Critiques & Controversies: July 2006 Archives

The Worst Mistake

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TSO makes an interesting and cogent point in this post from which an excerpt foloows:

But the Native American holocaust was a much bigger mistake. The Spanish-American war and the Mexican war were arguably much bigger blots on our record. And yet the ironic thing is that this war is seen as intolerable sin; a co-worker says some scholars say Bush will go down as the worst president in US history. I think whatever error we incurred with respect to Iraq is pretty mild compared to some of the errors of our past, such as slavery. I'm completely at a loss at how this war for an arguably good principle (overthrow of a despot) is somehow more obscene than taking other people's lives for a baser principle (land, power, money). That doesn't make this mistake right but the lack of perspective is astonishing. I feel far more squeamish about our use of the nuclear bomb in WWII than enforcing the ceasefire conditions Hussein repeatedly broke.

I think there is much here to think about, but what I wanted to reflect on wasn't the contention that we have done worse in the past, which I believe to be true, but the perceptions then and now, and why they give me hope.

I think TSO is right in our past blunders. The annhilation of the Native American, the long slavery debacle, and more debatably the Spanish-American War. But the reality is that in the past these were not regarded as blunders, and the people who undertook some of them were regarded as heroes. After the atrocities they committed in the Civil War, in which Sherman and Sheridan proved themselves, they were sent out to the west to commit even worse upon the Native Americans who were already near starvation and being crowded away off of traditional hunting and farming lands. At the time, the explanation, which remains in some part today, amounted to eminent domain. This land could be better exploited for larger numbers if only it were freed of this pesky nuisance.

Slavery was supported and preached about in the South, largely because the rice crop in South Carolina depended nearly exclusively upon the labor of slaves. Certainly, there was probably a good deal of special pleading in some of these sermons, but some were given by solid men of God who had a grave misunderstanding of what scripture spoke of.

Today we are embroiled in a war that could be called at best a mistake and at worst, according to Pat Buchanan (and I won't defend his opinion, because frankly, I don't know), playing into Osama Bin Laden's hands. Buchanan points out that 9/11 was all about getting us involved in a war like the one we launched in Iraq to our detriment, and eventual demise. I don't know that it will happen, nor does Mr. Buchanan seem to think it inevitable, but I think it has been shown that despite laudable goals, it was essentially an unjust war, and we are now reaping the whirlwind we have sown.

But what is wonderful about this is that so many are willing to speak up and express their disapproval. People are no longer being shoe-horned and steam rolled into accepting any party line. Where once we went along with slavery or went along with the annhilation of the Native Americans, now we protest a war some see as imperialist and others view as protectionist (of oil interests.)

I don't know if we are becoming more devisive, more aware, or simply tired of acting as policemen for the world. But I think it will help to promote a good deal more circumspection from those leading the country in the future. At least I pray so. And I think that this war has been very helpful in clarifying the concept of "just war."

For all of these reasons, I find the hue and cry heartening. It may not mean much of anything in the long run, but I hope that it is a sign of some slight maturing. Now, if we could just recapture any real sense of morality with regard to sexual matters and life in general, we might progress overall.

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I've given the matter yet more thought and have concluded that part of the anger at the result of the CleanFlicks lawsuit stems from the fact that film is presently under a perpetual copyright. Supposedly the copyright last the life of the author plus 90 years, but I don't know the rules when the copyrighted work is owned by a "legal" person such as a corporation.

If things progressed as the Founding Fathers originally saw fit, films would enter the public domain at a steady pace. But the reality is no film is likely ever to enter the public domain (there are a few silent films, but that's it). So, there is never the opportunity to "edit for suitability" because copyright is eternal. And it is here that I balk at the judgment against CleanFlicks. The Courts have given both monopolistic and eternal rights to the companies that produce a work. It would seem to me that if they are forever, they should not be all-inclusive. A previous commenter pointed out that copyright was a trade-off allowing the owner a short period of exclusive use in exchange for the work entering the public forum.

I'm thinking that the only way this will cease is by concerted civil disobedience--but I can't think what form that might take. Anyway, the anger seems justified because many are left powerless in the face of this all devouring perpetual seizure of intellectual property.

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Tom likens Art to a cultural conversation, or rather someone has slipped that metaphor in along in the discussion. And that seems quite reasonable. Tom goes on to ask the question, "Is it reasonable in the course of any conversation to assume that every person engaged has the right not only to be heard, but in a sense to dominate the conversation as the only one whose word not only must be heard, but must be held sacrosanct and inviolable?" I paraphrase, but I hope I caught the essence of it.

