The ADA and Films

On Friday, a government document was released to the public in which guidelines were given as to how the deaf and the blind could watch films.  It makes a fascinating read – not just for the implications.  The report asserts that, basically, it has become quite easy for theaters to include captioning and “descriptions” in theaters.  Before I get into my main argument, I want to stress that I do not believe that the disabled should be ignored or mistreated.  I do believe, however, that any such requirements would only do two things

1) artistically destroy some of the intent filmmakers might have (the document states that filmmakers have been encouraged to produce opened captioned versions of their films – I do not know of any major film that has been exhibited in this way)

2) These requirements would only exacerbate the public treatment of the disabled, in much the same way that the ADA has always done since its inception.

Let us start with the first argument first, as it is the easiest to address.  Lawmakers seem to forget that films are primarily a visual and auditory medium.  Sometimes, this means that certain items are just beyond description and have to be seen.  It also means that certain filmmakers decide to obscure certain things in order to help their narrative.  Take, for example, the film Lost in Translation.  I know I have criticized the film in the past, but I cannot think of any film that illustrates this example more.  The film ends with Bill Murray whispering a secret message to Scarlett Johannson.  The audience could not hear what was being said – and that was part of the point. Indeed, when some people revealed it on Youtube, the result was an outcry.

How would regulators deal with this?  Would they caption it and ruin the intent of the filmmaker?  This would be a drastic mistake; besides, it ignores the filmmaker’s right to have their film seen as they intended it.  It would also ruin the joke of the Pikeys in Snatch.  And that is just for starters.  How could a narrator, say, address the edits in a film like Fight Club which absolutely depends on the quick editing and the hidden visuals that would be impossible to describe.  But what would happen?  Would Hollywood force the films to be edited in a different way?  I do not know.  I know it is a fallacious argument to suggest the “slippery slope”  but that is implied in the article, where the government states, essentially, that just because it was not expressly outlined in the ADA when it was drafted in 1990 does not mean that the “door was not opened” for later changes. I know it has not happened yet, and I have my doubts that it will any time soon.  I am just hear to say that I hope it never happens.

In addition, I guess it is futile to point out that, despite most of the people with such hearing and visual problems being elderly, the largest demographic for filmgoers is the relatively younger members of the U.S. population (this website states that roughly fifty percent of filmgoers are between the ages of 12 and 29) Therefore, it is unlikely that most of the first run films that would have to meet with these regulations would even be seen by the population that most requires them.

The second argument is much more difficult to demonstrate.  However, I feel it is necessary.  Basically, I remain unconvinced that the ADA has truly helped people with disabilities. It creates regulations that are expensive and, rather than assimilating the disabled into society, would only serve to ostracize them.  Employers are not as likely to hire the disabled, if doing so would require the business to spend millions of dollars to make sure that all regulations are met, even if they do not meet with that specific requirement.

Remember how I said that most filmgoers are younger?  Well, they will be forced to pay higher ticket prices to address items that are not even relevant to them.  Is this more likely or less likely to make them respect the handicapped?  I would think less likely; I know many who ignore handicapped parking and complain openly when they are told that they are not allowed to park there.  This website states that almost 600 tickets in six months were given to people who were misusing handicapped parking.  I am unable to find any larger statistics for the entire nation, but such numbers indicating that many simply ignore the parking rules, and tickets do not change their behavior (the incidents occurred 15 years after the passage of the ADA).

Again, I am not suggesting that people should not address the needs of the disabled. I am suggesting that simple government regulations do not do say.  In fact, they trample the rights of others and are more likely to cause animosity.  Why should we do this?  It is unfair to the disabled, unfair to the film goer and the filmmakers, and unfair to theater owners.

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