Friday, January 29, 2010


A student interviewed me online regarding my opinion of the MTRCB:

What is censorship?

I’m not going to define censorship anymore since you can find that in Wikipedia. What I’m going to do, however, is tell you what censorship means. Censorship means that your government, or your religion, or your organization thinks you are too stupid to think for yourself, much less for your own opinions, and thus need to be told what you can and cannot watch or read. Organizations that believe in the necessity of censorship look upon themselves as the gatekeepers of wisdom, morality, and righteousness; and that the people they govern are not sophisticated enough to be trusted with information. Censorship is the weapon of despots.

Thankfully, the Internet is taking away the power of those who would wield censorship by putting them in the hands of the populace. There are very few groups who can still use this weapon with any sort of competency. To do that, they have to cut their herd off from the Internet, and thus, from the rest of the world. Take North Korea, for instance. To be able to keep North Koreans from knowing that the world is round and that their country is one of the most wretched places on the planet, Kim Jong Il had to ensure that his people live in the stone age. Information, he’s sharp enough to recognize, is his worst enemy.

Information. A powerful word that. Information is the devil that draws people away from churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. Information is the hammer that shatters faith. Information is the forbidden fruit that gives people strange ideas; ideas that eventually destroy the status quo. And that, my friend, is the issue at the core of censorship: how to keep people from getting certain information, how to keep them from coming up with strange ideas that would threaten the Order.

What do you know about the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)?

The MTRCB is a less objectionable name to call the government’s board of censors. The key words here are REVIEW and CLASSIFICATION. It implies that they are not despots out to rule your thoughts. They’re just here to look at what the populace sees in movie houses and their television sets and classify them according to certain standards. Officially, they rate movies and TV shows. The system can be simplified by the following ratings: GP, PG, and R.

GP stands for General Patronage. It’s safe for everyone to watch. SAFE here means that impressionable minds will not be disturbed by what they watch. If you’re a parent, you won’t have to worry that your kids are going to start swearing when you get home. For people who are looking for meatier stuff in their entertainment, PG movies and TV shows are the most boring products out there. I personally stay away from PG as much as I stay away from people with ebola.

PG stands, of course, for Parental Guidance. It means the movie or TV show has some pretty sophisticated themes or hard language. Parents should be with their kids so that they can explain what’s going on when the kids encounter images and ideas that are a bit disturbing. Say, when a character smokes. Kids may be disturbed. Hey, didn’t Mommy and Daddy say smoking is bad for your health? Then why is that character smoking? The parents should be at hand to tell them that, yes, smoking is bad. The character is smoking because maybe he doesn’t know how bad smoking is. Or maybe he knows but he’s already addicted to it and cannot quit. Because PG-rated products require parents to actually supervise their offspring, folks would rather not let their kids watch PG movies and shows. Also, the MTRCB automatically slaps the PG rating on television shows that are aired live.

And then there’s R. It becomes a little tricky from hereon. R means Restricted. Kids aren’t supposed to watch it because it may be too violent, or may contain nudity, or both. The principle working behind this is that the content seen in R movies may be harmful for young minds. It’s not just sex and violence, though; but that dynamic duo is the most oft-cited reason for slapping the R-label on a movie. R products can’t be shown on national television unless cuts are made to make them PG. The R rating is a bit of a testy issue for me. Who determines what is harmful for our kids? Where are the studies that support this? I’ll rant more on this more later. Suffice to say that while I don’t totally agree on some things being labeled R, the kids being prevented from watching it will still be able to do so when they get a bit older.

Some might ask: what about the X-rating? Or even the Triple X-rating Well, X is not actually a rating, much less a rating for pornographic movies. Schindler’s List had been X’ed by the MTRCB once, idiotic as that move may have been. X is the lack of a rating. X means a movie has been rejected by the MTRCB and has been deemed unfit for viewing by Filipinos. X means the movie cannot be shown in public places. X is where the specter of censorship rears its ugly head. X is the despot’s mark. And because the MTRCB uses the X mark to prevent certain movies from being shown to the masses, that board is clearly a tool for the suppression of free expression.

In more progressive countries, there is another rating. It’s called M for Mature. Everything that’s deemed more disturbing than can be put under the R-rating is put under M. To put it bluntly, the M-rating is telling people that look, there’re some disturbing shit here and if it ain’t your cup of tea, you should stay the fuck away from this (and excuse my colorful Français). Governments who employ the M-rating are confident that their adult citizens are smart enough to form their own opinions.

How do you view the MTRCB on the way they do their job as a regulatory body?

I think they’re doing a horrible job because their philosophy is to censor rather than to rate. The difference between rating and censorship is simple. Censorship is when folks who cannot realistically represent the beliefs of everyone in the country don the mantle of the country’s moral compass and establish themselves as the experts on what’s healthy or not for every citizen’s mind; and then proceed to illegalize the public consumption of material they deem bad. Rating is when folks set themselves up as a committee who reviews material and rates them according to who should be able to watch, read, or play what. The rating system extinguishes the need to censor material. With the ratings system, a dude can express himself to his heart’s content and another dude can listen if he so wishes. The rating system compliments Article 3, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine expression, which states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.” Censorship tells us that we’re free to express ourselves as long as the ruling body agrees to what we’re expressing.

What is your reaction to the classification and censorship done by the MTRCB?

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the dusty old farts who sit in the MTRCB and look at their reasons for applying censorship:

“Save the babies! Our children will be corrupted by the filth that would explode in our society if we don’t draw a line in what can and cannot be shown in the theaters!”