Because Tom's definition of Art starts off much broader than my own, that question is reasonable as well. But where the difficulty comes in is that the cultural conversation takes not merely minutes, hours, days, months, years, or decades; it can, and often does take centuries and millennia.

While it is unreasonable to hold one person's view as more valuable or more sacrosanct than another's, when I argue for the preservation of the original, I am not saying that there cannot be other contributors, but rather, because the conversation takes so long, it is only right to hear the conversants in their own voices--as unmediated by another as is possible.

I make an inference here that Tom may be describing art as a kind of dialectic a kind of theme, introduced by the initial artist and modified through the years by responding artists in harmony or dissonance. And that may be a reasonable view of the process over all.

It is not the production of new works that bothers me. But let me try to explain just why I hold the view I do. St. Thomas Aquinas produced a large compendium of theology and philosphy, and I suppose natural science, and many other things related to theology and understanding God. This is the remarkable Summa Theologiae. Through time, many, many people have responded to this work, both positively or negatively. However, if I only read Farrell's study of the work, have I really come to terms with what St. Thomas Aquinas said? If I read only the two abridgments prepared by Peter Kreeft, do I have a clear idea of what Aquinas taught. Perhaps, perhaps not. But if I don't have the work of Aquinas to refer to, how can I know. If we allow the original to be so truncated to to be compiled in Kreeft's Summa of the Summa how will I understand the conversation?

Now the creation of the Summa of the Summa MIGHT be what Tom would refer to as a modification of the Summa Theologiae, if so, we have a different terminology for recognizing the validity of the same thing, because I would argue that Kreeft used his skills as writer and editor to produce from Aquinas not just a modification of Aquinas, but what is, in essence, an entirely new work. Yes, the bulk of it is Aquinas (there are notes and comments by Kreeft) but the process of editing picks highlights and reshapes the corpus of the work in such a way that it no longer fully represents the original. With this type of continuing conversation, I have no problem. Part of my ease comes from the fact that if I wished to know what Aquinas really said, I need only pick up one of several critical editions and learn Latin and read it. (Well, perhaps only wasn't a particularly good modifier in that sentence.) But the reality is that I have the original contribution to the conversation to play off of all the others and to hear the overtones and undertones.

But let's assume for a moment that an evil band of Kreeftian adherents stole all extant copies of the Summa and destroyed them. Then those initial remarks--the conversation starter is completely lost to me--and the conversation starter is indeed the seed of all that followed.

This is where we may part company, because I sincerely believe that it is good to know the full nature of that seed and even of the subsequent branches when we begin to engage in the conversation.

Now I've been queried about whether I would confer the same protections on Cheaper by the Dozen as I would on the Hagia Sophia. And the answer is an unqualified yes, with a codicil. I think it good to preserve as intact as possible all of the works of art so that future art has it as the "conversation starter." Ideally, that Art should be the authentic expression of the artist who produced it--complete and unchanged--but ready now to be modified by the future artist who encounters it. The codicil is, do I think Cheaper by the Dozen is as important as the Hagia Sophia. No! Rather I confer on Cheaper by the Dozen the protection I would like to offer the Hagia Sophia, not because CBD is necessarily worthy of that protection, but because if I have to choose between releasing all and keeping all, I choose keeping all. CBD is the side beneficiary of the protection I would like to see conferred on all great works of art.

A great work of art is a conversation starter--it is interesting to see the conversation develop, but I often lament things like Fragments from Paphias that give us enticing snippets of what could have been a most interesting whole. I regret the loss of many of the Pindaric Odes, though they may not have been worthy of a second thought. Who would have thought a minor comedy of an ancient Roman would have been worth recreating as a musical. And yet, it works.

So, if I am a protectionist, it is both for the good of Art as a whole, and I believe, the good of humanity. Some conversations are finished, have long since been but to rest and now are nothing more than footnotes in long abstruse studies of ancient Hungarian fragments or lesser Scholastics of the 14th century. There is a natural lull in the conversation. But the texts are there, ready for a resurgent interest that may uncover in these "lesser" scholastics insights that were far ahead of their time. If these works are redacted into nonexistence, this fertile field is destroyed, and part of the ability of Art is destroyed with it. I think of art as akin to John Donne's paean to everyman, "No man is an island, but all be part of the whole. If a clod be washes from Europe, Europe is the less." The loss of an original artwork is a great shame and a great loss. The centuries-long conversation that occurs around this artwork enriches Art, and if done properly, all of humanity.

