What you can't show in a South Korean movie poster

In a famous routine from 1972, comedian George Carlin presented the “seven words” you can’t say on television (ironically, you also can’t say them on this blog!). Carlin was lambasting the FCC’s censorship regime, which at the time felt more reminiscient of the 1950s than the far more permissive culture of the 1960s.

Here in Seoul, such controversies are fairly frequent given the tighter sexual mores on the public airwaves. Still, a controversy this week over the movie poster for Pompeii has had many here questioning where censorship builds a safer public discourse, and where it flagrantly denigrates the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

In Korea, all movies are expected to go to the Korea Media Rating Board, which determines the ratings for domestic and foreign films and posters, as well as other types of media. Unlike in the United States, where film ratings are handled by the Motion Picture Asssociation of America (which is privately owned by the six major motion picture studios), Korea’s rating board is publicly owned and operated by the national government.

So, what do the film judges have to object to? Take a look at the poster for Pompeii that was originally submitted in Korea:

The originally submitted poster for Pompeii

You might be wondering, what exactly is the problem with the poster? According to the translator of the film, the issue is that the couple is too intimate in the picture, foreshadowing that most horrible of actions, S - E - X (got to watch those censors!). Here is the new poster, which presumably I will start to see in subway stations all over Seoul:

The modified poster for Pompeii

I am almost certain my high school prom allowed a shorter distance between opposite genders than what is depicted in here (4 whole textbooks!). For a country that has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and a government that believes that babymaking is one of the highest priorities, maybe a little more smooching in the movies is just what the doctor ordered.