You know, I really don’t put a whole lot of stock in what the Motion Picture Association of America says, thinks or recommends. When it comes to deciding what our kids can and cannot watch, read or listen to, Loverly Husband and I have our own list of considerations that we consult to decide if something is “appropriate” material for our kids to consume.
For the longest time, my favorite MPAA warning was ‘mortal peril’ I forget what movie it was now*, but out of all the things to be warned about on the warning labels, that one caught my eye. i’m not saying that the movie was worth watching or commenting on the appropriateness of whatever movie that was – just that the combination of the words “mortal” and “peril” appealed to me in some ineffable way… it could have said ‘life threatening situations’ or any number of other things, but ‘mortal peril’ just made my day.
Then came “smoking caterpillar”.
It’s on the label for the new Alice in Wonderland. It made me stop and look again… are we really at a point in our society that parents need to be warned about a smoking caterpillar? We’re all aware, in this day and age, that smoking is bad for your health, yet as reasonably intelligent human beings, we’re allowed to make our own choice as to whether or not we’ll partake in that particular past time. No doubt we’ve had to explain that to our children on more than one occasion – that even though something isn’t healthy, some people choose to do it anyway.
So why that particular warning? I saw the new Alice. The Jabberwocky, even the bandersnatch is pretty scary (or would be for a little). There’s a sword fight and an entire village is destroyed by fire. Surely that is more worrisome than a smoking caterpillar (which is only on screen for a few minutes, vs. quite a bit of screen time for other images). Surely we, as parents, aren’t going to let the classic and spellbinding story of Alice down the rabbit hole slip through our fingers because we’re afraid our kids might be negatively influenced by a smoking CATERPILLAR?? Our dearly beloved offspring are certainly aware that since caterpillars in real life are decidedly mute, that it would stand to reason that they’ll likewise not smoke a hookah in real life… and logic would bear out that just because things happen in a book or on TV or in a movie does not mean that we should emmulate such things. I’d even go so far as to say that in many cases, books, television shows and movies show us a character with personality traits that harm him or her, thus the lesson is: do NOT emmulate this person!
Loverly Husband and I recently watched This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about the MPAA’s rating system and how that has impacted film makers and our culture in general. In particular, John Waters was interviewed (I have always found Mr. Waters to be well spoken and enjoyable to listen to especially on the topic of censorship) and he made many good points, including that the ratings system seems to be more concerned with sex in film than with wholesale violence. I think that is a relevant and salient point – I’ve seen terribly violent movies that are PG rated (action blockbusters – think Bruce Willis, Will Smith & Mel Gibson, movies with high body counts but no blood/gore) but movies that show relatively mild sexual situations are slapped with an R rating out of hand… that’s backwards if you ask me. Sex is a natural part of life, indeed, none of us would be here were it not for sex. However violence… violence is not natural and shouldn’t be an everyday part of anyone’s life, much less that of a child. So how is it that witnessing on-screen sexual situations is seen as more damaging? Children will at some point grow up and engage in sexual activity. If we’ve done our job as parents, then they’ll never be involved in a violent situation (at least as the perpetrator) like those depicted in ‘shoot-em-up’ films.
If I were in charge of rating movies, I would have much harsher and much more consistent criterion for judging and would make better use of the ratings available, including the X category. I’d rate MANY more movies with an R and many currently R-rated movies would be rated NC-17 which, BTW, should not be viewed as pornographic, in my ratings reality. That’s what your X rating is for… porn and anything that carries the warning “copious amounts of grisly violent bloody death” (i.e.: any teen scream flick, most notably the Freddy movie where the bed vomits a colum of blood, or Bride of Chucky where Chucky and Tiffany kill the newlyweds in a waterbed explosion and RAIN of blood… and the entire “torture porn” genre, a la the Saw and Hostel movies) would fall into the X category as well). NC-17 is a movie intended for adult eyes only – movies that feature stronger sexual situations and movies with extreme language and yes, movies that glorify violence.
It makes me wonder why the current rating are the way they are – is it to make people feel like they’re not as lacking in the moral compass department as they really are? I mean, if you can’t bring yourself to walk into a theater to enjoy a movie that is clearly adult-orineted (i.e.: not intended for the delicate eyes of our young)… is it just a matter of perception? “Well, I’m not enjoying themes that would the prohibited for decent folks; this movie is only rated “R”. If it were rated NC-17, I wouldn’t watch it”. Do people really need to deceive themselves to that degree? I’m an adult. I can find enjoyment and entertainment in the thrill of a horror movie, of a movie designed to tantalize, even in the occasional shoot ’em up… I think there actually is a movie called “Shoot ‘Em Up” with Clive Owen that was pretty good… but that’s not the point. I’m an adult. I can choose to watch that and have the presence of mind to differentiate between reality and fiction in such a situation. If there’s something I see in a film that I’d like to replicate in real life, then again, I am an adult and have the resources available to me to do that (unless I wanted to pull a Point Break or something else that’s illegal).
Kids can’t. Yes, I agree that kids shouldn’t be watching movies that feature lots ‘o sex, but the dynamics of relationships… that is something that they can maybe learn from. Given the choice between letting my kids watch full on sex or the bloody dismemberment of a conscious victim by a serial killer (methodical or psychotic – you pick), I’m going to have to go with full sex. I cannot see how that would be more damaging than dismemberment. Obviously, I’m not going to let my kids watch either of those things. I’m just pointing out that there is a real problem with the perception of suitability and rating of content.
Just my thoughts for the evening…
*I thought it was The Spiderwick Chronicles, but it seems I was mistaken.