Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

BBFC some pointers

BBFC + Wiki. MPAA + Wiki.

Can the BBFC maintain acceptance in our digital age? The organisation has moved on hugely since the ultra-conservative head James Ferman finally retired, but is still open to ridicule in the nature of this Ali G snippet...

A self-regulator with statutory backing (arguably just as Leveson would have liked the new press regulator to be, certainly if any PCC replacement didn't quickly prove itself as effective, though the 'Royal Charter' notion is not as direct as the 1984 Video Recordings Act).
The British Board of Film Classification is an independent, non-governmental body which has classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/ DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984.
 That's the BBFC's self-description. The Wiki is useful.

Julian Petley, author of many books on censorship (including one called ... Censorship!), and renowned opponent of censorship, argues that like many non-governmental censors it fulfils a useful role for government, keeping them out of controversy yet generally reflecting the will of government.

One clear exception was the 1996 David Cronenberg movie Crash, which government ministers joined with the press in fuelling an archetypal moral panic. For once, it failed, and calls to ban the film failed. The classic film moral panic was in the early 1980s, with the 'video nasties' panic seeing a campaign led by the likes of the Mail and Times to ban the wide range of Indie horror movies becoming available on VHS. That was highly successful, and led to the BBFC gaining statutory power through the 1984 Video Recordings Act, extended through the 2010 Video Recordings Act.

Whether Petley is right about it being a convenient long-arm tool of the state or not is debatable, but its worth noting WHY it was set up. In the 1900s and 1910s incresing numbers of local councils began creating their own censorship codes. This made effective UK-wide film distribution incredibly complex, and expensive; by setting up an industry standard, the film industry dramatically cut its distribution costs, and reduced the pressure for potentially tougher censorship.

Like IPSO and its predecessors (GCP, PC, PCC), it has nothing to say on ownership. Given this is an industry that is globally dominated by just six US vertically integrated conglomerates, the so-called 'big six' (some would say 'big seven', including Lionsgate), it looks like the BBFC, like IPSO, also functions to make the concentration of ownership invisible or non-controversial (hegemonic would be another way of putting that!). Chomsky, of course, includes concentration of ownership amongst his 'five filters' in the 'propaganda model'.

Should we ignore the issue of ownership as a concern solely of Marxists like Chomsky? Consider these examples:
  • Sweet Sixteen is a typical Ken Loach film: unscripted, its cast workshop their own script; social realist and sympathetic to its working class protagonist; low budget and Indie. Its also a teen movie, designed as a 15 ... but awarded an 18. The young lead was banned from his own premiere, to protect him from exposure to words (the 'c-word') he himself scripted as natural for his character, vital for verisimilitude. Some local councils overturned this to give it a 15, but its already low commercial prospects were wrecked with a major part of its target audience banned from seeing it
  • This is England is a typical Shane Meadows film produced through Warp Films: social realist and sympathetic to its young teen working class protagonist; low budget and Indie. It is autobiographical. Its also a teen movie, designed as a 15 ... but awarded an 18. Some local councils overturned this to give it a 15, but its already low commercial prospects were wrecked with a major part of its target audience banned from seeing it. Strong language was a factor, but primarily it was the climactic violent scene which was seen by the BBFC as too disturbing, and with too much risk of inspiring sympathy for the racist. Again, this was the actual life story of Meadows who, like Shaun in the movie, rejected the path he was on after witnessing this attack, a message that couldn't be more clearly expressed in the film, with Shaun symbolically throwing his Union Jack into the sea.
Hmmm, they sound kind of ... similar. Now consider these:
  • Lara Croft Tomb Raider is a studio movie featuring frequent violence, awarded a 12 once a knife fight scene was partially cut (seen as a risk of copycat behaviour, just as the nunkchuka scene from the 1973 Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon was - a ban that stayed in place for 26 years!), as the violence was judged to be 'cartoon-like'
  • Dark Knight was a 2008 tentpole movie featuring frequent, intense and explicit violence with a very dark overall tone and look. It was judged to be cartoon like in nature and awarded a 12, though many local councils uprated it to a 15, and there was significant newspaper controversy over the low rating.
  • The World's End was a $20m 2013 movie produced by Working Title, a subsidiary of big six conglomerate NBC-Universal (itself a mere subsidiary of Comcast!). It featured many uses of 'the c-word' and the  term 'm-f'er [that abbreviation is ridiculous, not one I'd use in an exam, but necessary to avoid getting blocked by catch-all web filters], as well as extreme, gory violence. The violence was judged to be cartoon like and the language used in a comic context, so it was given a 15 rating.
The BBFC have released a few of their archive rating notes (another tick in the effective regulator box, also making positive use of the potential disruption of digitisation), including that of the original, 1977, Star Wars - in which its box office appeal and success in the US seems to sway them to give it a U, despite noting that this was likely to bring complaints!

