Movie Ratings

Organizing an Academic Essay: Part II— Reverse Outlining Directed Learning Activity—Composition 08Essential Question What is a reverse outline, how do I create one, and why should I?Purpose Upon completion of this activity, students will be able to define the term “reverse outline” and will beable to reverse outline an academic essay.This DLA should take approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete.Instruction According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), reverse outlining is a way to take brief noteson complex information and to revise your own writing. Purdue’s OWL says:Some assignments ask you to read and analyze complex information. In these cases, reverseoutlining can help you distill the main ideas into short, clear statements. You may also use reverseoutlining to revise your own work. Reverse outlining follows a two-step, repeatable process:1) In the left-hand margin, write down the topic of each paragraph. Try to use as few words aspossible.When reading, these notes should work as quick references for future study or in-class discussion.When revising your own work, these notes should tell you if each paragraph is focused and clear.2) In the right-hand margin, write down how the paragraph topic advances the overall argument ofthe text. Again, be brief.When reading, these notes allow you to follow the logic of the essay, making it easier for you toanalyze or discuss later. When revising your own work, these notes should tell you if each paragraphfits in the overall organization of your paper. You may also notice that paragraphs should be shiftedafter completing this step.Be brief, particularly when rereading your own work. If you can’t complete each step in 5-10 words, theparagraph may need to be altered. You should be able to summarize the topic and the manner ofsupport quickly; if you can’t, revise the paragraph until you can.As you can see from the description above, reverse outlining can help you• Ensure you have stayed on track with your essay• Ensure you have responded to every task or question your professor has asked of you• Discover places where your argument might be weak or confusingExercise Reverse outline the essay “Do We Really Need Movie Ratings?” from the editors of the journal Cineaste.Follow the directions from Purdue’s OWL for reverse outlining.Review your answers with an instructor or tutor in the Virtual Writing & Reading Center. Be sure you cananswer the essential question above.“Do We Really Need Movie Ratings?” CineasteEver since the movies began, this hybrid art form has been considered slightly disreputable. After all, ittook until 1952 for the Supreme Court to rule that films deserved the freedom of speech guaranteesenshrined in the First Amendment. In addition, it took until 1968 for the notoriously hidebound MotionPicture Association of America to scrap the antiquated Production Code and to substitute acontroversial, and much-contested, ratings system. Ostensibly designed to inform, and implicitly warn,filmgoers-particularly parents-of violent or salacious “content,” the MPAA ratings have been, from theirinception, plagued by inconsistencies and contradictions.A cursory inventory of the last thirty-eight years of arbitrary, and occasionally slightly inane, decisions bythe MPAA reveals a string of follies and a trail of de facto censorship. To begin with, the “X” ratingsoriginally awarded to Midnight Cowboy and Medium Cool, classics that now seem far from sexuallyexplicit (both films were subsequently re-rated as “R”; the “X” category, with an unmistakablepornographic taint, was changed to “NC-17” in 1990) do not merely remind us of the shifting values thatinevitably influence what is deemed acceptable as artistic expression. There is little doubt that MediumCool was awarded a “political X” for an ideological orientation that was apparently considered tooincendiary for impressionable teenagers and that Midnight Cowboy was stigmatized for intimations of ahomosexual relationship between the two protagonists portrayed by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.Kirby Dick’s recent documentary expose, This Film Is Not Yet Rated (an interview with Dick is featured in[the Dec. 22, 2006] issue of Cineaste) proves that little has changed in the intervening years. Dick’sreportage wittily confirms that films highlighting heterosexual sex and full-frontal female nudity are farless likely to receive the dreaded NC-17 rating (studios are loath to release NC-17 films and manytheater chains refuse to screen them) than those which foreground gay couplings or male nudity.Furthermore, in sharp contrast to practices in, say, Scandinavian countries, films with hefty amounts ofgraphic violence are treated with kid gloves and are, in many instances, not even off limit to youngsters.When all is said and done, the most infuriating aspects of the MPAA ratings remain their obliviousnessto the artistic intentions of directors, producers, and screenwriters. While novelists would howl inprotest if their books were pruned of offensive material in order to please prudish booksellers, studiosthink nothing of capitulating to theater owners’ demand for more circumspect “product.” It is onlysufficient to cite a litany of examples that drive home the absurdity of capricious decisions that haveundermined various directors’ artistic visions. In 1990, a ludicrous “X” rating for Pedro Almodovar’s dark,but distinctly untitillating, S&M tragicomedy, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Prompted the board to institutethe “NC-17” category, a bogus reform if there ever was one. “NC-17” soon became as much of a kiss ofdeath as “X” and, by 1999, Warner Bros. felt compelled to clumsily trim Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shutshortly after the director’s sudden death. Even the famous Kubrick imprimatur couldn’t prevent studioexecutives from maximizing profits and cynically eviscerating the work of an acknowledged master-eventhough the film’s artistic importance is obviously subject to debate.Dick’s film zeroes in on a number of equally scandalous MPAA blunders. Kimberly Pierce convincinglyargues that the ratings board’s squeamishness regarding “female pleasure” required her to tone down atender lesbian love scene in her Oscar winning Boys Don’t Cry; she clearly views the resulting avoidanceof the NC-17 rating, the commercial “mark of Cain,” a decidedly Pyrrhic victory. Following an all-too-common pattern, a pivotal three-way, bisexual tryst saddled Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies withan NC-17. Considering the farcical cuts that John Waters admits he was forced to impose on hischaracteristically kinky A Dirty Shame, is it any wonder that John Cameron Mitchell and his distributordecided to release Shortbus, his hymn to polymorphous perversity, without an MPAA rating?In the light of this sorry track record, is there any hope that the ratings system can be at least seriouslyimproved, if not trashed altogether? Even parents perhaps especially parents-admit that ratings do littleto help them supervise their children’s filmgoing choices. When the autocratic Jack Valenti retired asPresident of the organization in 2004, there was some hope that the hopelessly outmoded ratings wouldat least be subject to further scrutiny. Dan Glickman’s new regime, however, has done little to rectifythe ongoing ratings follies.Given this stalemate, perhaps one might heed Dick’s advice that “the most important function a ratingsboard can perform is to give concise, comprehensive descriptions of a film ‘s content.” And mostimportantly, even if this fatally flawed system cannot be abolished, we can insist that the oftenperplexing decisions of ‘the secretive members of the ratings board, most of whom are patentlyunqualified to make sophisticated artistic assessments, can be made more transparent. If the MPAAremains intransigent and refuses to clean up its own house, their imperious judgments will continue tobe a national embarrassment.

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