Hi all, this will be my last newsletter for 2020. I hope you have a good rest of the year and I’ll see you in 2021. Be good to yourself and others. As always, thank you for reading.
Deep in the drawer to my right, there’s a plastic sandwich bag containing five DVDs wrapped in pale butcher paper. This is how they arrived, packaged like cursed artifacts. They’ve been back there for months, shoved away, hidden from sight, because that’s what we do with our shame. We hide it. We erase it. We bury it.
I unwrap the discs and lay them out before me. There’s the original Matrix trilogy, Snakes on a Plane, Speed, and Robocop. All of them fine specimens of modern cinema. The DVDs are solid white, inconspicuously labeled and feature the word “edited.” They don’t even have cases. If it weren’t for the titles, I’d think they were late-‘90s editions of TurboTax.
Back in the salad days of the pandemic—when it was still fun to stay in your PJs all day and drink yourself to sleep—I made some questionable internet purchases. What else was there to do? Suddenly, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to try new hobbies, catch up on all the TV and movies I had missed, and spend money that I had normally spent in bars. I bought a soccer ball because I was going to get into soccer. I have not even kicked it once.
It was during one of those not-quite-sober nights that I began to think about CleanFlicks, the Mormon-owned business that offered to sanitize your DVDs to make them LDS-friendly by removing all the swears, sex, and gore. Don’t ask me why or how this company suddenly popped into my head. I suspect it’s just been lurking in the shadows of my brain, waiting for an opportunity to reemerge.
I was a high schooler with a budding interest in film production when CleanFlicks started making national headlines, attracting the ire from powerful Hollywood directors like Soderbergh, Redford and Spielberg.
I was intrigued by the theory behind CleanFlicks—sure, it was a puritanical overstep by the Mormon Church to keep their followers from being exposed to the ills of pop culture, but if you bought a film and took it somewhere that’ll edit out the nasty bits, that seemed no different than buying a book and crossing out all the parts you didn’t like.
But CleanFlicks was selling and renting out their bootleg edits, which is akin to piracy and, uh, yeah, that’s illegal. By 2006 CleanFlicks closed it’s righteous doors and Mormons had to go back to covering their eyes when a boob showed up.
As mentioned, I might not have been entirely sober when these CleanFlicks memories came rushing back. What did a CleanFlick actually look like? I thought. Warm from pandemic-chic sweatpants and whiskey, I perused eBay and quickly found the six pack of CleanFlicks-branded, cinematic gems. I didn’t even bid on them, just clicked “Buy It Now.” Boom. $34 down the drain.
When the package arrived, it was one of those eye-opening experiences that makes you rethink your life choices. I held the creepy bundle in my hand—most likely sold to me by a Mormon serial killer—and considered that perhaps I’d lay off the whiskey for a little while. I shoved the DVDs in my junk drawer and forgot about them.
This December, while looking for stamps, my finger graced the bag containing the CleanFlicks. I fished the package out. My shame: a revenant buried deep, but never really gone.
Fuck it, I thought. Might as well see what I wasted my money on.
I slid Robocop into the DVD player and hit play. (Side note: this year I learned that most of my friends no longer have DVD players and I don’t know how to handle that information). Of all the movies in the bundle, Robocop was the one that prompted me to hit that dreaded “Buy It Now” button, because I’d know and love the movie well enough to be able to see the differences.
At first, edited Robocop was...not bad? The cuts are hidden and the story is essentially the same. Also, I’m not 14 anymore so the omission of the Detroit police co-ed shower scene didn’t really bother me. Honestly, it just felt like watching edited movies on TV when I was a kid.
But then: the boardroom scene.
In my opinion, the malfunctioning ED-209 killing a board member is one of the most terrifying and deranged scenes in cinematic history. I can’t pinpoint exactly why. Is it the gore? The mundane, everyday setting? Is it the machine’s relentless firing even after the man is clearly dead? Or is it the impassiveness with which everyone regards the bloodbath afterwards? Not a tear is shed for the dead man—there’s only anger because this malfunction will affect profit.
Here’s the uncut scene if you haven’t seen it:
I watched the Cleanflicks version in horror. It’s not the same kind of horror that I feel every time I watch the original scene. It’s the horror of erasure. There’s no emotional impact; the scene is completely defanged. We see the man’s body fly and then an extended close-up of ED-209’s guns firing. And then the movie just goes on.
I turned the film off and slide the disc back into the package. My worst purchase of 2020, back into the junk drawer.
But there’s a lesson here, I think.
This year has been ugly and violent. It’s been terrifying on so many levels, and there will be a lot of people that will want to forget about it when/if the vaccine works its magic. These will be the same people who refused to wear masks, who’ve fought for reopening. They will be the likes of Supervisor Jim Desmond, Tony Krvaric, Darrell Issa, The Village. They will be members of our families. And there’s a good chance that they’ll eventually look back with reverence. 2020: The tragic year we lost 300,000 Americans. But there will be no acknowledgement of how their words or actions contributed to that death toll. They’ll want to hide it this year. Erase it. Bury it.
This is the horror of erasure. This is why we never learn. There’s no use dwelling on it, but don’t forget it. And don’t let anyone else forget it. Sometimes we can’t change until we see the gore.
Ugh. Some people are just straight-up trash, like the assholes who broke into ‘Do Beauty Boutique. The salon—owned by my former neighbor, Tiffany Hoffman-Schaff—has become an asset to College Area. Her family lived next door when she started ‘Do, so I got to witness her build it from scratch, and I was raring to get a haircut there until current lockdown orders came down. After a year of restrictions and forced closures, this is a hell of a gut punch to top the 2020 shit cake. And although she has insurance, it’s difficult to pay the premiums when the income for hair services has dried up. So, if you’re able to help out, you should donate to Tiffany’s gofundme.
I always get a little sentimental at the end of the year, and I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to have such an engaged, dedicated readership. So, if you’ve enjoyed my writing at all this year, please urge your friends and family to subscribe. I’m, like, 20 or so subscribers away from hitting my year-end goal of 1,000 readers, and hitting that number would absolutely make my year. Help spread the word by watching and sharing this special, year-end clip from me.
I have a few more AWKSD hats for sale, so if you’re looking to blow some Christmas money, you should pick up one of these babies. I hate to be “that guy,” but I’ve been wearing mine nonstop (in part because I can’t go to ‘Do to get a haircut), and have felt a lot cooler. They’re $25 with shipping included (or $20 if you live in San Diego and I can deliver it to you). Just send a Venmo to Ryan-Bradford-2. Or if Paypal is more of your style, you can send money here.
Years ago, I wrote a short story that reimagined National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as a horror film. Turns out, you don’t really need to change that much. The story was published on Hobart, and it’s still one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I like to bust it out every year. I’m sure a few of you have watched Christmas Vacation recently, so the beats should be fresh in your mind. I hope you enjoy.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.