There was some concern noted about the level of violence and one examiner points out that the film was awarded a PG by the MPAA in America. However the universal appeal and adventurous tone of Star Wars won the team over and the film was passed at U, a category decision that has remained unchanged for over thirty years. (quoted from BBFC, ditto screenshot below)

Hmmm, they also sound kind of ... similar. Now consider this:
  • In the documentary film This Film is Not Yet Rated, Matt Stone is interviewed. He produced a crude, vulgar comedy for an Indie firm on a low budget, and found it hit with many cuts, which the MPAA would not explain or engage in any dialogue over. It got an NC-17 rating, which means that the biggest physical retailer of DVDs, Wal-Mart, won't stock it. He later produced the South Park Movie for Sony (again with director Trey Parker), a crude, vulgar comedy that the MPAA were extremely helpful in guiding to a lower R rating.

Are the film censors in both the US and UK biased towards the majors?  Hmmm...

Now consider these:
  • Baise Moi features actual penetrative sex, and an extensive rape scene.
  • Irreversible features actual penetrative sex and an extensive rape scene.
Okay ... The BBFC is legally bound to refuse classification to any films that they think breach wider UK laws, such as the Obscene Publications Act. If they refuse to grant a certificate, the film is effectively banned from the UK, the only exception being if a local council decides to award a temporary rating. That happens very occasionally, as was the case with The Last House on the Left, banned in the UK for 30 years [yet another link blocked by a clumsy filter - the BBFC's site falling into the banned 'violence' category ironically!!!] until a UK mini-tour through sympathetic councils brought a 2002 release ... but still cut! The cuts were part of a rape scene; the movie narrative is what's termed a rape-revenge narrative, as the perpetrators are punished (killed) in the end by the family of one of the girls.
The BBFC's explanation of the banning of Last House ... banned by the web filter used here! Julian Petley argues that web filters are an incredibly powerful, important form of censorship which are little discussed and highly undemocratic
Okay ... Last House got a 30-year ban. The two French movies weren't banned. Nor did they get the R18 rating which would mean they can only be sold through licensed sex shops. They got passed uncut as 18.

What's the difference? Horror movies are associated with a mass market, mainly C2DE audience. In a UK context, foreign language films are seen as arthouse, viewed by a niche audience which is heavily skewed to ABC1s. The ABC1s are judged as more discerning and less likely to be influenced (harmed) by filmic material.

Is the UK film censor biased towards ABC1s? Hmmm...

At this point, and its a theme you can link to other media, not least with the watershed example, lets simply raise the question: is the BBFC relevant in the digital age? Whats the point of it when children can so easily bypass it and download films, including non-UK cuts with material banned from UK releases? The BBFC acknowledges this issue, and makes an interesting argument, which is essentially that they continue to provide parents with the information necessary to make informed choices on behalf of children. It always comes back to the protection of children. The BBFC does, of course, also fulfil the role of ensuring that wider laws, such as obscenity (see the Hate Crime example below), are observed, and (again, read on!) are actually expanding their reach to rate music videos and mobile providers' content.

Now, finally, consider these two films:
  • The Human Centipede II (2011) was refused a certificate by the BBFC, who considered it as an obscene work, without the artistic merit required to justify its explicit content and themes
  • Hate Crime (2013) is also a low budget US Indie horror that was refused a certificate by the BBFC.
One is available as an 18. How can that be?!

The distributors of THC2 appealed the decision and, with several minutes of further cuts, won.
This U-turn is the result of a successful appeal launched by studio Bounty Films, who proposed a series of cuts after the BBFC's decision in June. The board required more extensive edits, to which Eureka acquiesced. The BBFC said: "These cuts produce a work which many will find difficult but which I believe can properly be classified at the adult level. The company has now accepted these cuts, withdrawn its appeal and the work has been classified, as cut, at 18." [Guardian]
The distributors were delighted with the huge amount of publicity this generated!

Hate Crime's distributors have simply failed though. The BBFC website (if you can actually get to view it through a web filter!!!) is superb overall with its clear detail and explanation on cuts and ratings. Disappointingly, there is zero detail or explanation on why this film is not granted a rating.
NB: note that the MelonFarmers site [linked below] is very useful as an anti-censorship resource but features some adult ads, and is NSFW, so use with caution

A MelonFarmers article reveals is a sharp disparity between the BBFC judgement and mainstream critical consensus. The BBFC essentially view this as an exploitative racist film, which fails to condemn the racist violence against a Jewish family, noting that titles at the end of the film are unconvincing and actually strengthen the sense of this being a racist film. The film is judged therefore to pose a social threat by encouraging harmful attitudes, and this taps into the ongoing discourse around limitations on freedom of speech and what constitutes hate speech, which is already a criminal offence but which the Home Secretary is seeking to more widely define (and ban). We have seen many prosecutions for racist abuse (most often of footballers like Stan Collymore) on Twitter, and the BBFC judgement appears consistent with the logic of this and the changing social attitudes such law represents.

