Thursday, April 26, 2007

R.I.P.: Jack J. Valenti (1921-2007)

Because of his involvement with the establishment of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system -- to say nothing of his decades-long stint as MPAA president -- Jack J. Valenti had, for better or worse, as profound an impact on American cinema as almost anyone this side of Orson Welles.

And while I know it remains fashionable to dis Valenti (and the MPAA itself) for allegedly stifling free speech and repressing freedom of expression and blah, blah, blah, I nonetheless find myself begrudgingly grateful for his efforts during the 1960s, when he found himself (in the words of AP correspondent David Germain) "caught between Hollywood's outdated system of self-censorship and the liberal cultural explosion taking place in America," and yet somehow "abolished the industry's restrictive Hays code, which prohibited explicit violence and frank treatment of sex, and in 1968 oversaw creation of today's letter-based ratings system."

Trust me: Without the MPAA ratings system, we likely would have seen dozens (if not hundreds) of local censorship boards popping up throughout the United States from 1966 onward. (Indeed, at least one local ratings board -- empowered to supercede the MPAA system -- existed in Dallas well into the 1980s.) And I suspect that, given today's political climate, many of those boards still would exist -- and still be censoring.

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