I really feel for parents flying with small children. Over the last 20 years, I have seen a sad degradation of the available in-flight entertainment. It used to be that you might be bored by what the airline chose to show — but you didn’t ever find yourself wishing that your children weren’t on board because of it.
I can remember about ten years ago or so starting to see airlines warn that the in-flight entertainment might not be appropriate to all ages; parents might want to think about whether this was something that they wanted their kids to watch. I don’t see those warnings anymore.
I recently had occasion to fly to Chicago and back to participate in a symposium on Second Amendment law. The flight back from Chicago being roughly three hours, United Airlines showed an episode of The Office and the film The Proposal. In both cases, there was about 1-2% of each that could have been excised with no artistic loss at all — and it would have turned both presentations into something that would have been unoffensive to almost every traveler.
The Office is a somewhat quirky series shot in a pseudo-documentary style about a bunch of people who work together in an office paper sales company. I found it not very clever or witty — although trying very hard to be — but there was one line that seems like it was put in there just to make it disturbing to parents with small children. The line concerns one character’s claimed ability to make a certain body part retract completely inside of his body.
The Proposal was one of those movies that, had I been in the vicinity of a theater when it came out and had nothing better to do, I would have probably seen. Sandra Bullock is a pleasure to watch perform and can be very funny. Overall, I enjoyed The Proposal, even though it was somewhat predictable in a very sweet way. But the sequence with the exotic male dancer was completely unnecessary. It didn’t advance the plot at all and it was implausible (at least partly because it is the grandmother who drags the Bullock character along).
While there were a couple of lines of dialogue that might have pushed it over the border from PG to PG-13 anyway (and one of them was actually subtle enough to have gone over the heads of younger kids), this sequence by itself turned what would have been a PG movie into a PG-13 movie — without making the movie funnier or more entertaining. And more importantly, from the standpoint of showing it on an airliner, if your kids weren’t listening to the movie, they would not have heard the two or three lines of dialogue that might have been of concern. The exotic male dancer sequence would have been impossible to miss.
Now, let me be very clear about this: I’m not upset that the entertainment industry is making TV shows and movies like these. My complaint is that you can’t walk out of an offensive presentation on a plane. (Well, you could, but most travelers don’t bring parachutes.) If you think I’m being a narrow-minded fuddy-duddy, let me change the equation a bit. Imagine if in the middle of an otherwise unoffensive film shown on an airliner, there were two minutes of very graphic torture with fingernails being pulled out with pliers. Is that something that you would want your eight-year-old watching?
Hollywood’s penchant for throwing in one or two unnecessary and offensive sequences into films has long bothered me. It appears to me that the objective is to have something that they can edit out for broadcast television. It is obvious that this is the purpose, because these sequences can be removed without impairing any other part of the movie. I would not be surprised if the movie leaves the studio in two forms: “let’s offend traditional values just a little” and “edited for television.” I do wish the airlines would consider showing the latter.
What amazes me is that airlines are terribly concerned about being “culturally sensitive” in the handling of travelers (as I gather from some of the questions on the United Airlines customer satisfaction survey that I just completed). And yet I am sure that many Third World travelers probably respond even more negatively to the sexual innuendo than I do. Worse, it creates an impression of the United States as a moral cesspool that isn’t quite true.
Yes, lowest common denominator entertainment may not be challenging enough for you. Yes, it isn’t “transgressive” as culturally progressive sorts love to see. But this is an airline flight. Can’t airlines be a bit more careful on this?