Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

July 9, 2006

CleanFlicks, and the proud tradition of elective ignorance

Filed under: movies,navel gazing — secretmojo @ 10:26 am

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that CleanFlicks, a company specializing in censoring films and redelivering them to its customers, was breaking the law. This issue has been simmering (and boiling) for quite some time—since 1998!—and more thorough information is available at The Director’s Guild of America site, and some video is available at AMC.

Here’s the lowdown: CleanFlicks, a Utah company, started in 1998, providing a DVD modification service to more prudent customers that would silence curse words and skip past outré scenes in order to keep their southern sensibilities in tact, so to speak. This is conceptually no different than TNT overhauling Sex in the City for basic cable consumption.

But the trouble was, CleanFlicks sought no advice from the studios or directors producing these films; they simply made the executive decision to create modified versions for customers who bought DVD players capable of reading the “censor track” as it were. Note: as far as I can tell, customers renting these DVD’s knew what they were getting. I don’t think the censoring could work without the player bought by the customer.

Now, here’s the issue. Legally, this is a copyright violation, because CleanFlicks was, erm, “adding value” to a movie by changing it, and making a buck off of it, without telling the creator. The court ruled as much.

Morally, it’s clear that if a company wishes to sell dumbed-down versions of movies to willful customers, they can do it, as long as they don’t defraud their customers, and as long as the studio agrees to it.

Politically, however, is where this case shines. CleanFlicks didn’t just operate out of Utah; it sent its edited videos all over the country, including California, Michigan, and other states.

Furthermore, CleanFlicks was audacious enough to be the first to file suit against the directors. On what grounds? To determine if what CleanFlicks was doing was legal.

In other words, it was a publicity stunt. They could have continued on for years (and in fact they did, since 1998), negotiated some kind of editing scheme with the studios, but instead chose to make a political point about it (this had some effect upon Dubya, who signed the Family Movie Act which legalized their technology), and as reward saw their business come crashing down. Today they frame it as a “David and Goliath” story.

Except in this case, David goaded Goliath into a fight, then David lost. Also: no rocks were thrown, no flesh-eating threats were made, and David beheaded no one, because CleanFlicks “sanitized” all those icky parts out.

But all of this brings me, finally, to elective ignorance.

I myself engage in much elective ignorance; I will not watch television unless by mistake, or forced to, for example. I do not know any of the American Idol contestants’ names. I no longer read right-wing blogs, because vomiting every two minutes has taken a bit of a toll on my stomach.

But how much elective ignorance is too much? If I do not want to see someone’s head get chopped off in a movie, and go so far as to hire a company to remove the yuck for me, is this me “denying reality”, or “sheltering myself”? Do I have to watch the whole torture scene (including the fingernail stubbornly sticking to the guy’s cuticle) to keep my street cred? Do I really have to read The Drudge Report? (Please say no, Please say no…)

What if I elect to be ignorant of politics altogether? The chumps are out to get you anyway; why get red in the face about it? Why know the 3 branches of government, when as far as I can see it, they’re Screwy, Patooey, and Chimp?

Or what if I elect not to know what my friend is doing behind my back, because I am afraid of betrayal and shame?

Is there, in fact, a proper line? I can imagine remaining fully ignorant of everything on Earth, and touting this as “purity of mind.” I’d be a stupid knob, but if I tweaked it properly, could feel like an anti-genius genius. I know some people who attempt to keep themselves “purely American” this way. Ick.

Sufficed to say, if it makes you dysfunctional, then that must be where the line is. If you ignore your lover’s obvious affair to the point of helping him/her select lingerie to wear while you’re gone “just for kicks,” well that’s darn dysfunctional, and you needs some schoolin’. So perhaps the rule is: if you need the knowledge to be a better person, but chose to walk past it, then this is bad.

Non-elective ignorance is another story. What a person doesn’t tell me counts as non-elective ignorance. For example, I remained ignorant of the President’s cocaine use for quite some time, until one day through a particularly circuitous route, I stumbled upon a book review that mentioned it. But there’s a grey area, isn’t there? What if I do not read encyclopedias, or tend to browse only one section of the bookstore (or the web) any given day? Clearly, I am acting in such away that I increase my ignorance of the aisles I don’t go down, but it can’t quite be said that this is elective (besides, I’m gaining deeper knowledge down my well-treaded aisles, aren’t I?). Furthermore, there are only so many hours in a day; does this mean that if I spend it hanging at the beach instead of seeking out new things, that my ignorance quotient increases?

I don’t have an answer for that. I’m just sayin.

If someone calls you ignorant, this is an insult. But we are all ignorant of something. I had no idea that déjà vu had sub-categories until just a few days ago. Boy, was I ignorant back then.

It’s a matter of degree, and who you hang out with, I guess. In some circles (I won’t mention them: electively keeping you ignorant) I am the smart guy. In others, I’m a dumb fucking rock. I can tolerate the former, because it strokes my ego, yet also the latter, because I’m getting a free class. But it is frustrating on both sides, because I have ideas too big to impart on the one, and too juvenile to explain to the others.

Ideally, I’d rather not be ignorant of anything. Except historical dates. I hate those things. But like I said, there’s only 24 in a day. So I’m starting to (unintentionally) build myself a themed groove based on my interests. Particularly around politics, but also in — oh, hell. I wont tell you about that stuff til later. I should be shaking myself up a bit: reading a little “how to garden” or “seduction for dummies”, or merely driving off to a place I haven’t been before and introducing myself to a random person. But I can’t bring myself to it: my elective ignorance blanket is just too comfortable, too familiar. And I suppose I’m a little afraid of what I’d see on the other side of the wall.

Seems like that’s where the line should be drawn regarding elective ignorance. If you’re afraid of new topics, or feel bothered by the mental effort they require, then you are becoming an ignoramus.

Holy shit, I’m an ignoramus.

Man I was so ignorant two seconds ago.

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