compromises that define life in Mexico and which help explain the question why do they put up with it? so often posed by outsiders. REAVIS’S ACCOUNT of the 1988 presidential election \(which he followed with reporters from Monterrey’s El Norte and Herminio Gomez, the insurance salesman who founded a citiing of the high drama and surrealismo that marked Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s ascendance to the presidency. The historical background on the PRI \(Institutional Revolutionthough much of this is available in every other book written about Mexico. Throughout this book, however, Reavis lets his thesis get away from him and overshadow his reporting. His opening chapter, “Return to Palma Sola,” is the most obvious example. He never manages to take a stand on Laguna Verde, but is content to use the nuclear power plant as a metaphor in his “technology and progress versus mythical IndoAmerica values” argument. The protestors on the highway blockade at Palma Sola represent “the fears of Mexico’s ancients, and probably the consensus of its present. The protestors are the Aztecs and the nuke forces, conquistadores from the West,” he writes. The comparison is unfortunate. By dragging Cortez and Moctezuma into the picture, Reavis does a real injustice to Mexico’s fledgling anti-nuclear movement. For all its imperfections, Mexico’s anti-nuclear movement represents not the past whether Aztec or conquistador but one of the country’s best hopes for the future. Reavis is too often seduced by fatalism and cliches about Mexican fatalism. Along the way he misses the significance of a persistent minority unwilling to escape into the fatalism of “ni modo,” “pues, asi es,” and unwilling to believe that this is the way life is, there’s noth ing you can do about it. The nuke forces do not represent technology, progress, and the European way of life, as Reavis would have us believe, but authoritarianism pure and simple. I don’t fault Reavis for his attempt to get at the big picture and figure out why Mexico works one way and the United States another. Most of us here have had the same kind of 3 a.m. conversations at some point and kicked around some of the same conclusions that he does. But it’s always a losing proposition. His attempts at actual analysis detract from what he has to offer. For those with a craving for an analysis of the essence of Mexicanidad there’s still Octavio Paz. Despite those reservations, despite the pretentious title, Conversations with Moctezuma is still worth reading. There are wonderful stories of everyday life in Monterrey, the Oaxacan sierra, Jalapa, and say, did anyone ever tell you about the Doctor Boy Jesus? Cinema X-Murderers BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN INTOLERANCE is what D. W. Griffith called his sequel to The Birth of a Nation. Almost 200 years after ratification of the Bill of Rights, the incorporating principles of an infant republic, intolerance is back for reruns. “Like writing history with lightning” is the way Woodrow Wilson described The Birth of a Nation, but, throughout their 95-year history, movies have served as the lightning rod for forces intent on social and cultural repression. The House Un-American Activities Committee spent more time investigating Hollywood than Detroit or Wall Street or any other industrial center. From its first feature production, the androgynously titled The Squaw Man tal was scorned as the American Babylon, a sump of foreigners, Jews, leftists, sybarites, and homosexuals. Following the manslaughter trial of actor Fatty Arbuckle, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, and the drug overdose of actor Wallace Reid, movie producers were forced to defend their industry against charges of depravity. Civic and religious groups were organizing theater boycotts, and the federal and state governments were poised to impose legal restrictions on what movies could show. In response, the Motion Picture Producers Steven Kellman, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio, regularly reviews films for the Observer. and Distributors of America in 1922 hired Will Hays, postmaster general under Warren G. Harding and a Presbyterian elder, to clean house and save their business. The result, the prudish Production Code, prohibited studios from releasing movies in which characters said “damn” or slept in double beds. The righteous, right-wing Hays reigned as movie czar until 1945, and his puritanical regulations remained in force until the 1960s. In 1968, under Jack Valenti, the Lyndon Johnson aide who succeeded Hays’s successor, self-censorship was replaced by a system of ratings. By assigning every release to one of four categories G \(general audiparental guidance suggested for restricted to those 17 reorganized Motion Picture Association of scriptions. \(A fifth classification, PG-13 parental guidance suggested for children under 13 was added in 1984, as a result of complaints that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom MPAA label merely tells you what to expect, allowing you to decide for yourself what to see. In its 22 years, the rating system has generally succeeded in deflating pressures for government censorship and vigilante embargoes. However, because of the stigma attached to both ends of the spectrum, producers have avoided scripts that seem either G or X. G has become associated with sanctimonious blandness, and filmmakers will go out of their way to add a bit of violence or profanity to earn a PG and more box-office revenue. And, because many municipal ordinances, zoning codes, and property leases proscribe the exhibition of X-rated movies and because many newspapers and radio and TV stations will not run advertising or even reviews of them, scripts that are too violent or erotic for an R have been voluntarily expurgated. At their best, the MPAA ratings, which are determined by the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration an anonymous group of 10 Southern California parents and subject to review by a 22-member appeals board, are merely a matter of truth in packaging. As long as they are accurate, consistent, and fair, it is hard to fault them as a guide for solicitous parents or squeamish patrons. It is true that the MPAA labels do not indicate whether sex, violence, nudity, or profanity was responsible for a particular designation. But, to most in the movie business, the alternatives to the rating system a reimposition of the Production Code with Jesse Helms as Hays redivivus have been as unpalatable as cow chips in the popcorn box. “I have the utmost respect for the MPAA rating system,” insisted David Whitten, whose Greycat Films distributes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and who unrespectfully declined to accept the X that the MPAA assigned it. Because the review system is voluntary, Greycat can, and did, choose to bypass it. Indignant over charges of immorality, because psychopathic Henry is never 20 JULY 13, 1990
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