store to pick up a case

of Coors and a carton of

Marlboro Lights. Indeed, whether

their kids get to see Tom Cruise

finally dance onscreen sans

underwear just won't rate that

highly on their list of concerns.

courtesy of  Mr. Mxyzptlk


[Purchase the Suck Book here]