Movie Ratings (Split from "Good Movies")

Would have beena great fiction story...if it was fiction
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Mr. Tweedy
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Thu May 01, 2008 9:31 pm

Movie ratings, ratings in general. Is there anything more absurd or more obviously arbitrary?

I'll take two movies off my shelf as examples: Bambi (rated G) and Waking Life (rated R). Which of these movies am I more concerned with my little girl seeing?

(I recently was disturbed to discover that) Bambi's got a scene where Bambi scores with this hot chick. Bambi is just there minding his own business when out of nowhere this doe saunters up and says "Remember me? I'm Fileen," then–without any further conversation–she licks him. Bambi is smitten to the point of hallucination. Bambi and his new girlfriend frolic for a few minutes until, suddenly, a rival deer shows up and tries to, um, rape(?) Fileen. Bambi fights this deer and throws him off a cliff. Cut to Bambi and Fileen waking up together in king-sized deer bed.

Whoa! Do I really want my daughter watching that? What's that teaching her about gender roles? "Daddy, why did the girl deer lick the boy deer? Should I lick boys?" Yikes!

Contrast that with the R-rated Waking Life (which I fully intend to show to Norah by the time she's 10). This movie contains a scene where an angry man in a jail cell rants about how he wants revenge on the people who put him there. He uses the F-word.

"Norah, that man is a bad man and he's saying those things because he's full of anger and hate. We don't want to be like him, do we?" Ah, that was easy.

Anyhow, my point–if it even needed to be made–is that movie ratings are silly and are best ignored. Concerned parties should take a little time to research the content of a movie, not just take the MPAA's word for it.
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Post by AynSavoy » Thu May 01, 2008 11:02 pm

I think you should watch Bambi before assuming that it's inappropriate for children. It seems strange to me that a 10-year would be persuaded from imitating a cursing man because he's angry and a bad role model, and yet a younger child wouldn't be persuaded not to lick people because that's how animals show affection, not people.

The tough parts of Bambi have nothing to do with sex (and anyway, plenty of children's films have aspects that are construed as sexual by adults that children will simply miss or find uninteresting) and everything to do with parents: his mother gets shot and killed and his father abandons him for being a coward. Those are the things I remember from watching that movie as a child...I don't remember anything about romance.

As for the ratings system, it seems largely arbitrary now (having two instances of the word "fuck" raises you from PG-13 to R, for instance), but when it was created in 1968 as an answer to blanket censorship that kept more "adult" things out of movies in general.* Creating an age-based ratings system allowed filmmakers to put things like nudity in films because the theatres could control who was seeing them. I do think it would be fair say that it might be time to consider adapting current criteria. Or, if you're deciding if a particular film is something your kid should see, watch it first.


*I should probably disclose that I study film to a certain degree and am currently taking a class on Modern American Horror films...As you can imagine, the elimination of the Hays Code (internal blanket censorship to pre-empt external censorship) and the instigation of the current ratings system had a huge impact on the content of horror films in America.
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri May 02, 2008 4:52 am

I have seen Bambi (I think everyone has). I watched Bambi when I was little. I vaguely remember being upset that his mother died, but it didn’t leave any lasting impression on me. I just recently watched it again and sort of rediscovered it.

I don’t mean to say that either Bambi or Waking Life is necessarily inappropriate for any particular age group. I do mean to say that, as a parent, when I assess the potential negative impact from those two particular films, it’s Bambi that causes me more concern, for the reasons that you mentioned as well as the ones I did. I see that as something of an indictment against the MPAA, since Bambi is explicitly labeled as good for all ages but Waking Life is labeled as for adults only.

I think the whole idea of a ratings system is flawed for a number of reasons, an age-based system especially. That’s a topic I could go on and on about, but probably the biggest single reason a ratings system is not really useful is that it examines only explicit content. The words I am writing now are explicit content, but they, of themselves, are not my message. Explicit content is inert, dead. It is merely the means by which a message is conveyed, and it is that message that is relevant. (There’s actually a segment in Waking Life that discusses this very topic. Anyone who hasn’t seen Waking Life, go, rent!)

For illustration, go back to my examples: 1.) the dude ranting venomously in a jail cell and 2.) the deer hooking up. If you look only at the explicit content, "1" is loud and mean and unpleasant and uses the word “fuck”* a bunch of times. You could sum it up as “harsh.” "2" Is euphonious and cute and pleasant. You could call it “nice.”

We want to protect our kids from harsh things and expose them to nice things, right? Not necessarily. If you look at it in terms of messages, it’s a bit different.

The dude in jail is in jail. He’s presented as being unhappy, unsatisfied, unlikable, and he’s being punished. While it is delivered in a harsh manner, a clear message is that being bitter and vengeful causes you to be unhappy and gets you into trouble. That sequence actually has a very good and useful moral. It’s wholesome.

The deer hookup, despite being superficialy nice, doesn’t have much going for it in he message department. The doe speaks exactly four words before making a sexual advance. Bliss results. Granted the characters are deer, but they are anthropomorphized and the audience is intended to empathize with them. It is possible that I’m just being paranoid in this case, but that comes off to me as a message that it is good for romance to get physical very quickly.

