Team America Sample Paper
Is Team America an Incontestable R?
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave Trey Parker's puppet satire Team America (2004) the ‘R' rating after initially giving it the dreaded NC-17 stamp of disapproval. Dr. Kevin Sandler, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Arizona, associates the R rating with the motion picture industry's focus on producing ‘respectable' or ‘incontestable' films. Known as the “Incontestable R,” an R rating ensures audiences that the film's content cannot be confused with that of an NC-17 film. Parker's efforts to cut out portions of Team America's controversial puppet sex scene and its subsequent R rating, seem to have been fruitful. Team America generated little controversy with media critics in regard to its R rating.
The most frequently cited reason by critics for Team America's embodiment of an incontestable R rating has to do with the fact that the movie involves puppets and not real people. Bruce Westbrook points out in his review of the film for The Houston Chronicle that the “marionettes” have “no genitalia” and hence, make it difficult to depict sexual penetration—content characteristic of NC-17 rated films. Westbrook even makes fun of the MPAA for initially “slamming a[the] puppet show with an NC-17 rating” stating that “the film ratings board…just doesn't get it.” Furthermore, critics characterize the violence in the film as being awkward and unrealistic because of the fact that it involves puppets. Phil Villarreal from the Arizona Daily Star writes that “the fights, comical for their crass intentional sloppiness, consist of marionettes face to face, with the opponents jiggling appendages haphazardly flopping at one another”—hardly comparable to the graphically violent scenes we see in R rated movies like Robocop or The Terminator. The fact that Team America uses marionettes instead of people to depict acts of violence and simulate sex makes its content more acceptable and in-line with what people have come to expect from R rated films.
The other most frequently cited justification for Team America 's R rating revolves around the film's satirical content. Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't want their film to be taken literally. A.O. Scott in his review of the film for the New York Times states the obvious—that “Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone are joking.” Brian Lowry, in his review for Variety, seconds Scott's opinion by calling the film a “parody” and a “political satire.” For example, Stone's characterizations of Arab and North Korean terrorists as gibberish spouting, lispy lonely people with lots of wrinkles and/or facial hair is “not about racial derision” as Desson Thompson writes in her review for the Washington Post , but rather a comedic take on current events. The film's reception as parody or satire softens the film's content—making it something funny rather than controversial and hence, adherent to the “Incontestable R” genre.