Why Does the MPAA Control the Internets?

You knew the MPAA owned the theaters. Perhaps you also knew it monitored billboards, buses and any other surface a publicity team can plaster a poster on. But did you know it regulated the un-regulate-able? That rascally hub of bootleggers, pirates, bloggers, and YouTube broadcasters that we surf and love: the World Wide Web.

Well, the MPAA is trying.

Movie trailers, as you might know, come in three colors: green, yellow and red. Green for all audience tastes. The recently designated yellow is for the mature tastes of "age-appropriate Internet users" (PG-13 and beyond). And red for restricted, R-rated viewers. These are the MPAA's web traffic lights.

Go. Caution. STOP! (If you're under 17).

In the past, directors childproofed and posted their green and red band trailers without MPAA interference.

Times have changed.

Now movie-makers need the MPAA's permission. Zack and Miri Make a Porno director Kevin Smith learned of the update the hard way. When he put up a tame trailer for the film, devoid of actual movie footage, the MPAA made him take it down. "We're in charge of all marketing materials as well," they scolded, "and we didn't approve this."

Alas, their approval, even when a director's trying, doesn't come easy. A suspicious toilet shot was enough to get a Zack and Miri green band trailer tossed out. The cause, according to a cryptic MPAA critique: "brown material visible in toilet." In a Salon interview Smith insisted the shot was sh*t-free. Which begs the question, What's the point of a green band trailer for an R-rated movie? Isn't it inherently misleading?

But so what if the MPAA doesn't like your online trailer? There's no law against showing it, right? What are they gonna do about it?

They'll make an example of your movie.

Sure it's a "voluntary" system. As in, I volunteer to pay Knuckles Malone for "protection." Cross the MPAA and they'll withhold or revoke your rating. And no theater will show your film without an MPAA stamp. Even Alice in Wonderland's an adventure few parents would let their kids partake in at a cinemaplex without a MPAA rating to warn them. Is Alice a dainty, 12-year-old girl who goes down a rabbit hole? Or a busty 22-year-old who goes down ... you can infer the rest.

But really? Really? The MPAA will regulate internet marketing? How? With the same high-tech approach used to restrict access to red band trailers? Prove you are of age, by entering your birth date anonymously and truthfully. Hmm... there's no way around that barricade. Will MPAA agents surf the web for renegade ads like the FBI scans for smut? Are they not aware of all the net nooks and crannies where outlaw content can hide? Good luck sifting for those grains of sand. Will they sue Joe the Blogger (Joe the Plumber's nerdy cousin) for displaying unsanctioned clips or just threaten him?

And what about DVDs? Where do deleted scenes and outtakes go when the MPAA makes you cut them out of the theatrical release or trailer? DVD extras. So far the MPAA hasn't muscled its way into that media realm. Is it only a matter of time before they do?

Maybe Hollywood's MPAA parents should try reverse psychology. Because the more they forbid, the more we want to watch. And as long as there's an internet, there's a way... We'll see it, all of it, eventually.

For a little more insight into the ratings game, check out the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

Now you decide!