Under the ratings system, minors are not allowed to watch certain films. If we abolish censorship and put those beyond the R rating to the (currently inexistent) M rating, children will not be allowed in theaters when an M movie is being shown. So, no, minors will be protected from being exposed to mature movies until they are of legal age to decide for themselves if they want to watch them or not.

“God is going to punish this country if we allow evil movies to be shown publicly!”

I’m not even going to dignify this sentiment with a reply.

“Pornography leads to sexual crimes!”

Really? Then why have studies indicated that the massive rise in pornography in the US and Japan have not resulted in any upsurge in sexual crimes. In fact, sex-related crimes even decreased. Those who commit sexual crimes have been shown to be predisposed to it, pornography or no pornography. Let’s compare it to cancer. Cancer has been known to afflict more people with a family history of it than those without.

“The Muslims will get angry and we are trying to make peace between them and the rest of this Christian country!”

Preferential treatment of any group of people, especially when denying the rights of everyone else, is obviously unconstitutional. This is not a Muslim country where Islamic laws are the land’s laws. Similarly, this isn’t a Christian country either. It just so happens than most people living in it are officially Christians.

“There is no such thing as art in nudity!”

Ah, yes. La Grand Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingre isn’t art. Seating Girl by Pierre-Auguste Renoir isn’t art. La Maja Desnuda by Francisco de Goya isn’t art either. Oh, there is a long line of masters who created non-art nudes.

“Violence onscreen leads to violence in the streets, in schools, in homes, etc.!”

Again, a statement that aims to create moral panic but isn’t grounded on fact. Like the supposed correlation between sexual crimes and pornography, there is no proof that media violence and real-life violence are related.

“This country needs inspiring movies and television shows, not ones portraying graphic violence and pornography!”

Film makers who use the medium as a means for social change don’t think whitewashing the ills of society is going to be an effective approach. They believe that exposing the rotten underbelly of Philippine society is the best way to get people to change it. You remember how the Christmas Holidays were, say, ten years ago? Fireworks were everywhere. Nowadays, the fireworks come out only during New Year and Christmas Eve. The main reason for this is the aggressive campaign of the government and the media against fireworks. News programs showed graphic images of people with fireworks-related injuries. Raw tocino suddenly had new meaning for most Filipinos. The campaign was a resounding success. It dramatically changed the importance of fireworks (a deeply ingrained feature of the Filipino Holiday season) in Filipino culture. That’s what the shock therapy of graphic images in socially-relevant films is trying to do.

“Abolishing censorship would mean promoting child pornography, scandal videos, and other illegal material!”

These materials are illegal. Mere possession of them is punishable under the laws of the land. Even without censorship, these materials will not be shown in mainstream theaters. Illegal theater houses, if there are such things, will show them, censorship laws or no censorship laws.

“If we don’t start censoring pornography, theaters would go back to showing bomba movies and the moral fiber of the Filipino society would unravel!”

No. The reason why major theater chains like SM and Robinson’s stopped running R-rated movies is not because of moral issues. The fact remains that so-called bold movies, just like action movies, weren’t profitable for the cinemas. Most Filipinos want to watch movies with their families so the business landscape was more than willing to adjust.

“We need to get rid of negative vibes and promote positive ones! Those horrible movies that show poverty, sexuality, and violence contribute to the negative image of the country!”

That is escapist mentality. Pretend that nothing bad is happening. If we ignore it, maybe it will go away and nothing bad will happen. Try using that philosophy when someone is mugging you.

“People of perfectly sound minds may not be influenced by violent or pornographic movies but those with psychotic tendencies may snap and start harming themselves and others! Remember the Columbine incident!”

Let’s look at pork chops. Mouth-watering pork chops. A lot of people are at risk of heart attacks because of the high cholesterol content in their bodies. A man a couple of steps away from heart failure will die if he eats that oh-so-divine pork chop. Should we ban pork chops altogether?

“Baby Jesus will cry and will not continue blessing the only Christian country in Asia. If these so-called artists put God in the center of their lives, they would not have the desire to show pornography and violence in their movies.”

Oh, please. Your imaginary friends’ opinions don’t count in this matter. In the first place, there is such a thing as the separation of the church and the state. Also, the Philippines doesn’t have a state religion.

Do you think the MTRCB violates Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution?

Definitely. For reasons I’ve stated above.

Does the censoring done by the MTRCB limit or violate the freedom of expression of filmmakers?

Doers the Pope shit in the Vatican? Censorship for an artist is the same as literally putting a gag on a person when you don’t like what he’s saying.

Is censorship relevant? Does censorship serve its purpose? Does it change the essence of a movie (you can cite an example)?

Censorship is not relevant in this age of free thought. People have the right to decide for themselves. What’s obscene for one adult may be artistic for another. What’s graphically violent for one person may be a work of love for another. Want an example? The images of Christ dying on the cross. There are very few things more twisted than that form of torture. But you see it everywhere. It’s an image of adoration and devotion for many Filipinos. Christ died for our sins, that’s the meaning behind it. Similarly, the meaning behind, say, the movie Salo: 120 Days of Sodom is the futility of Fascism. You may take away everything from us human beings but in the end you cannot turn us into robots.

How can the MTRCB be made relevant to the growth and development of the Philippine Film Industry?

It should stop censoring films and stick to rating them. It should also be more consistent. Despite the violence in such movies as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the MTRCB rated it GP.
Should the MTRCB be amended?

It should be abolished and replaced with a board that only rates movies.

What can the MTRCB do in order to improve its role to the Film Industry?

See previous answers.

What is the ideal Chairman or Board Member for the MTRCB? What qualities should they have?

Someone who understands the medium. Someone who isn’t weighed down by religious and moralistic baggage.

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