That is why I suppose I impose my two categorical statements--(1)The willful misattribution of a work of art that has been changed to the original artist is sinful; and (2)The redaction of any original, no matter how seemingly trivial, out of existence is a great loss.

That said, I now need to come to terms with the very real part of me that says, "Some works don't deserve to exist at all. Would the loss of all of the pornography of the 20th century really be a bad thing." And perhaps it is in the distinction between Great Art, Good Art, Mediocre Art, and Bad Art, that I could find some answers to that question. (Bad art here meaning art that is both seriously, grievously mortally flawed, and art that while unflawed morally is so completely flawed technically as to be worthless.)

And perhaps my answer would be that Art in the first three categories deserves to have the original preserved, and that in the last, particularly if morally reprehensible should be consigned to the dust head of history. But then my statement wouldn't be categorical. And perhaps, with further reflection that's just fine.

All I really want is to be able to see what was originally there if I have cause to. As I once commented to TSO, reading a book by John Cornwell was a waste of time because I felt I had to go back and try to find all of the originals to see, what if anything, was true about it. But stop and consider. If we redacted everything out of existence and all that remained to say of Pius XII were the half-truths and less of Cornwell's book, then we would have done a great injustice--and I believe the nature of that injustice is related to Art itself.

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Make Your Own!

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There seems to be a divide between some philosophers of Art and those who argue from the point of view of the artist. The philosophers see absolutely nothing at all wrong with altering a work to make it aesthetically better; the artists (or those who argue from that point of view) disagree. And this may come down what precisely we mean by "altering a work of art."

There are two species of alterations: one of which is always objectionable, the other of which is the traditional way in which art grows--the way which present copyright law is trying to squeeze off entirely.

One form of alteration is to take an extant work and make a change to it. This is objectionable on a number of grounds:

(1) It misrepresents the view and the work of the original.
(2) It argues that alteration to make a bad work mediocre is a laudable act--thus propagating the endless galleries of Thomas Kinkade art with which every mall seems to be burdened.
(3) It is hubristic--pretending to know with some certain what objective artistic merit is. I've seen Zippy throw the term around and then actively support the burning of all Picassos; I've come to suspect that he has no better idea than I do of what this objectivity looks like.
(4) It is lazy.

Which leads to the second form of alteration--derivation, parody, and satire, [added later] or attributed alteration of a copy of the work--most traditional means of altering extant works. When one thinks one can do better, this is the path to take. One doesn't tinker with the poems of Robert Frost seeking to improve them, one writes ones own poems in the same vein, on the same theme, or even in parody of or homage to Frost.

This is the means by which art progresses. Most of our modern works are derived in some way. They are written as a response to, from the wealth of, or as adaptations of great works of the past. I think of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres which can be seen as an adaptation of Lear. I think of G.B. Shaw's Dark Lady of Sonnets in which he fights his lifelong battle with Shakespeare with some considerable venom. How many Romeo and Juliets have there been (itself a derivative work from Arthur Brooke's 1562 The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, which in turn derives from earlier sources, and ultimately from Greek Mythology--Pyramus and Thisbe.

The right and proper work of the artist is this continual modification of tradition and addition to it. Hemingway is quoted as saying that "Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal." Which is to mean that they take the work entire and make it their own. In this sense, the greater crime might be borrowing, in which we change this word, or that line, or this little scene and then pass on silently, having altered the work to our satisfaction.

At Disputations, Tom brings up the notorious "sash-painting" across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, only recently restored to the right and proper vision of Michelangelo. This form of debasement of art is what one supports when one says that arbitrary changes may be made to improve the aesthetics of the piece.

The reality is that there are vanishingly few people who have the standing to make judgments about the aesthetic value or objective artistic merit of any given piece, and most of those are who they think they are. It's a catch 22 in my experience, if you believe you are qualified then you are most certainly not--a point M. Night Shaymalin makes along the way in Lady in the Water. If you think you have the right to change a work that will be presented to the public, you should rethink--you don't.

