In late January when Google announced that it was replacing 60 different privacy policies across its multiple sites and services with a single one, you might have thought Congress had taken up SOPA and PIPA again. That’s how loud the outrage was from much of the social galaxy, as reflected in this Gizmodo headline: “Google’s Broken Promise: The End of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’” Other observers, such as Forbes “privacy pragmatist” Kashmir Hill, questioned what the big deal was; after all, she wrote, Google wasn’t changing much other than how it targets ads to users and creates new innovative services: “Using information from Gmail to suggest more appropriate YouTube videos or reminding an Android smartphone user that they have a Google calendar appointment in a half hour on the other side of town doesn’t strike me as the work of Lucifer.”
This week I want to invite you into a process we go through all the time. Classifying short films that are suitable for creating classroom discussion is usually pretty straightforward, but recently we had one with some interesting twists. So I wanted to ask, “did we get it right?”
Film and literature classification has well-established protocols. For feature films, there’s occasionally a bit of controversy about final decisions handed down, but there is at least a process; a well-defined pathway that gets a film rated as G, PG, M or higher. But here’s the catch: rating films is costly process, well over $1000 per film. That’s chicken-feed for a feature-film, but for most short films, that’s usually way out of reach, so no one bothers.
CASE-STUDY: ROCK & ROLL
Last week we launched a short film into our Festival Showcase area which certainly got me thinking about the challenge of censorship. It includes drug use and drug references. In fact there’s one item that can be virtually overlooked if you’re not thinking early on. Our decisions need to be weighed up carefully, as if we were about to show this film to a class ourselves and we carry that responsibility. It is definitely not suitable for primary school level.
As an Australian-based organisation, we use the basic guidelines used by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for deciding what’s age-appropriate around the areas identified as themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.
In short, TV and Film’s standard ratings, roughly equate to Campfire’s classifications as follows:
G = “Suitable for Children” marked ‘Yes’ (suits Primary School age)
PG = “Suitable for Children” marked ‘No’, but there are no cautionary notes
M = ‘Caution’ note included
M 15+ = ‘Caution’ notice and warning screen included at the start.
If a short film never goes on TV, there’s no classification process. But Rock and Roll DID go on television. There’s a music video program called “RAGE” in Australia, and because it runs overnight, the context can be more graphic and explicit. Only as it runs into the Saturday morning time-slot does the censorship tighten up a bit. Rock and Roll in the form you see it on Campfire is exactly what Rage screened.
The band, in conjunction with the producers, knew all along that there were some potentially tricky scenes for censors if they were to get it on TV. So they came up with two different versions of the clip. The alternate version was cut without the nang (1) and drinking (2) scenes, below:
OUR FINAL DECISION
OK, so ABC’s Rage chose to air the version with both offending shots in. The clip has already been posted to YouTube, where anyone can view. It hasn’t been flagged as inappropriate, as you’d expect. So what should we choose for our target audience of teachers in schools?
Here’s our logic:
Rage has a different time-slot to us, so we need to be more cautious
YouTube has it up with the same potentially offending shots, so we know students can already get access to this version
Do we go with the ‘softer’ alternate version without the 2 shots? Without shots 1 and 2, the whole clip — words and music — is packed with drug & alcohol use references anyway. Shots 3 (he’s off to the pub) and 4 (vomit) I’d argue, are equally as offensive and had been left in the alternate version.
What matters here is context. Yes, this is being shown in class, but it is being shown in a context of a discussion about life, its meaning and the search for what makes us feel good. The lyrics and the overall theme of it being about ‘trying everything’ is clear throughout. It’s not an endorsement, it’s a statement of this young man’s reality. If drugs were the issue, even his conclusion is helpful, along the lines of “drugs didn’t do it for me”.
Ultimately, we prefer to err on the side of allowing filmmakers their creative integrity, and as long as appropriate warnings are given, leaving the final choice up to teachers to make their own informed decision about whether or not it’s suitable in their situation.
We added the warning screen at the start, with reference to the drug use, and ran with the original, uncensored version that anyone can watch on YouTube. It’s worth pointing out that shot 1 is very short and likely to get missed by most, while shot 2 is longer and quite obvious.
While I can’t be sure that we got our decision 100% right by every school’s reckoning, I think we at least had a robust process in place for dealing with the challenge it presented. We have plans to further improve this censorship and classification process in future, but it’s time to hear from you.
OVER TO YOU
I was heartened by a meeting at a large Catholic school not far from Melbourne last Thursday, where we watched the film together. The teachers from a range of learning areas agreed with our choice. Do you?
What do you think of this music video?
Is this something you would feel comfortable showing in class?
Are there some classes you would show it to (not just aged-based) but not others?
What other criteria would you add to help decide with other short films?