Thursday, September 27, 2007


In-flight “entertainment”

Two congressmen from North Carolina have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to show non-G-rated movies on the overhead screens of airplanes:

The legislation was prompted by complaints from parents and others who said airlines were increasingly showing movies and television reruns with sexual content and violence to in-flight audiences that include children, said a spokesman for Representative Heath Shuler, Democrat of North Carolina, one of two authors of bill, the Family Friendly Flights Act.[1]

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I sympathize with parents who worry about what their kids see. On the other, I note that the movies are already edited anyway, and every parent’s sensibilities are different:

Mr. Shuler cited a constituent who was angered to have to try to shield her children from scenes in “Last Kiss,” in which a married architect is tempted by a beautiful student.
That movie (correct title, “The Last Kiss”), is rated R, but was surely edited to remove any nudity and bad language. What was the parent angry about? Was it just the idea that someone could be unfaithful his wife, or was the movie truly insufficiently edited for showing in the plane? We don’t really know, but I suspect that regardless of the editing, there’d be people who weren’t satisfied.

But does it all really matter? I never watch the movies shown overhead anyway; the screens are too small and too far away, they’re at an awkward angle that makes them uncomfortable to watch, and the viewing angle often gives a distorted picture that’s blocked by people standing during the film. If I’m on a flight that has individual screens at each seat, I use that, and this law won’t affect what’s available there. And I often bring my own DVDs and watch them on my laptop. I see more and more people doing that, or using portable DVD players.

If this passes, it might just prompt the airlines to equip more flights with individual screens... or to forgo movies altogether, rather than limiting the fare to G-rated films that’d be of little interest to most of the passengers. Eventually, we’ll probably just see more use of personal carry-on devices.

And, hm, will parents be able to “protect” their children from chance glimpses of other people’s screens for the whole flight anyway?

[1] I’ll note that something PZ Myers says here might apply to this bill also:

[...] (it’s got "family" in the title, so you know it’s got to be evil) [...]


Maggie said...

I read a story about this a while ago, and I think parents were complaining about the individual screens, too, because you can't necessarily shield your child's view from an individual screen. A person's laptop playing an R-rated movie sitting on his/her tray would bother me as well, if my child could view the screen from the side. (I presume the person is wearing headphones.)

Maybe that could be solved by having a "family" section of the plane and an adult section. That would seem fair, and probably more pleasant for the adult patrons, although I can see families deciding they don't care to be in the family section because they take their kids to R-rated movies anyway. Then the adults would not get any benefit from the partitioning.

As far as a big screen, we as a society have agreed on ratings. If there are children on the plane, it seems unreasonable to show a movie that the ratings board has determined is inappropriate for children that age, even if edited for blood and nudity. Editing for blood and nudity doesn't make it a G-rated film. The situations are still adult. That's my opinion, maybe we'll find out if society agrees.

I don't agree with the ratings' board decisions, but that's a separate issue. If there are ratings that society has agreed on, then those should be the standards on the plane.

I know religious people who won't let their children watch Harry Potter, and I'm very upset by violence in movies because of its traumatic effect on children. But again, that's something I need to deal with individually, and the religious folks need to deal with individually. There's an extra burden on us because we differ from the norm. But the airline should definitely meet the standards that are generally accepted.

Barry Leiba said...

Maggie, I agree with most of what you say, but... there are a few buts:

Someone wrote me privately, and part of the comment was to say that there's already a de-facto "family section" in the back of the plane, and that my correspondent hates being stuffed back there when travelling with kids.

As to my own comments, well, you already know how I feel about kids on a plane (snakes might be better), so I needn't go there. :-) But apart from that....

If we really do start worrying about what kids might see peripherally, will we start restricting the movies that people can watch on their private players? I would hate that! How about restricting the magazines that people can look at? The books they can read? The conversations people can have? I'm sure we don't want to tread there.

Ratings don't seem to cut it here, either. The ratings are too coarse, at the same time overating a movie in certain ways and underrating it in others. But they work for the cinema, because you can choose to take your kids to the cinema or not. Will you really choose airline flights based on the movie that's being shown? Since the airplane's primary purpose isn't for movie viewing, the raw ratings are barely relevant.

Of course it's true that, say, seeing someone take his clothes off isn't all that might bother one... that the situation is also significant. So then, how much is the audio necessary to set up a situation? A "G" movie might have a couple kissing after his saying, "I love you, honey." An "R" movie might have a couple kissing after his saying, "I'll kill my wife tomorrow. Tonight, let's you and I [have wild hot monkey sex]!" You might think the first is OK and the second not, but the difference is only in the sound-track. I presume you can keep that under control on the flight.

My problem with all of this is that there are few movies that no one would be bothered by. If we start making laws about this, we open ourselves up to complaints from every fringe group about every movie, and we essentially say, "No movies on the plane."

Dr. Momentum said...

To contradict my wife, I don't think we do have an agreement as a society on ratings. Please see "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."

This is one of those issues that I can't believe someone is wasting their time on. I don't think that a tiny screen with no sound far above most children's heads is going to make much of a difference. But if they do restrict it to G, people can watch movies on their iPods or whatever anyhow.