I stand opposed to the alteration in any way of a received work. If you don't like it the way it stands, don't participate in it. If you think you could do the same better--do so. Just don't alter what has become public property. And public property is not individual property but the right and due of all the people. No one person has the right to change this heritage in the first way. Every person has the right, and if endowed with the skill, the responsibility to change or contribute to this heritage in the second way.

If you can make a more moral, upright, or proper film do so. Don't change the one I'm watching. If you can make a poem better, then do so--set yours alongside the original and show me the improvement. I have yet to read an altered, bowdlerized, or expurgated version of any work that made a substantial improvement to the aesthetics whatever it may have done to the morality.

If you feel the urge to change someone's work, cowboy up and make your own. Don't tinker. Don't play at artist--you demean art and the artist with such playacting. And don't be tiresome and pretend you have some bead on the truth that will vastly improve a given work. Prove it to me--write your own. Jane Austen took on the melodramatic and overwrought Gothic genre to produce the magisterial Northanger Abbey and made a contribution far more profound than legions of gothic novelists. (However, she did not surpass Anne Radcliffe whose work she sought to parody. Ms. Radcliffe's work stands and beside it the parody that is almost a tribute. In a sense we have Ms. Radcliffe to thank for one of the finest novels in English--if only indirectly.)

So, hands off. Let what enters the public square live or die on its own.

And now the second part of part II. Copyright law. Our present copyright law seeks to keep everything out of public domain for approximately 150 years, at this point. With the next renewal that time will extend. Applying that to the past, we would not have been able to make films or derivative works of things like A Christmas Carol or Tess of the D'urbervilles until a few years ago. Yes, there's always the possibility of licensing the work, but what is the writing struggling with keeping food on the table to do when the very clay with which he or she works is locked up, just within sight. The modern copyright law is a travesty--a mockery of law, and a mockery of the purpose for which copyright became the rule. The most recent Supreme Court ruling on it, in every way a deliberate and conscious misreading of the intent and purpose as outlined in the Constitution itself. It is clear from precedent up until the 20th century that there was absolutely no intention of an artist holding copyright for 90 years after his or her death. And, as I said, with the lobbies and the free grant of the Courts, this is only like to be extended. This does wholesale damage to the common good, removing from the sphere of play thousands and thousands of works. I think of what might have happened had Jane Eyre not entered the public domain--we might never have seen Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. The examples are countless. Congress has, for the interests of megaconglomerate businesses removed the right and proper heritage of art from the people, and we stand by and let it happen--unconcerned because so erudite a matter has no real meaning for us. (Okay, end this month's diatribe on copyright law--sorry).

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A Retraction

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My apologies to all. By my arguments I have apparently misrepresented facts in the case. Read the comments to the posts below.

There are two arguments here, each of which presents different merits, one of which is more important than the other in terms of consequences. In cases that I have described, where the changes made by an outside party are unilateral and unacknowledged I DO believe, whether the changes are made for reasons we might consider good or for reasons we might describe as evil, such changing (with a certain leeway for alteration in the creation of a work under contract or work-for-hire clauses) can result in misrepresentation of an artist and thus amount to an evil. Editing without consultation (except under conditions mentioned and carefully defined above) is a substantive evil. It may do more harm to argument and integrity than to person. They may not rise to calumny and scandal, but they should be avoided and the person so treated has been treated unjustly. There is a recognizable wrong done--whether that amounts to moral evil or not might be questionable--I honestly don't know. I know in most cases it seems clear to me that such misrepresentation is evil.

The other argument is aesthetic. When we ask whether or not an editorial change in the course of the creation of a work is aesthetically allowable and whether it constitutes and improvement or a reduction of the work, I think the case depends on where the art is in the first place. If you're trying to improve, even from a moral point of view, "Frat Boy Vacation," just give it up. There are small changes that can make the work more palatable, but may not "improve" the work. But this area is much more grey than that described above.

My bottom line, the argument I've inappropriately used CleanFlicks to make, is the unacknowledged usurpation and alteration of another's work subsequently attributed to them is a moral evil, regardless of the purpose for which it was done. Taking the sex and violence out of the Marquis de Sade without saying you have done so wrongs the Marquis by telling a substantive lie about him. (Now, why you'd even attempt to do this is another matter entirely.) That is an evil. You may have "improved" the work morally, but the end does not justify the means. And one is protected from this by a simple acknowledgment of "abridgement" and a forward that sets for the aesthetic theory under which this attempt at a miracle is conducted.

