I have essentially no sympathy for Family Edited DVDs, a company that’s being sued by a coalition of studios for editing theoretically objectionable material out of major releases and re-releasing them as family entertainment. It’s not just that it’s plagiarism, though of course, it is that, too. It speaks to a larger laziness.
Nobody has a right to insist that art contain only what they want it to be in it. Art doesn’t exist by committee. I may think that the Lupin-Tonks relationship in Harry Potter is implausible, or that the Spider-Man 3 should only have one villain in it, or that it’s really, really gross and beyond one of my personal boundaries that Neo gets his eyes poked out in the last Matrix movie. But it’s not up to me to decide any of those things! Experiencing art is about submitting to someone else’s vision, to fall into someone else’s world. Good art leaves you yearning for me, leaves me wanting more of the world behind the mirrors in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, more of the dissolution of society in The Passage. And it surprises you. I watched Heartburn over the weekend, and found myself just drop-jawed in admiration when Mike Nichols shot a pivotal scene like something out of a horror movie. Lack of control is the price you pay to be truly entertained.
I understand that parents may want to watch movies with their children, and that they may want their children to be able to participate in mass cultural phenomena. But bastardizing entertainment to suit kids is a lazy solution. Even if, say, you cut the sexy or most violent bits out of Iron Man, kids aren’t going to understand a movie about military contracting and moral responsibility. Editing down something like Date Night is beside the point: that’s a movie that’s meant to entertain married couples and folks who are looking forward to the day when they’ll be married, for people who understand action movie cliches so they can appreciate things that subvert them. The response to the problem of finding appropriate entertainment for kids isn’t editing down adult entertainment to cut out the bits that are blatantly inappropriate for them. It’s looking hard for smart children’s entertainment, or going back in time to expose them to movies like The General or The Lady Eve that have a ton to offer both parents and children, that have physical humor and social humor.
And as much as I respect people who are trying to live by strict religious rules or principles, I don’t think they have the right to edit down entertainment to meet their principles, either. There’s no question that there are not a lot of great alternatives out there for people who are looking for movies that reflect the way they’re trying to live. But if you’re supposed to avoid secular entertainment, editing it down is cheating. You don’t have the right to condemn Hollywood and then steal from it to suit your own needs or meet your own compromises.