However, the case is not so straightforward, and bears some comparison to the 18-rating ruling on This is England, the climactic racist attack being seen as liable to encourage copycat behavior despite the clear narrative direction, with the protagonist, Shaun, so distraught at witnessing this that he turns his back on the National Front gang he had been hanging out with. There is a very direct comparison between the directors – This is England was an autobiographical account of director Shane Meadows’ own childhood, and he describes just such an event as having changed his life. Hate Crime, deemed anti-semitic and racist by the BBFC, is by a Jewish director who describes the film’s content as a depiction of his own recurring nightmare of racist attack, and a warning on the continuing reality of such hate crimes. In contrast to the BBFC, famed film critic Roger Ebert gave it 2.5 stars and noted that it was an extremely thought-provoking exploration of complex social issues. Many other critics concurred with the director’s claims that, in contrast to the description of the BBFC, there was actually very little explicit violence; most of it was implied and left to the imagination to fill in, noting also that the female victims retained their underwear throughout, even though this did somewhat undermine the verisimilitude. MelonFarmers specifically note the campaign by the Jewish Chronicle to get this banned, and argue that the BBFC is stepping in to political territory here.

The following are also my own notes (quotes highlighted) from MelonFarmers

MelonFarmers note the % of R18 videos being cut has fallen from a steady 15% (2013, 2014 figures) to 11% this year so far, having started out at 18% (2010).

Vevo, a joint YouTube venture between the global big three of the music industry (Warners, Sony, Universal), began voluntarily submitting videos to the BBFC in October 2014 that they felt were likely to be 12-rated or above. The BBFC say this reflects feedback from research into parental views, and taps into particular concerns around sexualisation of young girls. A rollout of this was??? part of the Tory manifesto.
Interesting to note that there is a commercial consideration here; instead of limiting access, and thus record label profit, a VEVO spokesman said they welcomed the additional information this would provide for advertisers!!!
If appropriate, the BBFC then issues either a 12, 15 or 18 rating -- in line with the BBFC Classification Guidelines. As part of the ratings process the BBFC also includes bespoke content advice, called BBFC insight, which explains in more detail why an age rating has been given: for example, that scenes include sexual imagery or other content deemed inappropriate for younger viewers. Once given an age rating, the labels pass on the rating and guidance when releasing their videos to the two digital service providers -- Vevo and YouTube, who, in turn, will display it when the videos are broadcast online.

The pilot will be evaluated later this year based on consumer research, when consideration will also be given to how the scheme can be applied more widely.
David Austin, Assistant Director, BBFC comments:
Parents taking part in our most recent review of the BBFC Classification Guidelines in 2013, expressed their concerns about the content of music videos online, in particular their role in the sexualisation of girls and portrayals of self-harm, drug use and violence in some music video content.
Nic Jones, EVP International, Vevo, comments:
… age ratings will help Vevo become even more valuable to brands, helping them to connect to their desired audience.
It is estimated that around 20% of music videos released within the pilot are likely to be subject to a rating -- the large majority are unlikely to contain content that would be rated 12 or greater. This estimate is based on a previous video catalogue audit of one of the companies taking part in the pilot. [MelonFarmers]

This is addition to a new rating service for mobile network EE, who provide many online content deals. EE have three web content filter settings: Off, Moderate and Strict. The BBFC has been rating websites with video content, notifying EE of any they consider not exceed the PG threshold (thus defining anything 12-rated and up within the Strict category). This builds on an existing programme to list 18-rated content for mobile operators which started in September 2013. Here’s the MelonFarmers comment:
Surely a rule such as the clause that bans 'verbal references to sexual violence' would mean that all newspaper websites and perhaps all news site in general would have to be blocked along with daytime TV. The rules don't seem very will adapted to website usage. There doesn't seem to be any sense of practicality in applying the rules to large websites. Does a single use of strong language in a 12 thousand page website generally useful to kids, mean that the entire site has to be blocked?

The BBFC undertakes large scale (involving 10,000+ respondents) research every 4-5 years as part of a regular reassessment of its criteria, and in 2013 included some small scale qualitative research into attitudes towards ‘glamour’ content on mobile devices. As a result, the Mobile Classification Framework was launched in 2013, with guidance on what mobile providers might suitably block for non-adult users. The research highlighted strong concerns on 9-13 year-olds accessing such content, especially in the consumption context of mobiles, generally away from parental supervision and with the ability to easily share such content.
They effectively suggest material suggestive of a male gaze should fall under this category; objectifying material was deemed as adult. If we consider the likes of Miley Cyrus, or Lady Gaga, could we not be discriminating against the expression of sexually confident female performers, as post-feminists would argue? [look up female gaze posts on this]
The BBFC has been the provider of the Mobile Classification Framework used by Mobile Network Operators in the UK to calibrate their filters since September 2013. This Classification Framework, along with the policies that underpin it, is consistent with the standards used to classify film and videos.
Very broad patterns about the kinds of images that were thought to be unacceptable for those under 18 are highlighted in the research . An overwhelming majority of participants indicated that images containing sexualised full frontal nudity, sex acts, or explicit sexual poses were unacceptable. Conversely, images deemed acceptable by the majority of participants tended to depict models who were wearing more clothes, or less explicitly sexualised poses.
Participants in the research showed concern for protecting children aged nine to 13 years old, because they were considered to be the most impressionable. The lack of context for glamour images is also perceived as problematic, in addition to the nature of viewing content on devices, where parental oversight is less likely and sharing capabilities amongst peers is easy to achieve.

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