The Pleasure Police

The MPAA and its antiquated view of what girls are made of

Burson got her NC-17 changed to an R by making most of the 17 cuts the MPAA "recommended." But she also demanded explanations. She says her MPAA contact told her that the board had a problem with teenage girls having orgasms or talking about them. When Burson countered that they didn't seem bothered by teenage boys' orgasms, she says she was told the MPAA's job is to make viewing recommendations to parents, and that since most American parents have a different standard for their sons than for their daughters, the MPAA must maintain that double standard as well.

The chilling effect of that double standard is a prime reason that there are no American female directors whose films are as vivid or as complicated as Scorsese's or Kubrick's— to bring up the director whose final film is causing the biggest MPAA flap in the nine years since the NC-17 was initiated. Last week members of the L.A. Film Critics Association fired off a letter condemning Warner Bros. for its "decision to digitally alter Eyes Wide Shut in order to secure an R rating." The letter also condemned "the apparent double standard the MPAA continues to maintain when it comes to sexual and violent movie content."

But the experience Babbit and Burson had with the MPAA is far more dire. Because of its antiquated notions of gender and sexuality, the MPAA is preventing a major area of female experience from being represented on the screen. MPAA chairman Jack Valenti may claim that the MPAA doesn't censor films, but, in practical and economic terms, that's exactly what it does. What else can Valenti say, given that the members of the MPAA rating board seem unqualified to conduct an intelligent conversation with a filmmaker, let alone grapple with the legal and moral issues involved in censorship? That the studios continue to allow the MPAA so much power suggests that they share its values. It's okay for the geeky girl in American Pie to announce that she once stuck her flute up her pussy, as long as she says it to give a thrill to her date. But when teenage girls have a gabfest about orgasms and try to figure out whether the sex they're having is satisfying or not, they need to be reined in.

As for the future of Coming Soon and But I'm a Cheerleader: Burson showed her film at the L.A. Indie Fest, the Nantucket Film Festival, and at Gen Art in New York. Distributors passed on Coming Soon when it was NC-17. She's making the rounds again now that it has an R. Babbit is in postproduction with Cheerleader, which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival in September. After that, I suspect, she'll have no trouble finding a distributor at all.

The Girl Can't Have It

YES: A scene in which a boy, having heard that third base is "like warm apple pie," finds an apple pie his mother has left him for dinner, tentatively sticks two fingers through the crust, wiggles them around, and winds up with the entire pie plastered across his crotch. His father suggests telling the mother that the son ate it all. (American Pie)

YES: A foreign exchange student strips down to her panties, crawls into bed with porno magazines, sticks her hand inside her panties, and masturbates. The joke in the scene is that she's unaware that many boys (including one preteen) are watching her over the Internet. (American Pie)

NO: A girl standing in a baby-doll nightgown with one hand outside her panties, and the other clutching a vibrator-type object against the bodice of her dress. The shot is a fast pan up her body to her delighted face. Only the close-up of her face remains in the R version. (But I'm a Cheerleader)

NO: A conversation in which a boy tries to convince a girl that she achieved orgasm when she didn't. (Coming Soon) —A.T.

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