Parental participation helps safeguard free expression

Thursday, October 15, 1998

Some people take “parental guidance” more seriously than others.

Concerned about some racy scenes in the hit movie “Titanic,” some parents in American Fork, Utah, are paying a local video store $5 to clip two scenes from their own home copy of the movie: Kate Winslet's topless pose for artist Leonardo DiCaprio and a love scene involving steamed-up windows.

The editing strikes me as a little odd. Here are people paying about 20% of the original cost of the video to clip two scenes that are important to the plot, while leaving intact minutes of scenes depicting ice-blue corpses bobbing in the ocean.

That wouldn't be my choice. And of course, that's precisely the point.

Each of us has a right to view and read what we want. And we certainly have the right — and the obligation as parents — to decide what our children view and read. The First Amendment is about free speech and free press, but it's also about the freedom to receive — or reject — what others are trying to communicate to us.

While I can't quite understand why parents concerned about a video's content would buy a PG-13 movie for their family in the first place, this incident does illustrate that parents can take control of their children's access to media without relying on the government to step in.

Those parents in Utah are simply saying they are going to take responsibility for what their children see and hear and are willing to pay a few dollars more to have a movie tailored to their family's needs.

News accounts of the entrepreneurial editing in Utah prompted the movie's studio to issue a statement objecting to the practice. “Paramount Pictures' position is that any unauthorized alteration of its films violates its rights under copyright, trademark and other laws,” a spokeswoman announced in USA TODAY.

I don't buy the argument. Are we really prepared to say that Americans cannot snip scenes out of videos they've already bought or tear pages out of books they already own? Would the studio rather have Congress step in to guarantee that video stores could modify content at a purchaser's request?

The First Amendment is in good shape when Americans make their own choices. There's a wide range of media voices and the marketplace works.

More involved parents means fewer V-chips and fewer legislative impulses to rate, rank and filter free expression out of existence.