Sunday, 28 March 2010

What 'good old days'?

With the economy still looking about as healthy as a consumptive Brontë heroine, everyone's trying to find ways to stimulate their local economy.

Over in Florida, this has taken the form of a proposed tax credit for TV and film producers, designed to attract entertainment jobs to the sunshine state. However, the $75 million dollar incentive package comes with a catch - hardly surprising given the fact that it was proposed by the state's Republican house majority.

This would be a "family-friendly" tax credit, designed to encourage the production of wholesome entertainment with nothing more controversial than the occasional "Oh phooey" or a glimpse of shapely ankle.

Orlando-based representative Stephen Precourt spoke articulately about the proposed bill, saying "Think of it as like Mayberry. That's when I grew up — the '60s. That's what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?"

Like most conservatives, Precourt sees life through revision-tinted spectacles. So he wants films to be made in Florida that would be 'suitable for a 5-year-old' with 'cross generational appeal' and 'a responsible resolution of issues'. You know, just like real life.

If Precourt had his way, producers handling material that includes smoking, sex, nudity or swearing would need to find somewhere else to shoot, since this content is defined as 'obscene' in the eyes of Florida law.

But here's where it gets a bit sticky - 'family values' only relate to certain kinds of families. More specifically, Precourt doesn't want anything that portrays 'nontraditional family values' to be shot in his backyard. He argued that he wasn't targeting the gay community with this rather specific wording, but when asked if a TV show with gay characters would qualify for the tax credit, he replied "That would not be the kind of thing I'd say that we want to invest public dollars in."

Thankfully, not everyone in Florida is quite so enamored with Precourt's proposal. Ted Howard heads up Florida Together, a coalition of 80 organisations that advocate for equal rights, and he's unhappy about the way that this bill will make some Floridians feel: “Real-life families come in all shapes and sizes. Marginalizing single-parent families, gay families and other non-traditional families by instituting 1950's-style movie censorship does nothing to support real-life families or help Florida's struggling economy.”

The biggest problem with all of this, is that the tax incentive is based on the desire to depict a reality that never actually existed. As Gary Ross's underrated 1998 movie Pleasantville argued, the TV shows of the 50s and 60s were entirely unrepresentative of the world in which they appeared. The real world might not always be pretty, but it sure beats the hell out of sticking your head in the sand and pretending you're one of the Brady Bunch.

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