Again, I’m not trying to condemn Bambi and say you sholdn’t let your kids watch it. I’m just using that example to illustrate why I think rating systems are inherently flawed. Personally, I don’t think there should be either ratings or censorship. I think all art should be “unrated” and the audience should make their own judgments about what is or is not appropriate.

*This thread is now rated R!
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Post by AynSavoy » Fri May 02, 2008 5:02 am

I understand your point about the difference between explicit content and message. And to that, regarding Bambi, my view is that at the age most kids watch Bambi (when you watched it, when I did), the message "Relationships getting physical fast" really doesn't come across. I didn't take that away from it, you didn't take that away from it, someone else watching it at that age probably isn't going to take that away from it. Because at that age you're not thinking about physical relationships at all.

I'm not big pro-Bambi activist or anything, it just feels very silly to me to say that it's tell kids the wrong things about sex. Its target age group isn't thinking about sex (no matter how precocious). Not that that excuses it, if it IS sending the wrong message, but if a very little child is picking up on that, then they're probably already hearing about sex from other medium (older kids, non-age-appropriate media, etc).
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Fri May 02, 2008 5:12 am

Hmm... That opens up a whole discussion about how and when children learn things.

I do agree with you. A kid watching Bambi isn't going to pick up any sexual mores from the whole "twiterpation" scene unless it comes in conjunction with other (more relevant and powerful) influence from other quarters. I'm a million miles away from subscribing to a magic bullet theory that seeing the wrong bit of media is going to turn a kid bad in some way. I do think it's a valid example, though.
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Post by AynSavoy » Fri May 02, 2008 5:20 am

Yes, I think your bigger point ratings is valid, that they only describe a certain type of content.

I work as a projectionist for the movie theatre on my campus (we have a real movie theatre, which is awesome), and someone was telling me the other day that people brought their kids to see Eastern Promises... the show captain made an announcement about the violence before the film and some people left, thankfully, but talk about not knowing anything about a film before taking your kids to see it...
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Post by adam » Fri May 02, 2008 1:43 pm

AynSavoy wrote:*I should probably disclose that I study film to a certain degree and am currently taking a class on Modern American Horror films...As you can imagine, the elimination of the Hays Code (internal blanket censorship to pre-empt external censorship) and the instigation of the current ratings system had a huge impact on the content of horror films in America.
horror generally isn't my cup o' tea at all, but i recently purchased and watched the first season of the Masters of Horror series- have you seen any of them? they're really hit or miss, a few being super awesome and about half ranging from decent to lame, but it was interesting how the show is completely director oriented. 10 of the most renoun modern horrorists just got together and decided to make a series (basically short films). going through all of their featurettes and commentaries was one of the best parts, and gave some insight about the censorship situation. but man, this show got away with sooo much. and made for tv! i wonder if it's because of the kind of clout a group like that can pull with networks.

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Post by cammoblammo » Sat May 03, 2008 12:44 am

AynSavoy wrote:Yes, I think your bigger point ratings is valid, that they only describe a certain type of content.
I've never looked at the ratings sys6tem too closely at the theatre, but here in Australia DVDs have a bit of a summary of the reasons for the rating. For example, 'M-Moderate violence, Strong language, Sexual references' or 'R-Nudity, Graphic sexual violence' and so on. I think TV shows do a similar thing here.

It's not perfect, and the standards used by the Classifications entity can be questioned, but this is very helpful when we're choosing a family movie. My ten year old can cope with listening to strong language (to a point) but she doesn't need too much graphic sex yet. I mean, she hears swearing at school all the time, but I'm not aware of Monty Python style sex lessons.

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Sat May 03, 2008 3:05 am

American ratings are the same. For instance, if I ever get to make my movie about Braven and Lyra (hear Drabblecast 43) it will be rated "R for vulgar language, brutal graphic violence, drug use and sexual themes."

Similar descriptors are placed on video games. If your character in a game callously murders hundreds of innocent people, but these people do not bleed when shot, that gets a "T 13+" rating for "violence." If you character is an heroic firefighter, but he's fond of using the F-word, that gets "M 17+" for "strong language."

The content descriptors are a definite improvement over the old letters-only system, but I think it would be even better to forgo letters altogether. Although they are limited in that they refer only to explicit content, the descriptors are giving you actual information. The letters are just someone's subjective opinion.
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Post by tadmaster » Fri May 23, 2008 1:30 pm

You're both right about your individual points, of course. No, children aren't really going to be slutty after watching Bambi; but if you look at the broad patterns built into "children's fare", there are a LOT of subtle societal messages buried beneath all of the "niceness".

And I'm surprised no one mentioned "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" yet.
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Post by strawman » Fri May 23, 2008 4:39 pm

You're right. Culture is all-pervasive. That's what makes it culture. I'm fascinated by the other definition of the word 'culture': a growth medium. If it's true that 'you are what you eat', then our growth medium really determines who we are. Probably why people home-school their kids. It also may help explain 9/11: Our culture is unwelcome in the Muslim world. Tim McVeigh was trying to send the same message in the same way to Janet Reno.
It's not the violence we need to keep out of the culture IMO. As long as it is true that some things are worth dying for, there will be violence, and that violence will even result in such things as 'heroism' and 'martyrdom'. But where will the values come from that determine what is worth dying for?

One thing's for sure: they will come from the culture.

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