Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Rating Game

* note: While I always try to write my posts to have diverse readability, some topics inherently stem from my personal experience in my heavily LDS-saturated community.

*note #2: I have volumes that I wish I could say about this subject but am constrained by size. As such, this post comes off a bit choppy but I would love to discuss the subject further if anyone is interested.



I was going to put up a red Restricted screen to be more eye-catching but I didn't want to mislabel this post (or my blog as a whole for that matter). Wood's Stock is definitely PG-13. I would like to believe that some of the subject material (pornography, homosexuality, politics, just to name a recent few) go above those that are agedly challenged, but I hardly think that you need to be accompanied by an adult to read it.

As an avid consumer of entertainment with an emphasis in film, I have been involved with many conversations regarding the MPAA rating's system. It's not often that I hear someone praising the MPAA, rather, these chats tend to stem from a variation of
"Man, ______ should not have been rated R."

Sometimes it's a would-be fan upset that he will not be able to see a certain film. Other times it takes the form of a more liberal viewer defending their choice for watching a certain film.

I like to call it The Matrix Effect.


According to the MPAA, The Matrix is "rated R for sci-fi violence and brief language." Essentially, there is non-stop death and destruction but no nudity and little swearing. The two big movie-no-nos of mainstream Mormonism: Boobies and F-Bombs.

Never mind the fact that Neo and his team of protagonists are essentially terrorists (In multiple scenes they either gun down or flying-kick-to-the-face dozens of innocent police officers), but it also presents an alternate reality where human beings have literally cast a shadow over the earth and are farmed for the energy our bodies produce by self-aware machines. On the sub-textual level, it calls to mind themes of ignorance vs knowledge, governmental oppression, righteous rebellion and the corruptive force of power.

Heavy stuff right?

Back when this came out I was a child, and my parents were well within their parental rights to say "No R." Now, however, I am an adult (as are most of my associates) and yet I still hear the same cries. "That shouldn't be rated R."

The problem: MPAA ratings are not intended to be a perfect fit to Mormon standards of decency.

The Sub-Problem: Most members of the LDS church have created a filter in their mind that divides movies into two categories. PG-13="Good" and R="Naughty"

The system works splendidly for most Mormons, but creates a problem for those few that are somewhat cultured. I remember the agony of being forced to sit through "She's The Man" by a girlfriend because it was her "favorite movie." I suppose if you'd never seen Slumdog Millionaire, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Crash, or The Shawshank Redemption then Amanda Bynes might actually seem like a decent actress.

But here's where it gets tricky. "The Notebook," that sobfest that every girl clings to like it's scripture, is rife with pre-marital sex, adultery, and infidelity: BIG no-no's in Utah. Why then has every good mormon girl seen it when they haven't seen "Amelie"? or "The King's Speech?" Because Notebook, despite toeing the line incessantly, has neither Boobies nor F-Bombs. It is therefore "Good" while the darling french "Amelie" is Naughty and the true-story of King George is "Obsene"

History time. Back in the day Hollywood was getting into a lot of heat for showing indecent things so in 1930, studios adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hayes Production Code. It was, in essence, a list of things that could not be shown in films in order to avoid promoting wickedness. They ranged from the physical (no kissing for more than 3 seconds) to the subjective (the bad guy can never, EVER, win).

It was to movies what the Jewish laws of the sabbath had become around the beginning of the Christian Era (you know, the tie your shoe with one hand stuff).

If you've ever seen an old black and white and been completely confused (for example, A Streetcar Named Desire) this is why.


After decades of this, writers and directors got tired of having their hands tied and said "FORGET IT." They adopted the MPAA ratings code and essentially told the American public "If you don't like what's in the movie, DON'T SEE IT."

A novel idea, no?

Back to today. Her's the definition of an R rating, as noted on the MPAA website.

"An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously."

And let's look at this statement about ratings in general, from the same site.

"Movie ratings provide parents with advance information about the content of films, so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their young children to see. Movie ratings do not determine whether a film is "good" or "bad.""

There's many reasons why a film will land an R. People love to point out the more easily recognizable examples like "Only 1 F-bomb" or "Illegal drug use" but what they forget is that "Adult material" is not synonymous with porn. There was talk about rating "The Dark Knight" R due to its themes of anarchy, betrayal, corruption, brutality, general despair, and the capacity of every man to be both Evil and Great. My mother, who's well over the 17-year-old limit of seeing a movie by herself, finds Dark Knight too dark for her taste. She's seen it, and will fully admit that it's a great movie, but she chooses not to watch again because it chills her.


No Boobies, no F-Bombs, just some heavy stuff. Heavy stuff that a parent should think twice about before taking their young children.

So, my point to end all of this. The motion picture ratings were never intended to be black and white, but merely a general recommendation and indication of what could be expected to show up on the screen. As such, they should not be treated as black and white, end-all authorities on what you can an can not watch. Most of the greatest films ever made are Rated R, films that educate, inspire, and change your perception of the world. At the same time, some of the most insipid intellectual trash ever conspired has been PG-13, or even PG (Monkeybone comes to mind, but there's better examples)

Take each movie case by case, educate yourself on what it contains, and decide for yourself based on your values whether you will or will not watch. Then, afterwards, leave people alone who choose differently.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I've wondered with your new job if you'll have to watch just about everything out there so that you're ready to critique/recommend it...etc. Varian would like this post. Growing up with a totally different rating system he's not so set on "Rated R" cut offs.

    I like the post and agree with a lot, but I have to admit there's something for me about committing to a standard that was set (and then yes gnashing my teeth at the movies that don't fit.) I agree there is a lot of PG-13 trash though as well that I wont see because of content. And even knowing that there are "good" rated-R movies out there I just feel like to watch them is breaking that commitment of obedience to the little things. I in now way say I'm perfectly obedient to then all the other little things out there which is what V points out...but one has to try where they can, right? And I also realize that there are a lot of films/shows that are probably not uplifting (sigh, 24 has totally desensitized me...).

    Anyway, I thought I'd add some thoughts as it is a bit of a sensitive issue for people. And I do want to be prepared to handle these issues with my kids and what to teach them. It seems like to draw the line somewhere at least gives them guidance of where to start....

    Tricky.

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