Negotiating the social and political issues that litter the cultural zeitgeist on a daily basis, you may find yourself confused. You are not alone! Was it acceptable for John McCain to sing about bombing Iran? Should Don Imus have been fired? Why should we know or care how Alec Baldwin speaks to his child? I’m conflicted on all accounts, but perhaps that’s because of the lesson I’ve learned from the controversy surrounding the banned posters for the soon-to-be-released horror movie Captivity.
You might reasonably wonder what kind of person would decide that a proverbial line had been crossed by a movie poster and spend her valuable time calling a film company to demand its removal. As it turns out, me. That’s right, it was me. I was one of the angry and offended women who called the film’s distributor to complain, and I while I’m at it I’ll admit that not only did I do something that might be deemed politically incorrect, it might have even been illegal.
I have always been a free-speech proponent, a live-and-let-live, card-carrying ACLU member (even if I haven’t always paid my dues). I’m a diehard Bong Hits for Jesus supporter. Hell, I’ve taken a few bong hits–maybe not for Jesus, but I’ve always believed that Jesus wouldn’t mind if I did a few while neither driving, armed nor in the company of children. I’ve enjoyed being part of the unlikely coalition of Christian evangelists, potheads and ACLU members who sprang up in support of the free-speech rights of the Alaskan student.
But that was all before one fateful morning last March. It was on that day that I was driving a carpool of third graders to school when my son pointed at a large looming advertisement and asked, “What’s that, mom?” I craned my neck–it was pretty high up, but still visible from the car–and glimpsed some extremely violent and disturbing images. What was being depicted exactly was hard to make out…. A woman crying, maybe; someone encased in a mask with tubes inserted in the nasal passages; and finally what looked like a female body lying inert, her body draped over a bed. The poster read: “Abduction, confinement, torture, termination.” Naturally, as a left-wing liberal, I assumed it was detailing abuses at Abu Ghraib and the anguish this has inflicted on the spouses of the prisoners. But no, it was advertising a movie.
To the children, however, I replied, “That person has just found out she’s very ill. She goes to the hospital and is placed in a full-body cast, and when she gets home she sees her medical bills, which are so exorbitantly high that she passes out.” Were they convinced, confused, politically indoctrinated? I’m not certain, but the rest of the ride to school was very, very quiet.
Later that day I received an e-mail from a mom I know. It read, “We’re going to take down the Captivity poster. Join us!” The e-mail included the private number of an executive at Lion’s Gate films. My hand resting on the phone, I recalled my son’s nightmares after being exposed to the disturbing posters for the horror flick Silent Hill. Should I call? I mean, it was a visual assault, no way to avoid looking at it, and we’re talking kids here! We were the ones who were being held captive, damn it! I called and registered my complaint.
It felt awesome, so I called again. OK, maybe a few times from different numbers. Then I called some more, employing several accents I had once used in an episode of the sitcom Murphy Brown. That may be the illegal part, not sure.
Amazingly, the very next day, numerous media outlets carried an article detailing the logging of calls and Lion’s Gate’s decision to take the offensive image down. Score one for the moms! By the end of the week, though, announcements were made that not only was the poster going; the film’s opening was in jeopardy as the MPAA was now planning to revisit the movie’s R rating. This action could have potentially shut the film out of multiplexes. Wait a minute, I thought, I only wanted the poster to come down, I wasn’t looking to stop the film from coming out. Worse, had I become a proponent of the kind of “family values” espoused by Tipper Gore and her campaign to label explicit music, that I myself had deemed politically incorrect? What would my community of BHFJesus supporters think of me now? Then I forgot about it because really important issues were in the news, like the debate over the appropriate price of a John Edwards’s haircut.
This week, the new posters for Captivity went up in my neighborhood. Right on the bus stop at eye level for the kids to see in our carpool today. The new image is simple. A gorgeous woman’s face imprisoned behind a chain-link fence. This time, one can clearly see she’s crying and mascara is running down her face.
My son asked me what the girl had done wrong and why she was being punished. I was going to say, “She’s crying because she heard about the recent Supreme Court decision limiting a woman’s right to choose,” but I felt defeated, so I just said, “I don’t know.”
What I do know is that our efforts resulted in a replacement image even worse than the one we had removed. One that actually passed muster by the MPAA, which leads me to believe I protested the wrong issue to begin with. Yesterday I checked the Captivity website: Although the release date has been pushed back a month, the film was able to retain an R rating, which will secure its place in the nation’s multiplexes. Moreover, I’m sure that the whole controversy served only to give the film more attention than it ever would have received in the first place. My prediction: big box office. Score one for Captivity!