I was in Southern California, surviving a heat wave, when the live footage of the police chase came to an end. The suspect got out of the car, hands held high into the air, and fell face first to the ground as cops swarmed over him. You could almost see their fingers twitching on the triggers of their guns as they waited for the guy to make One Wrong Move. If he did, twelve bullets would turn his skull into a Gallagher watermelon. The news coverage then switched back to important topics like that of Sandra Bullock’s stalker. Then I heard something that brightened my day. Jack Valenti was dead.
I never knew the man, but I knew what he did, and how it affected everything from commerce to art. His work as the head of the MPAA changed the way Americans saw film, and while his intentions were noble in his eyes, they were also very flawed, hypocritical and asinine. Was I jumping for joy when I heard the news? No, but I was glad the garbage had finally been taken to the curb.
My hatred of the movie ratings and the people who created them and keep them in place is well documented. I’ve written several pieces on it and have been involved in countless spirited debates about the necessity of the ratings. The fact that the system is still in place even while Valenti spends the rest of eternity as a memory speaks volumes to the system’s tenacity. Valenti’s death should have brought about the end of the ratings board (if there were any real justice in the world), but that isn’t the case. It lives on because far too many people think it is a good idea without fully understanding the implications or machinations of it. Valenti, always a great salesman, understood, and I think he probably considered it his crowning legacy.
Valenti, who looked a bit ghoulish in his breathing hours, is no more. He is no longer able to plead with Congress about television, and he can’t butt his nose into the art of film any longer. As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing. What’s bad is that his empire remains standing, and in light of how things are going, it will only get worse. Valenti wouldn’t see it that way, but he always understood what was better for America’s children anyway, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The death of a king should mean that the kingdom crumbles, but like Hollywood, nothing ever really gets old enough to die. Even Westerns make a comeback every decade or so, and that’s how it goes with movie ratings. They will change, but they will always be with us because of what one “”visionary” put into place. Thanks a lot, you stupid bastard. You may have thought you were doing the right thing, but remember what was said about the road to Hell … and let me know how it looks now that you are there.