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The Naked Truth

Why Hollywood Doesn't Make X-rated Movies

Kevin S. Sandler

Publication Year: 2007

From parents and teachers to politicians and policymakers, there is a din of voices participating in the debate over how young people are affected by violence, strong language, and explicit sexual activity in films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) responded to this concern in 1968 when it introduced a classification and rating system based on the now well-known labels: "G," "PG," PG-13," "R," and "X." For some, these simple tags are an efficient way to protect children from viewing undesirable content. But do the MPAA ratings only protect children? In The Naked Truth, Kevin S. Sandler argues that perhaps even more than viewers, ratings protect the Hollywood film industry. One prime indicator of this is the collective abandonment of the NC-17 rating in 1990 by the major distributors of the MPAA and the main exhibitors of the National Association of Theatre Owners. By categorizing all films released by Hollywood and destined for mainstream theaters into R ratings (or lower), the industry ensures that its products are perceived as "responsible entertainment"-films accessible by all audiences and acceptable to Hollywood's various critics and detractors.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

The genesis of this project dates back to 1990, when I attended the opening screening of the first NC-17-rated film, Henry & June, at the Showcase Cinemas in Ann Arbor. Drawn in and tantalized by the newly decorated X rating, I left the theater largely perplexed, wondering what all the fuss was about. My professors at the University of Michigan, particularly Stuart McDougal...

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pp. 1-11

TAKE ONE: Puppet sex. Two naked marionettes “making love.” This explicit two-minute sequence from Team America: World Police was given an NC-17 (no one seventeen and under admitted) in September 2004 by the Rating Board of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), the movie rating system operated by the Motion Picture Association of America...

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Chapter 1: Film Regulation before the Rating System

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pp. 12-41

Cultural critic Thomas Frank calls the equating (or conflating) of the free market with democracy “market populism,”which for him is the defining feature of American capitalism in the last few decades of the twentieth century. “Market populism,” he suggests, “imagines individuals as fully rational economic actors, totally capable of making their needs known in the marketplace...

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Chapter 2: CARA and the Emergence of Responsible Entertainment

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pp. 42-82

A regulatory facelift could not have come at a better time when the MPAA established the Code and Rating Administration (CARA—changed to Classification and Rating Administration in 1977) on November 1, 1968; the motion picture business in the United States was in shambles. Declining attendance, shifting cultural mores, cinematic free expression, and independent and foreign film...

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Chapter 3: From X to NC-17

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pp. 83-121

Not a single mainstream film was released with an X throughout the 1980s. The conscious abandonment of this product line by the MPAA and NATO solidified the R rating—the Incontestable R—as a seal of responsible entertainment for the Hollywood film industry. The X, in turn, fortified itself as a marker of obscenity, artistic worthlessness, and anything other than responsible...

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Chapter 4: The Incontestable R as a Code of Production

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pp. 122-169

As we have seen, self-regulation in the classification era required the collusion and cooperation of the MPAA signatories and NATO exhibitors to adhere to an industry-wide standard that I have referred to as responsible entertainment. This standard called for the abandonment of the product line of the X/NC-17 rating by the major Hollywood distributors, as well as entrusting the...

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Chapter 5: Showgirls: The Feasibility and Fate of the NC-17 Rating

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pp. 170-199

After Henry & June the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners, and the Video Software Dealers Association overlooked the cosmetic change in the X rating and went back to business as usual: the business of the Incontestable R and responsible entertainment. The MPAA signatories shunned the distribution of mainstream NC-17 films. Few...

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pp. 200-204

If we return to the rating battles that began this book—the controversies over Team America: World Police and The Cooler—we can see that the line between the R and the NC-17 rating is about so much more than puppet sex and one and a half seconds of pubic hair. Boundary maintenance between these categories endows the Hollywood film industry with an affirmative cultural function...


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pp. 205-242


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pp. 243-252

About the Author

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pp. 253

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541464
E-ISBN-10: 0813541468
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540887
Print-ISBN-10: 0813540887

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 31 photographs
Publication Year: 2007