The studio giant just announced a “Clean Version” program that will allow consumers to buy PG-13 and R-rated Sony movies edited to broadcast TV standards on Vudu, iTunes and FandangoNOW. No F-bombs. No nudity. Think KidzBop for movie lovers who are sick of coarse content.
And Rogen isn’t having it. The pot devotee who gave us the stoner hit Pineapple Express rushed to Twitter to condemn the plan.
“Holy s*** please don’t do this to our movies. Thanks,” Rogen Tweeted. Rogen has made several R-rated films for Sony, including comedies like The Interview and Sausage Party, although neither of those have received the Clean Version treatment yet.
It’s hardly the first time a company attempted to clean up Hollywood’s act. Both ClearPlay and VidAngel let consumers have more control over the content coming into their homes. ClearPlay, available through Google Play, stopped streaming edited versions of new releases in February but vowed to resume offering fresh features later this year. Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros. joined together to successfully halt VidAngel’s service earlier this year, claiming the service violated copyright. This time, it’s the studio itself (Sony) that’s doing the scrubbing.
But Rogen’s outrage seems a bit disingenuous. Movies have been altered for both broadcast TV and airline viewing for decades. And as a writer for Slate pointed out, “Sony is a business, and since it has reason to believe that there is a significant market for cleaned-up versions of PG-13 and R-rated movies, why not tap that market itself instead of leaving it to third-party services (services that studios are desperately fighting, it should be noted)?”
It’s also hard to square Rogen’s argument that cleaning up the content of movies might undermine their artistic integrity; Rogen’s Sausage Party featured fornicating food, after all. And no one is suggesting Rogen censor himself while making future movies. He can keep wringing laughs out of potty humor as long as some Hollywood studio is willing to pick up the check.
Rather than bemoan a few lost expletives, the actor should consider the sensibilities of the folks who pay good money to see his movies. Yes, the hard-R rated Sausage Party proved a surprise box office hit. But its ticket haul ($97 million) still paled in comparison to most PG animated smashes, such as Moana ($247 million) and The Boss Baby ($171 million). It’s a fact: Clean fare generally crushes R-rated content at the Cineplex. The bawdy 2016 hit Deadpool was the exception that helped prove the rule.
In fact, audiences might be tiring of edgy, crude content on screens large and small. Consider the continued success of aspirational shows such as America’s Got Talent, American Ninja Warriors, and American Idol. Those shows rarely show content that would make your grandmother blush. And Americans are lapping it up.
Seth Rogen isn’t a parent, and based on a 2014 interview it sounds like he has no plans on becoming one anytime soon. That’s his choice, but it might also explain why Rogen can’t understand why parents who enjoy his movies might still want to protect their children from adult material until they’re mature enough to process it.
Sony’s new program would help them do just that. And the films themselves will still exist in their entirety. You’ll still be able to watch Rogen’s amorous sausage fully uncensored in virtually any format. And it makes good business sense for the movie studios. The Clean Version program might even get pre-teens hooked on Rogen’s wacky persona years before they’re legally allowed to see his movies.
No one wants to stop Hollywood from making a variety of content. But studio executives are realizing that there is a significant demand for fare that isn’t R-rated. Perhaps Seth Rogen should stop complaining and instead use his creative talents to make some.
This column originally appeared at Acculturated, and is reprinted with permission.