By issuing the original along with the altered version, CleanFlicks passes this test of morality--a question I confused in reading the arguments.

Once again, my sincere apologies for any confusion I may have created in making my arguments.

I still stand with those who hold that the works of artists should not be altered for our convenience--but this is an aesthetic not a moral issue. And the aesthetic argument is necessarily more nuanced and perhaps more subjective. I leave that to better minds than my own. For the time being, until convinced otherwise I will quietly hold my aesthetic theory even as I trumpet forth the moral argument. Editing is not necessarily a morally neutral activity. And this is still contra what I have understood Zippy and others to say on the matter.

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CleanFlicks again

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Hollywood is amazingly persuaded by money and had they been approached by this company to license works and "clean them up" I have little doubt that they would have allowed the work to progress with some sort of disclaimer at the beginning of the film such as one sees every day on Televsion--"This work has been altered from the original--" with a list of how the alterations had occurred. In this case one might complete the list with some like "to remove elements offensive to the alterers and produce a film with a lower rating." I could see Hollywood demanding to see the film before release or to at least detail exactly what was removed--3 minutes of sex and nudity, 5 expletives--on the packaging.

But this company, working under the notion of moral superiority took it upon themselves to do this. (Well, perhaps not, but one must assume that the lawsuit occurred for SOME cause.) That seems to me to be the bone of contention.

While there is a legal aspect to all of this, I will contend that not all alteration is morally neutral, and my argument stands--to make an anti-Catholic sound pro-Catholic, to make a normal person into a racist/supremicist both are fundamental injuries to the dignity of the person. One might think one acceptable and the other not--but lying about a person, it would seem to me, is always morally questionable.

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I suppose it goes without saying that I feel pretty passionate about the subject of artistic control of a work (to the extent that is possible).

Perhaps a future review of The Kite Runner will help me to detail why.

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Let's consider a final, very real, very plausible case of what we are talking about.

This time, let's look at the works of Flannery O'Connor--most particularly The Violent Bear It Away. The novel ends when young Tarwater has a rather unsavory, well. . . how shall we put it on a family blog? Let's say Deliverance encounter with a character we can take to be Satan himself. While it is all very veiled and euphemistic, there can be absolutely no doubt about what has transpired and, in fact, in makes much of the point of the book.

However, because our sensibilities are assaulted by this "gratuitous scene," we deem that it might be better to prepare our children with versions of it that excise the "naughty bits" but don't really hamper the end of the novel.

Now, I ask, wouldn't the better practice be to leave the novel intact and allow our children to encounter that novel at an age appropriate to their understanding. But, I'm countered with, no, that would be ghettoizing our children, so we need to alter the work so that in the course of their conversations they will not even realize that they are talking with their peers about the same novel. They're out of the ghetto, but they're fully in the dark.

Once again, because I feel passionately about it, it is always and everywhere inappropriate to make available to the public at large works that have been altered against the will of or without the consent of their authors. It is most especially bad to do this while retaining the author's name and crediting the now antithetical work to the artist.

I really don't understand why this point is so difficult to understand. Public misrepresentation of an artist's work is simply wrong. Changing a work without the artist's consent constitutes a grave misrepresentation of the work.

I even object to doing this in private--but then, it is absolutely none of my business because presumably one has right and proper access to the work for one's own enjoyment, and if one's enjoyment is enhanced by deleting or eliding certain parts, I have no right to say anything about it; however, I'd prefer those who feel the need for this kind of alteration to keep their hands off of any of my "controversial" works. (I've a sum total of exactly 1 bad word in all of my published work; however, there may be a lot of implications people don't particularly care for.) (By the way, I make the final point about privacy not to chastise or berate any one who chooses to make these changes, but to state that my opposition is categorical--if a person, child or adult, is not prepared to consume the work in as unaltered a state as it can be delivered, they would do well not to bother with it at all. If their enjoyment is enhanced by deleting a "gratuitous sex scene," I feel compelled to ask, why would one be watching a movie in which any moment is "gratuitous?" Doesn't that counter the definition of a work of art? And more especially, why would one choose to watch a movie in which the gratuitous is morally objectionable? Doesn't such a moment render the entire work morally objectionable--especially if such a moment is put in only for the thrills and for the higher rating (hence, higher earnings)? )

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With regard to PUBLIC alteration of the work of an artist (the whole point of the CleanFlicks suit), perhaps a series of thought experiments may help elucidate:

You run across the works of G. Protestant Catholicbasher, who is a renowned Protestant theology and who has the very best explanation of grace you have ever read in your life. Included is this passage: "As a result, Catholics will not see heaven. They will not know the fruits of grace. They do not know God as God. They do not give Him sovereignty."

