Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Zack and Miri Get Banned in Philly

It seems that shooting porn has been a popular comedy theme over the last few years – The Amateurs, Slippery Slope, and I Want Candy all come to mind. Kevin Smith adds his contribution with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, coming out at the end of the month.

And it also seems that some of the advertising for Zack and Miri is now the latest battle in the new porn wars. Apparently, billboards for it have been banned in several places and a number of newspapers are refusing to carry the ads. So is the ad really raunchy or something? No, actually the ad only contains stick figures, with no added naughty bits or suggestive positions. It seems the big problem is the title of the movie itself, which contains the word --gasp-- Porno.

According to "child development expert" Diane Levin, the simplicity of the ad is part of the problem, since the fact that the ad contains stick figures means that its being marketed to children and is trying to sell them on the idea that "porn is an acceptable occupation". In case anybody is wondering who this person is, she's none other a Wheelock College professor (yes, that Wheelock College, which must have its own Department of Anti-Porn studies), and fellow footsoldier of Gail Dines and Jeane Kilbourne in the "progressive" battle against smut. Levine is co-author of "So Sexy So Soon", the latest in the century-old tradition of "lock up your daughters" lit, and in general is somebody who is milking the scare over "the sexualization of girls" as a stick to attack adult media. She's particularly off base with this one, as whatever you want to say about the inappropriateness of Bratz dolls and the like for young girls, Zack and Miri is clearly not being marketed to children, nor is mere exposure to the word "porno" going to damage them.

Now I will note that I actually have some sympathy for the idea there's some things you just shouldn't put on billboards displayed to the public, who are in most cases, not a voluntary audience. Time and place restrictions are acceptable under a general climate of free expression, and, in the case of private companies, they can refuse to carry whatever they want. (I'll leave the more radical question of who owns public space out of this for the time being.) A few years ago, the "torture porn" movie Captivity crossed what I think is a definite line when they put out some extremely disturbing ads on public billboards, and a lot of people have big problems with American Apparel billboards for analogous reasons. However, I am also against the total bowdlerization of public space – one cannot possibly remove from public display all things that are going to possibly be offensive to somebody, and in fact, that kind of bowdlerized public space would in turn be equally offensive to many others (like myself, for instance).

Its especially problematic in the case of newspapers that won't carry this ad, because they almost certainly will carry news stories, often very salacious ones, about porn. In these cases, its really amounts to point-of-view discrimination – Zack and Miri present making porn as lighthearted, comical, and, in some ways, normal. That's a view that clearly clashes with a moralistic view that porn is a road to ruin or "unacceptable". Of course, people have every right to that view and they have every right to push it (and, boy, do they), but trying to suppress the opposite point of view from the marketplace of ideas is wrong and unworthy of a news organization.

Ultimately, however, I'm not too worried about how Kevin Smith and his film will do. Smith is no stranger to controversy – some feminist and lesbian activists got their knickers in a twist over Chasing Amy, and the Catholic League went after Dogma, and both movies actually benefited from the controversy. Kevin Smith actually scored a minor propaganda coup when he showed up at a Catholic League protest against Dogma and helped them picket his own movie, apparently without being recognized. If Zack and Miri is the new front in the porn wars, I say, bring it on – lets expose the antis for the pinched humorless scolds that they so often are.

(H/T to The Legal Satyricon.)


  1. The only reason is because it is an election year. There is far more racy content in a Calvin Klein ad...or any edition of the local news.

    Oh and the MPAA absolutely hates Kevin Smith, and they also regulate all movie advertising.

  2. Well, according to the Zack and Miri website, they managed to get it from NC-17 to R without cuts after appealing it before the MPAA, so I think he's figured out how to deal with them.

    Ironically, though, it was the MPAA that made him abandon racier ads, which led him to the stick figure idea (which I think is pretty clever). Now some academic comes out of the woodwork and claims that's marketing to children. The irony of quasi-censorship in democratic society – everybody wants their pound of flesh.

  3. Not sure how I feel about the billboards, actually, but wow. Does anyone at Wheelock have anything else to do with their time besides spin into a fine ol' tizzy over "raunch culture"?

  4. Trinity,

    Yes. They have time to spend our tax money. Check out their admissions Web site and see for yourself how much government money flows to an institution that's been on the Feminist's for Free Expression bad guys list since 1996.

    I've said before and will say again that porn-bashing is competitive with porn making in terms of R.O.I.

    As for this movie ad campaign being a "Joe Camel" situation, that's just plain ridiculous. If anything, the demographic for this movie is likely to be puzzled and possibly put off by the lack of stronger visual elements.

    Haven't seen the movie and, unlike some people, ahem, I don't care to take up much space talking about a movie I haven't seen or, unlike TPoP, been in.

  5. I am going to see Zack & Miri. I love Kevin Smith. I've actually seen adverts around here where the movie title is MERELY...Zack & Miri.

  6. Oh Jesus H. They have nothing else better to do with their time? Obviously pro-censorship adults have yet to realize that their protests draw more children's attention to the material than the actual material does?

  7. Update: I just saw a commercial for this movie. Now it just says, "Zack and Miri".

  8. And the movie has Traci Lords in it, playing a porn star!


    Isn't it odd that Traci hasn't done anything of note lately, after having helped denounce the very industry that made her prominent and coined her stage name?

    For years, she said she wanted to build a name for herself as a legit actress, to escape from any association with porn, and now....this???

    Gotta wonder if she's planning some kind of porn comeback...

  9. I totally didn't notice that from the previews, but you're right, it is Traci Lords! I thought she was trying to get away from "sexy" roles.