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Here in America we tend to think of Australia as our cooler, more free-wheeling, anything goes cousin. We’re utterly wrong. In fact, in recent years, Australia has become anything but free. Instead, they always seem to be the first country to jump on the censorship band wagon. They’ve been only too happy to invent laws which restrict and filter the internet, or lobby to keep out movies which aren’t intended for children by claiming they need to protect their kids from them anyway (hello Kick-Ass). Today they took another step towards becoming the democratic equivalent of communist China when South Australia passed a law which will treat R-rated movies like porn.
This latest batch of Australian restrictions was reported by Gizmodo where they say the region’s newest anti-freedom law will make it illegal to display R-rated movies alongside other movies. Or alternatively, if it is displayed, the movie’s cover must bear no markings other than the name of the film and this extremely lame warning:
R 18+ FILMS AREA—THE PUBLIC ARE WARNED THAT MATERIAL DISPLAYED IN THIS AREA MAY CAUSE OFFENCE.
In simple terms, this means if you’re a Blockbuster, you can’t put an R-rated movie on the shelf next to a PG-13 movie unless you want to make it look boring. If you’ve ever been in a video store in which there’s a creepy back room with a curtain drawn across the entrance, then you know where this is going. In America that creepy back room is where retailers keep the porn. In Australia, that’s where they’ll keep Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
The law will also affect theatrical releases. Theaters will no longer be able to show trailers of any kind for R-rated movies. Nor will they be able to display posters or other advertisements for them. I guess this also means they won’t be able to put R-rated movies on the marquee, since that would mean displaying them next to other movies. Should a theater break the law, the government has granted the police “new powers of entry, seizure and forfeiture.”
There is one small, silver lining here. This law isn’t quite as heinous as it seems at first glance. In Australia, the R-rating is actually more closely equivalent to our NC-17. For instance The Hangover gets an MA15+ there, which is the next rating up from R. Or perhaps more properly stated their R lies somewhere in the middle ground between our R and our NC-17. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which in the United States only got an R after a direct appeal from its director, is the kind of movie that gets an R18+. Apparently Australia thinks you must be a creep if you want to see Jason Mewes naked. Maybe they aren’t wrong there.
Still, here in America, even our NC-17s aren’t this restricted. You can show them, you can sell them, most theaters simply choose not to. In Australia it’s no longer a choice, it’s a law which, in a strange way makes this even worse than censorship. It’s censorship on the fringe, it’s censorship without the stigma of using the word. It’s even more insidious because they're not calling it what it is. Essentially, what’s really happened here is a rather large portion of Australia has just banned hard-R movies. Technically they can still be shown, but what theater will run an R-rated movie when they can’t advertise that they’re playing it? None of them will. And while some video stores may still carry R-rated DVDs, now they’ll have to build a separate room and buy a beaded curtain, or cover them with creepy, non-descript packaging, effectively attaching a thick sheen of shame to the process of renting them. Want to watch American Psycho? It’s sitting next to the dildos. You’re probably better off just giving up and renting Jingle all the Way.