Friday, August 8, 2008

Lessons in the Arbitrary

My sister, who shall remain nameless as I have many sisters, recently took her adolescent daughter and her daughter's friend to the theater to enjoy a chick flick. The advertisements for this particular film did not indicate the sexually explicit innuendo that was a near constant in the dialogue nor did it mention the questionable "props" that were featured in the film. And so, two hours later, she exited the theater with these two 13-year-olds asking questions she was not prepared to answer, most of which she shouldn't have to answer.

Was this trailer false advertising? Possibly so--but aren't they all. Could she have walked out? Yes. But how many of us have actually walked out on of a theater that we felt a little bit uncomfortable in? I can count two times that I've done this in my life and half of these early-exits were with this particular sister. And both times I didn't have the guts to ask for a refund because I figured it was up to me as the consumer to research the films/plays I watch and make a decision based on that research. Knowing that I paid good money for a movie, my cheap side insists I stay while my angelic side (yes, I have one)says "sunk cost, sister, get the heck outta here!" My cheap side, as you can tell by my two early-exits record, typically wins out. But I digress.

My question is, as a consumer, shouldn't I have some sort of quick-guide which tells me the appropriateness of a film? Oh wait, there is one: enter the MPAA Film Ratings System. This ratings system, as many of you know, places a film in four categories: G (General Audience), PG (Parental Guidance), PG-13 (Parental Guidance for children 13 and older), and R (Restricted Audience). Now, there is an NC--17 rating, but this particular rating doesn't register on my radar and I'm assuming the same of my readership, so I'm not going include it in my discussion here. We'll just say that I rely on these four little categories to determine which films I will see and which films I will most likely skip. But, I think there is a fault or two in this system. No offense to the board who is, in all actuality, trying to provide a needed service. But the truth is that your little system ain't working so well.

Did you know that the ratings of films are selected by vote. Yes, the board of Los Angeles-based parents votes on the rating after viewing and holding a discussion. So if the majority says PG-13, and a few say R, PG-13 wins out. Bada-bing: you take your 13 year old to the movie they've been harrassing you about for the past month "because it's only PG-13, Ma!" and regret caving in within the first half hour. All the while knowing, that if you, as a parent, would have cast your vote that baby would have been a solid R. No discussion needed.

Now, if you research a little more you will discover why a film received the rating that it did with little warnings like: Rated PG-13 for "drug usage" or "partial nudity" or "strong language" or "adult content." Now, I know what drug usage is, but how much drug usage is going to take place in this particular film? And does it convey that drug usage in a positive or negative light because that makes a difference for me. And that strong language, are we talking I stubbed my toe in the dark and maybe slipped a curse out or are we talking about the kind of language I hear in the halls at the public high school I teach at? And adult content, what the heck is adult content? And we all know the nudity in Schindler's List isn't the same as the nudity in some films. You see, for me, their additional guidelines don't guide me all that much, rather, these guidelines serve to confuse me even more.

So, here I am, little old consumer, left dumbfounded, uncertain, and pretty sure I don't even want to go to the movie for fear of what my eyes or ears might be accosted with when I thought I was going to watch a kid's film with "mild violence". But I am not here to merely complain. I also want to offer a solution.

Film-makers, here's the thing: You have got to start making more appropriate movies for general audiences. While I'm not one to say "censor, censor, censor," especially when it comes to one's art, I'm one who thinks "selling sex" isn't an art form. And please do tell me how most major blockbusters should be considered "art" because last I checked it was more about plots, special effects, and big name-actors than being artistic. (As an unnecessary side note: strangely, many of the "artsy" indy-films I've been to aren't as prone to accost my senses.)

I repeat myself: You have GOT to start making more appropriate movies for general audiences. Movies that aren't pushing envelopes. Movies that entertain. Movies that don't just drop the f-bomb because they can do it and still receive a PG-13 rating. You, Hollywood, are forgetting your audience is a human audience with a variety of values and standards. We go to these blockbuster kinds of movies for two glorious hours of suspended reality and sheer entertainment. We don't go for the sexually graphic material. Some of us actually cringe when it comes to violence. And I can stop my students from dropping the f-bomb, sure, but you just shout it out willy-nilly and there ain't much I can do about it but shake my head in disappointment.

Film makers, did you know that I get a little worry knot in my stomach when I say, "Let's catch a movie"? Some weekends I have my choice of either the one sole G-rated film with talking pandas (every 27-year-old single female's dream) or 12-16 R-rated violence-filled, sexually-laden, language-defiling films at my local mega-plex. Surely you can do better than that. Because, at this rate, I, the movie-lover among movie-lovers, am just not going to show up anymore.


Mrs. Bennett said...

I completely agree. I hate how different one PG-13 movie can be from another. I usually just get a rating from a friend that I trust, after they have seen the movie.

Alice said...

You go girl, hit the nail right on the head! and might I add, well written :) I have totally given up on the rating system because it basically tells me NOTHING! As you know many a conversations have been had about movies in poor taste and that "we should totally walk out" moment.

Sad that something I use as entertainment that should be enjoyable is something that now inflicts some worry or anxiety?

Freaking Hollywood!

Rie Pie said...

Seriously. I was watching a highly recommended movie from a friend once. It was rated PG. I had to turn it off. It was so nasty!! I guess it says something though when it is the world that rates a movie. I guess the rating is less harsh than what it should be.

Jen said...

Amen, sistah! My hubby always reads extensive reviews online before we see anything because it is just not worth getting a sitter to have your sensibilities violated. (Not to mention the way movie tickets raise about a buck a year lately, it seems)

Stine said...

The MPAA is a bogus institution that relies on completely arbitrary guidelines to "rate" movies. Until the movie "This film is not yet rated" most of these people were nameless, and faceless, and most of the film industry was left to wonder who, what, and by what standards their films were being rated.

Films are most often given R ratings for sex (which totally chaps my hide) in that a PG-13 film can show a human thorax being eviscerated in the most grisly way, and that is "supposed" to be fine for 13 year old children to see.

I think it would be best to not comment on whether or not I believe films "should be" rated 9as that's an entirely different post, but if films are going to continue to be rated, there needs to be an OBJECTIVE and measurable system by which these ratings are given.

Stine said...

ps - I think the best way for parents to censor, and guide their children's film viewing experiences is to see the movies themselves first.

Kimmy said...

AMEN. Anymore, I usually wait and see what someone I trust has to say about a movie before I see it.

ashari said...

good job rookie...well done its very creative blog from u.