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Monday, January 23, 2006

It’s Showtime with…uh…Some Limits

I didn’t think it was possible, but cable TV’s Showtime has canceled a scheduled movie due to graphic content. When I was in college, I used to shell out about $10 a month to my cable company for the privilege of having nudie flicks on tap. At some point, I realized—or someone pointed out to me—that this was not the best thing for my character development. Then I started to notice that, apart from the T&A, Showtime was a nonstop political propaganda machine. In disgust, I canceled my subscription (I was young…I needed the money.)

After my cancellation, Showtime obviously felt they could finally push the limits and so they did with picking up Reagan, The L Word, and Queer As Folk, which a gay friend of mine said made him uncomfortable because it gives the mainstream too much information about the lifestyle. But Showtime has found a depth to which it will not sink. Showtime has canceled one of its 13 movies in the series Masters of Horror. Though previously scheduled to air on January 25th, Takashi Miike’s Imprint has been removed from all its marketing channels.

The horror genre fascinates me, but as the father of young children, I am less inclined to watch any more of it. Recently, I’m more likely to enjoy the horror spoofs, especially Scream and Shaun of the Dead. E. Michael Jones has written an interesting book, Horror: A Biography, which explores the connection between monsters and sex. I wrote to the author to offer my amateur hypothesis about the emerging horror-comedy genre. The gist of it is this: whereas the connection between sex and violence in traditional horror movies reveals a collective, unconscious anxiety about extra-marital sexuality, the satirizing of this anxiety suggests a disintegrating collective conscience. The author responded positively, but I probably won’t go on to develop the idea. But I digress.

Why did Showtime cancel Miike’s Imprint? Miike is an established director. His work is well-respected and well-known by horror genre fans. After Nathan Lee’s review of Hostel, we all had an idea about the intensity of Miike’s work. Certainly the program directors at Showtime knew beforehand what they were getting into when they gave him complete artistic freedom in exchange for a tight deadline.

I’m not going to watch Imprint when it comes out on DVD, so if one of you braver souls wants to report back, please do. Until then, I must speculate.

New York Times reporter, Dave Kehr, did say “the most shocking imagery is [when] the nameless woman describes her collaboration in her mother’s work as an abortionist.” He then reports Mick Garris, the creator and executive producer of Masters of Horror, as saying, “Definitely, at the script stage we made comments about the aborted fetuses. We made it clear that we were going on American pay cable television, and even though there wasn’t as much control over content, there still were concerns. And then when we got the first cut, it was very, very strong stuff…Showtime felt it was not something they were comfortable putting out on the airwaves.”

So, it turns out that Showtime does endorse censorship—yes, I’m using the term in the politically-loaded sense—when the subject matter offends their moral principles. I don’t say this with any intention of raising the abortion issue. I don’t even want to suggest that the decision-makers at Showtime have a conscious political agenda behind the cancellation. What interests me is the discovery of a limit at Showtime. E. Michael Jones’ analysis is still relevant to contemporary horror because the genre still has the energy to manifest the latent fears of our transgressive acts. It demonstrates that Showtime’s 90s tagline “No Limits” is a naïve relic of a 60s and 70s ethos. Everyone has limits. Showtime execs are disgusted by graphic images of abortion; I'm disgusted by photos of a man with a bullwhip up his arse. Perhaps we are both engaging in censorship, but so what? We’ve reached our limits.

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