We all know there is censorship in every part of life and the culture surrounding culture is no different… the media about media faces the same issues with censorship that they don’t want you to hear about. This week I am going to look at some film/television commentary tracks and the censorship of those but in the next week or so I will be looking into how the media as a whole censors the criticism of the media as a whole.
Lost Commentary Tracks
It was recently leaked online that the reasons the Laserdisc commentary tracks from the early 90’s Criterion Collection of James Bond movies were pulled from the shelves was that MGM (owner of the Bond franchise) was a little pissed at what was said on the commentaries so they yanked them from the shelves in the hopes these would never resurface, to no avail. Why did MGM want these commentaries removed from circulation (remember, this is the early 90’s, no internet and Laserdisc was very much a collectors only format)? Because the participants on the commentaries were speaking too frankly about working on these films and telling the stories that MGM executives did not want out there… not to mention that these being old white men quite a bit of misogamy and even racism was espoused in these commentaries. Was MGM right to protect their image or was it censorship of them to attempt to whitewash the issue that so clearly existed at the time? Was it censorship of them to pull the discs from the shelves or would it only have been censorship if they had managed to stop them from ever hitting the shelves in the first place? What about if they stop the commentary from every hitting the public? I would wager that no one would fail to call that censorship… our would they simply call that “working in the best interest of the company”? What is the difference really?
J. Michael Straczynski had his entire commentary for the pilot of Crusade removed which has (yet) to be leaked out. What did he say that was so wrong as to get his commentary censored? We don’t know specifically because of a non-disclosure agreement but we do know that because he talked about how TNT fucked the series over and interfered on every level of it’s production that he was talking openly… so TNT sicced the lawyers on him and the lawyers won. His commentary was eradicated but was the damage already done? With it (now) being public knowledge that this act was perpetrated does that not only bolster the legend surrounding what Straczynski MIGHT have said and in effect does it not have the same outcome of making TNT look like the villains? What if what they censored from Straczynski was not nearly as bad as what we now THINK they censored from Straczynski? They may have just compounded their own issue in their (vain) attempt to stop some minor slight. At this point would it not be more advantageous to just release the commentary and put the issue to rest lest the stories of how this caustic commentary came to be suppressed grow infinitely?
Why is Commentary Censored?
Kevin Smith knows all too well about the censoring of commentary tracks. Most commentary tracks today are done at the studios and with the studios lawyers having the final say of what makes it in and what makes it out. Just try to listen to the Dogma commentary and you will hear bleeps aplenty because the lawyers were afraid of what he was saying. Same on the Clerks Animated Series commentaries there are tons of beeps. Why? Because Smith was not about to “play nice” with the people that fucked him over and tried to destroy his dreams for the sake of test audiences and public polls. They could not stop him (per se) from talking about these indiscretions they wished to hide but they could lawyer him and forced the names (truth be damned) of all involved to be shielded and protected. Now, the question here is what purpose does that truly serve? Think about it… by doing what they did the studios have merely given Smith credibility to his claims by trying to silence him… yet if they had just let it ride out and they refuted these claims as false and harmful they could have sued him for slander. In effect all they did was tell you as the audience that he is onto something here and maybe you should listen a little closer. Also this has the added effect of making people research and seek out the original material because lets face it, when we are told we can’t see/hear/read something that only makes us want it even more.
New Wave Hookers was a 1985 film by The Dark Brothers and it was intently controversial for it being one of the last films that Traci Lords worked on before her age was discovered. The film was re-edited to remove her scene and was released to much success but if I may move from the commentary aspect a bit, the DVD for this film is still censored… and not how you think it was. I do not consider them removing the ILLEGAL scene of Traci Lords from the DVD as censorship so that is not my issue with the DVD.., my issue is that the DVD censors the words “chink” and “nigger”. The set-up for the movie is that 2 low level morons are sitting around their apartment/office and fantasizing about being pimps and the banter between them leads to them using the offending words a few times… which are silenced out for the DVD. So the DVD has all of the sex, all of the cumshots, all of the anal plowing… but if you hear a black guy use the word “nigger” that is over the line? What moronic censorship indeed and really when you come down to it would ANYONE have actually complained about “nigger” being there if you had not pointed it out by censoring it? Another case where the censorship does nothing to alleviate the problem and only succeeds in pointing people to the fact that you thought there was a problem when there was none until you made it a problem.
Why’s it Bad?
There are far more examples out there but I feel these should suffice to make my point. Why is this is dangerous though that even film commentaries, which are designed to give you a “truthful” look behind the scenes, are subject to the whims of those in control? Because they are not telling the truth or because they are absolutely telling the truth? Which is more harmful and most of all which is more valuable?
When you confront the media, the media confronts you.