KCET* (or PBS in general) Sucks!

The other day, I caught the PBS presentation of The Celluloid Closet on KCET* during their never-ending pledge drive for your cash. LA Metblogger Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters, even wrote a piece about the film recently. If you have never seen the movie, it’s a documentary about how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have been portrayed throughout cinematic history. It’s not the best film ever but it’s worth a look if you’ve a couple of hours to spare.

What really got me riled up, and I do mean riled up, was the odd and scattershot censoring the broadcast version of the film chose to employ. The Standards and Practices folks saw fit to remove the swear words and pixelated almost all nudity on display. Ok. Fine. I get it, you don’t want to offend people by saying “fuck” a lot or by showing bared breasts or shots of hot naked lesbians knocking one out. Although really, who doesn’t want to see that? :)

No, what really pissed me off is that only some of the graphic sex and violence was left unedited. For instance, a scene involving two women making love was blurred-out but startlingly, a scene from the 1980 Al Pacino shocker, Cruising, was left unedited for all the world to see. The scene in question features a good looking fellow face-down on the bed with his hands tied behind him while an unknown killer repeatedly (and bloodily) stabs him in the back. Even more offending, is the clip is intercut with pornographic shots of the killer anally raping his victim while he stabs him over and over and over. Ew.

In the context of the unedited film, it’s a gory and disgusting example that leads to a finer point the filmmakers wish to make: which was that in 1980, the only way to show gay men or gay sex was by brutally killing and graphically raping them. However, in the context of the edited broadcast version, it serves to prove a different point altogether: PBS (or KCET*) was guilty of the very thing The Celluloid Closet was rallying against. Apparently it’s not acceptable to see an exposed breast but it is okay to see a gay man being pornographically raped and murdered. What kind of message does that send? The same one it always has: gay people aren’t fit to even be looked at unless they are being murdered. See what happens if you have gay sex? You die!

I was so mad. If you’re gonna edit it, then edit it! Their pansy-ass attempt at ‘protecting’ us failed and only further solidified stereotypes which still linger today. I’m not sure if it was PBS or KCET* who made the decision but it doesn’t really matter, because either way, their attitude and conduct is more shocking than the films will ever be.

* Author’s Note: This post was originally titled “KOCE (or PBS in general) Sucks!” The author (hey that’s me) made a sloppy and egregious error by confusing the real PBS station in question (KCET) with another (KOCE). I don’t have a very good excuse, except that I Tivo’d the film and fast forwarded through all the membership-drive and station breaks. As such, I misread the station’s call letters and failed to take the time to verify I had the information right. It’s an embarrassing mistake to say the least and I offer my sincere apologies to KOCE for the careless way I mistakenly threw them under the bus. I also thank them for their kindness in pointing out the error and I’ll take it as a lesson learned (the hard way).

A clip from The Celluloid Closet is after the jump…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn6srR3PC7Y[/youtube]

3 Comments so far

  1. Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters (lotle) on August 7th, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    Just to clarify my linked review. It is happenstance that KOCE aired what sure sounds like a butchered (pun sort-of intended) version of the film in the same time frame that I reviewed it. I saw a fortunately uncensored VHS tape that I borrowed from a friend.

    I do wish to support and praise Jon for his smart review of broadcast censorship. It shocking how garish, crass, and unthinking these TV standards continue to be. In this case, it sure does seem to reinforce the homophobic message that is critiqued in the very documentary so censored.


  2. kocepublictelevision on August 11th, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

    Hi Jon,
    I believe that you have the call letters incorrect. KOCE does not have the rights to air Celluloid Closet, so you did not see it on one of our stations. KCET is the PBS station in this market with the rights to air it, as they did on August 1 at 11:00 PM http://bit.ly/nn5mK

    While the program did not air on our channels, I can say that the decency guidelines and related fines for broadcast television are determined by the FCC and the court system. The content choices are not made by PBS or individual stations.

    I did not receive any calls last week, but if you have questions about KOCE in the future, please contact me directly at lneal at koce dot org and I will be happy to provide the information that you need.

    Lindsey Neal, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for KOCE-TV.


  3. Jon (oc_jon) on August 11th, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    Oh how embarrassing. My stupid error has been corrected! I did call, but I left voice mail for someone else. Thanks for the correct information!

    Since we’re discussing the FCC, you are almost correct about the fines and guidelines but not quite. I just learned in college that the FCC does not censor anything.

    In the case of the film in question, *all* content choices are made by the Network and/or the individual affiliate as the FCC does not dictate content. The FCC merely investigates complaints and does not set any specific guidelines, or standards, or supply a list of forbidden words and images (because that would be censorship). It is up to each broadcast network to police themselves. If there is a complaint made, then the FCC will step in to investigate and in some cases apply fines.

    In the case of The Celluloid Closet, I was perplexed by the censorship of certain things but for some reason the brutal (and literally up-close and explicit) depiction of rape and murder was ok by the Network’s Standards and Practices. This is the point of my misguided post, why censor the work “f word” if you are then going to show a visual depiction of that word?

    Thanks again for pointing out my error! I greatly appreciate it!



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