The nation has now had a weekend to mourn the passing of Jack Valenti, man who made possible the groundbreaking cultural artifact known as the special unrated DVD version of Turistas. Yet, beyond such obvious accomplishments, there's still so much more to know about the MPAA chief/L.B.J. confidante/ Napster destroyer. Happily, on a dreary Sunday evening like this, there's no better family activity than reading the week's obituaries! But how do we know which ones will be appropriate for the kids? Alphanumeric codes, obviously! The following obits have been submitted for review to the Gawker Weekend Rating Board; out of respect, we are following the brilliant, equivocally definite guidelines set forth on the M.P.A.A. website.
- Key Concerns:
Mr. Valenti, a bantam 5-foot-7 who forever looked up to the towering Johnson, picked fights with critical Johnson biographers like Robert Caro and Robert Dallek.
So he banned screeners altogether. A storm of protest ensued — loudest of all from the major studios' own specialty divisions, which rely heavily on awards attention to publicize their films — and the policy was overturned by a federal judge, who said it ran afoul of antitrust laws.
A voracious reader, he devoured everything by Macaulay, Churchill and Gibbon, and his speaking and writing style would mix his native twang with the rhetorical flourishes of his heroes in a brew of cliché, cornpone, compelling phrases and clunkers that one critic called "a kind of Texas baroque."
Mr. Valenti spent more time socially with the president than any other aide, often bringing along his wife and their toddler daughter, Courtenay Lynda, a Johnson favorite.
The level of violence in this obituary is not what concerns us so much as its contextual basis. "Picking fights" is a form of social discourse that we feel many, though not all, parents may object to. It is obvious, however, that "a brew of cliché, cornpone, compelling phrases and clunkers" makes impossible a G-rating, which of course allows for only "some snippets of language [to] go beyond polite conversation." The dilemma here is whether the Times deserves a PG or a PG-13. Ultimately, despite the absence of drug use or graphic sexing, the highly untraditional domestic structure of Man, Wife, President of the United States, and Toddler Who is Said President's "Favorite" almost certainly eclipses the baseline community standards of all extant communities.
- Final Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned
for pugnacity, use of non-Standard American English Dialect and reminders of the Gulf of Tonkin involving young children.
- Key Concerns:
In public, his Texas-accented eloquence was reminiscent of a Southern preacher.
He was among a dozen young men and women invited to a reception at a Houston hotel to meet Johnson, then the U.S. Senate's majority leader, who was eager to cultivate talented young fellow Texans who might help him one day.... Recalling that day during a Caltech appearance in 2003, Valenti said: "I was fascinated the way I'm fascinated by a hooded cobra or a silken panther on a hillside ready to spring. It was an animal magnetism I never got over."
Valenti was also smitten by Johnson secretary Mary Margaret Wiley. After spotting her coming off an airplane with Johnson in Houston, Valenti asked an aide to call the Rice Hotel and order the staff to rearrange the seating so she would be placed next to him.
Two years after taking over the MPAA, Valenti and association counsel Louis Nizer devised the ratings system so they could scrap the industry's Hays Code, which for decades placed tight restrictions on movie language and sexual content. The code had such rules as no open-mouth kissing and a requirement that a man and a woman in bed each have one foot on the floor."If you wanted to be affectionate, you had to be Nadia Comaneci the gymnast," Valenti later recalled.
A fairly open-and-shut case. No children at an impressionable age should be allowed to witness the journalistic wheat gluten-phrase "reminiscent of a Southern preacher" being used. No one has ever met a Southern preacher; there is nothing to reminisce about. Moving on, it goes without saying that the sexual content here is harsh, and quite polymorphously perverse: terms like "cultivate" and "magnetism" cross from euphemism to innuendo, and the statement regarding Olympian Comaneci — 7 years old at the time Valenti speaks of — crosses from innuendo to obscenity. However, the moment is brief enough to shield this obit from an NC-17.
- Final Rating: R Restricted
for crude descriptions of language, sex, balance-beam anatomy, and homosocial psychosexual scenes involving animals
- Key Concerns:
He also was a major gateway to Hollywood's financial largesse during the campaign season. On any given week, Valenti met with actors, world leaders and newspaper editors and was regarded as a brilliant and aggressive wielder of his glamorous pulpit.
One of the strongest critics of the MPAA's system was Nell Minow, a corporate governance expert who wrote family-oriented movie reviews for Common Sense Media. Citing examples, she told one congressional hearing a few years ago that the MPAA's system did a poor job of providing families with helpful information. Minow said recently: "He waited for me to finish, he stood up, learned over, kissed me on the top of my head and said, 'Nell, that's why we all need your Web site, because you can give parents what we can't.' There was really no way to respond to that. I thought that's why he's the most effective lobbyist in Washington."
Yet Valenti was often described as Johnson's chief whipping post or "glorified valet," who loyally absorbed Johnson's foul-mouthed tantrums and such seemingly humiliating acts as Johnson using Valenti's lap as a footrest....Afterward, Washington Post political cartoonist Herblock drew Valenti as a slave being whipped into submission. All this brought Valenti the enduring image of a sycophant, political journalist Richard Rovere once wrote.
- Comments: The language is at times vulgar to the point of physical revulsion, and the Board goes so far as to question whether there is any artistic value in this obituary at all. "Aggressive wielder of his glamorous pulpit"? While adding all those promiscuous adjectives, surely it should have dawned on the creator that the central "metaphor" present is, by any socially reasonable measure, obscenely mixed. The unrelenting brutality and sadism of the anecdotes, particularly "lap as a footrest," speak for themselves.
- Final Rating: NC-17 No One 17 and Under Admitted
for sustained anti-social content, often involving bondage and/or sadomasochism, including one scene of head-kissing and one scene of the human body used as an ottoman.
- Key Concerns:
Said Warner Bros. chairman & CEO Barry Meyer, a friend who served as the family spokesman when Valenti had his stroke: "Today, my heart is truly heavy. I have lost a dear friend and mentor — someone who not only made a mark in history, but also had a profound impact on my life."
Valenti never stopped fighting for free-speech rights, years later becoming the point man on the TV ratings system that was set up to work with the V-chip content-blocking device. While he fought establishment of the V-chip, once Congress approved the law, he threw himself into making something work.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be directed to the Jack Valenti Macular Degeneration Research Fund at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Stroke Research Fund, also in Baltimore.
- Comments: No potentially objectionable material in the usual terms of violence, sex/nudity, or drug use. However, some parents may be concerned with a plot centered on a great man's death; we defer to the M.P.A.A scripture: "The theme of a P.G.-rated [obituary] may itself call for parental guidance...Obviously, such a line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is not easy to make judgments without incurring some disagreement. As long as parents know they must exercise some parental responsibility, the rating serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning."
- Final Rating: PG Parental Guidance Suggested
for thematic elements, perhaps meaning something