You decide that the work is really very good--the very best. But, it has a little problem on the Catholic side, so, to make it acceptable to your children (and to other children) you publish a version of the work, with the author's name attached that presents his arguments so:

"As a result, Catholics will see heaven. They will know the fruits of grace. They know God as God. They give Him sovereignty."

After all, in a work of two hundred pages you've excised six words for a total of sixteen letters. Surely not much of a change, and it does make the argument a lot more palatable for your audience than it was originally.

Case 2: A publisher of considerably less integrity than the OPC decides to publish the lyrics of the hymn Amazing Grace changing the line "that saved a wretch like me," to the more life-affirming and up-beat "saved and set me free." They attribute this change to the original author. (OCP had not done this in any older hymnals--so I do think they are a publisher with integrity, it something lacking in taste.)

Case 3: You've written a thousand line poem in praise of God, Country, Motherhood, Apple Pie and all things American. Within your poem are the following lines:

"It is not right to hate and fear
It is not right to judge by color
It is not right to despise another."

Your local hate-group reads the poem and decides it is absolutely perfect for their "Patriotism" issue, but to reach your audience and boost sales, it's necessary to remove nine letters, three "gratuitous" words leaving:

"It is right to hate and fear
It is right to judge by color
It is right to despise another."

But they leave your name on the poem and publish it in their blockbuster seller issue.

Case 4: A publisher, favoring the NAB for its clunky language and tin ear, decides that he would do everyone a favor and remove the famous Catholic bias against having fun and against sex by more closely attending to what the original author's intended for us to derive from their writings. Thus, every time the NAB descretely uses the biblical "know" or some other euphemism, our helpful publisher decides to use the vulgar Anglo-saxon fricative. He then publishes the book without noting this "minor" editorial adjustment to the text.

I think these illustrations get the point across. When anyone other than the author assumes the authorial role and changes the authorial intention and publishes that work as though representative of the thought of the author, then they are "bearing false witness." They are constructing a lie for one purpose or another. And usually they are profiting from that lie at the expense of another. For example G. Protestant Catholicbasher is drummed out of the Church of Anywhere but Rome. You are branded a racist. And the hymnist is accused of a lack of spine.

The CleanFlicks case is not about innocuous change. It is about a company usurping the role of the studio and deciding what should air and what should not without consultation with the film studio. These things are done on their own. People ask, "Well what about edits for television." The Licenser may grant permission for alterations to be made, they may demand a list of such alterations for approval before the work can be released. In short, they maintain ownership and control over how their work is represented.

Say I decided I liked the movie Chocolat (I didn't). But I sure didn't want Samuel to get a negative impression of the Church and I altered the film so he could see it. Within my own home, that is a question of my own integrity and for me to talk to God about. But say I let news of this slip and then started peddling the film to all my friends who really wanted a cleaned-up version. Part of the purpose, intent, and integrity of the film is the anti-Catholicism. To alter that and sell the work as the original does a number of injustices. (1) It misrepresents the film maker. (2) It steals another's work and profits from it. (3) It misinforms its recipients about the agenda of the artist from whom it came.

This last is one of the more insidious consequences of altering the film. Suddenly you've made an unacceptable director palatable. So now we'll go and see the next film. (What a shock that might turn out to be.)

What is at issue is the artist's control of his own work and the artist's right not to be misrepresented in any way--even in a way that we might think enhances the work.

I've been asked, "Well what's wrong with eliding a gratuitous sex scene?" My answer is, "You know the artist's mind and the work at hand well enough to know whether or not the scene is gratuitous." The whole point of Tristam Shandy is made by a "gratuitous sex scene" at the beginning of the book. No one, apart from the artist, has the standing to determine whether or not something is gratuitous to the point of altering the work in public. If, for your own enjoyment, you determine that it would be better not to view such a scene--that's a matter of personal choice. You probably aren't watching an art film any way. But to take that out and peddle it as the original without the artist's consent. . . I'm sorry, I know you'll disagree, but it just isn't right, and it may, depending upon extent and intent, be a sin.

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