Sunday, July 02, 2006

Another Proposition

by Tom Bozzo

The U.S. would be a better place if the culture had healthier relationships with alcohol, sex, and violence. If that came to pass, we'd be a lot more like France, which would not be a bad thing.

For instance, last night Suzanne and I went to the movies, and having gone to the wrong theatre for a timely viewing of "A Prairie Home Companion" — and being too late to relocate to see "An Inconvenient Truth" — we ended up in "The Devil Wears Prada." A trifle, for sure, which Suzanne described as a guilty pleasure like leafing through a fashion magazine; my reaction was a bit more positive than Ebert's. ("Meryl Streep is indeed poised and imperious as Miranda, and Anne Hathaway is a great beauty... who makes a convincing career girl..." gets 2-1/2 stars from me, though I'd have eighty-sixed the chef-boyfriend altogether. Could his 'I don't know who you are anymore' whining be any less original? At least "Prada" viewers are spared the common Creepy May-December Relationship subplot, the Dude Too Stupid to Know He's Living With Anne Hathaway subplot is equally annoying.)

A funny thing is that "Prada" is rated PG-13 for "some sensuality" per the MPAA ratings board. (Suzanne says, "what sensuality?") I might have rated it PG-32 for making jokes of the fashion industry's pernicious sizeism and for conveying unhealthy messages about reasonable work expectations for entry-level jobs, but otherwise it was darn near the mildest thing I'd seen since "Shopgirl." I didn't especially like "Shopgirl" (see: creepy May-December relationship, amplified by the author of the story acting the December part), but was astonished to see that it had been rated R, for "some sexual content and brief language." I might have missed a stray F-bomb or two that earned the thing an automatic R — reading the Rude Pundit desensitizes you — but the "sexual content" is barely more sensual than "Prada"'s, and is greater in degree, as I recall, mainly in displaying Claire Danes's bare butt. Those of you who can remember the days before Bush put the brain-dead wunderkinder of the Moral Majority and corporatist pseudo-libertarianism in charge of telecom regulation may recall the appearance of bare butts and on balance worse language on broadcast network TV some 13 years ago, not counting occasional moonings by the Simpsons' hairy yellow butts.

Compare "The Da Vinci Code." We don't know how much of the religious-themed murder and mayhem jumped from the potboiler to the screen, but it was also rated PG-13 for "disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material [heresy? —Ed.], brief drug references and sexual content." Or "Van Helsing," at the vanguard of a PG-13 horror-movie movement — better box office by not forcing early teenage boys to find a way to sneak in — cited for "nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality." While part of the problem may be measuring a multidimensional quantity with a unidimensional metric, I'm far from the first person to think that Jack Valenti et seq. have a strange idea of what constitutes people "just like you."

The afterparty was also amusing. We stopped by the Barrique's Market in suburban Fitchburg for a glass of wine after the movie (~9:30). No problemo there, you'd think, and indeed we were set up with our respective sparklers (a moscato d'Asti for Suzanne, prosecco for me) without difficulty. With a considerable increment of space over the Monroe St. location near us, the suburban store stocks a wider variety of beers, and we were happy to see the excellent Three Floyds Alpha King pale ale from Indiana in stock. We also wanted to take home a bottle of the prosecco.

There, we were foiled. I'd assumed that the last call for take-out alcohol we've heard on Monroe St. was a stupid City of Madison regulation, and so wasn't assuming things would be the same in Fitchburg. But no, it's evidently the state's fault: Barrique's must sell take-out beverages under a "Class A" license, which forbids sales between 9 P.M. and 8 A.M. So the law, working as intended, stopped a late thirtysomething couple from purchasing approximately eight ounces of ethyl alcohol (plus additional water and flavoring substances) for later consumption. The maximum penalty for conducting an otherwise legal transaction at the wrong time of day is the same as that for misdemeanor battery.

Since there is nothing in the law that would have prevented us from obtaining beer, wine, and/or liquor from a "Class B" establishment as late as 2 A.M., it's inconceivable that the purpose of the law is to save us from Demon Drink. Likewise, it only takes one drive past a sample of campus bars to see that regulations intended to keep alcoholic beverages out of underage hands are abject failures. In the end, Barrique's lost the beer sale to Woodman's, as the mega-grocery's liquor annex is open for Sunday morning early-bird grocery shoppers as the law allows.

The remaining major possibility is that the regulations affect the balance of economic power between taverns and liquor stores. This may go in the "free markets would be a real shock if we had 'em" file.
This is the second review I've seen of this movie from a blog beginning with the word Marginal. Is there something about the fashion industry (or Anne Hathaway) that fascinates economists?
The Anne Hathaway fascination from this blog is best exemplified by Drek, who listed her at #6. (Though how Meredith Monroe is his #1 is left for him to explain.)

That said, the movie is an economics dream, especially in the context of the Rivoli book. Meryl's, er, dressing-down of Ms. Hathaway's cerullean sweater is both the scene that gives her A Clue and a clear explication of "Naked Economics," as it were.
As far as stupid liquor laws go, at least you don't live in Georgia, where it's illegal for stores to sell liquor of any sort on Sunday.

And do I note a bit of Xtin's influence in a few of those links?
Brayden: Even more improbably, I don't violently disagree with the MR take. DeLong has a "Prada" post, too, as you've probably seen. And I gather Ken managed to see it, too?!

Scriv: As Ken hinted, Drek's post explains the Anne Hathaway links. As for the rest -- in its early days, my blogging was more hypertextual. I got a bit less so in part because finding links is time-consuming and in part because the click-through rate is so low. But both Drek and Xtin have inspired me to occasionally dive in and add some additional layers for Very Special Friends of this blog.
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