I hate the movie rating system

Hate is a strong word, but I really do hate the movie rating system.

I just saw a wonderful movie called “The Hunter” with Willem Dafoe. This is an R-rated movie.

It had:

–No sex, not even a hint of sex. No naked parts at all.
–Very low-level violence, maybe even PG-level violence.
–Use of the F-bomb four times.
–One guy smoking a joint (but the reference to drugs was very light, and it could have easily have just been a cigarette).

So, this very well-done movie was rated “R” because somebody said a bad word that kids hear on the playground about 100 times a day. Meanwhile, movies like “The Ring” and “Coyote Ugly,” which are truly horrible movies with all kinds of horrible things in them, get rated PG-13 (and can presumably be calmly watched by LDS teens). (This also applies to one of the worst movies ever made, “Breaking Dawn,” which I review here.).

How does this make any sense at all?

It seems that if we are going to take the guidance from the prophets seriously, we need to completely throw out the rating system and do deeper research on the movies we watch. Personally, I do NOT enjoy a lot of the raunchy movies out there and feel very uncomfortable during simulated sex scenes, even in PG-13 movies. A movie like “Coyote Ugly,” which is simply an excuse to show women wearing almost nothing for 1 1/2 hours, seems extremely harmful to young men.

Meanwhile, the acting in an R-rated movie like “The Hunter” is wonderful. The development of the main character is believable and quite touching. (I don’t at all agree with the hackneyed political message, which is that Corporations are Bad, but you can still enjoy the movie a great deal even if the political message is stupid). I would easily take a 10-year-old kid to “The Hunter” but I would never recommend anybody see “The Ring,” or “Coyote Ugly” or “Breaking Dawn.”

Anyway, I find the whole rating system frustrating, and the only solution I can see is to do my own due diligence on movies in the future.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

36 thoughts on “I hate the movie rating system

  1. Hey, it’s something on which I *completely* agree! I don’t know what the ramifications of that are, though.

    But seriously, I’ve come to feel much more comfortable watching more “R” rated movies than “PG-13″ because they have been less raunchy, in general. At least the ones I have chosen, anyway. I mourn the modern-day “PG-13″ comedies.

  2. I could not agree more. I have done a lot of research into the MPAA and CARA and they are completely arbitrary in their assignments of ratings. The Kings Speech was rated higher than Talledega Nights and Scary Movie? Really? Where is the justice in that?

  3. David, another great example: “King’s Speech.” No sex, no violence at all, no drugs, but a few bad words and a R-rating? Sheesh.

  4. I actually like the MPAA. Since the 70′s its gotten much more lenient on violence, but actually stricter on nudity, which might surprise some people. I don’t think it’s a perfect system, but what new system do its critics suggest that isn’t equally arbitrary?

  5. DavidF, I have two potential solutions:

    1)Add an additional category called PG-MA which would mean “suitable for children above 10 but may include some swear words and violence.”
    2)Just go to descriptions such as: “this movie includes swearing, violence, nudity and drug references.”

  6. Doesn’t the MPAA rating system already including a short description of why they rated it what they did? In some ways your second suggestion already exists, with the overall rating just being a sort of generic signalling mechanism to let people know which movies they should double check before watching or showing to children.

    I think there is also the issue that different people find different things objectionable. Some people have a high tolerance for language. Other people don’t. Some people giggle when they see an obviously fake splash of gore. Other people throw up. So any rating system has to deal with the issue of trying to be all things to all people.

  7. The makers of The Hunter and The King’s Speech and other such wanted R ratings, so they put the language in that ensure an R. They are pros and know exactly what they are doing and why. The problem we seem to have is that the ratings have come to mean to us that the movie is aimed at a certain group, rather than meaning there is nothing that a parent would object to his 7-year-old seeing or hearing in a movie that will bore most people under 30. So, a bit of cussing is thrown into the script so it will be recognized as a movie aimed at adults.

  8. John M, that may be true in the case of some movies, but certainly not in the case of “The King’s Speech,” which was rated family-friendly in the UK but not in the U.S. The swearing is considered by the directors to be central to the plot (although I will note that movies were made for decades without any swearing, so I call BS on that claim). In the case of “The King’s Speech” (and most probably “The Hunter”), the problem is the US rating system itself, not the directors.

  9. Geoff B.

    A. I think the swearing in the King’s Speech, if not central, is still important. There’s a reason swearing exists. It’s meant to convey emotional distress (among other things) in a way that other word’s can’t. You can show war without blood, love without kissing, sadness without crying; but it’s hard to get the desired emotional response without them. Swearing offers the same kind of benefit, particularly in the form of frustration in the King’s Speech.

    B. I’m pleased to see you offer a couple tweeks to the MPAA, but they are really minor (the second one you’d have to elaborate on if you are suggesting something new). I don’t think adding another category changes much, if anything really. You’d have to sell me on that one.

  10. I am surprised the Church still recommends using ratings from a system so generally antithetical to our views. Does anyone know what they recommend in other countries, for locally made pictures not translated Hollywood stuff?

    My favorites example is Schindler’s List. R for reality that we should never forget.

  11. I think the “Kids-In-Mind” website has the right idea–rate movies according to three different categories (sex, language, violence) and then describe why the film has those ratings.

    Not surprising that lot of PG-13 movies come out worse on that rating than a lot of R movies.

  12. Craig–judging from articles by Deseret News writers at the church-owned newspaper, etc., I think the church is moving away from the no R-rated movies and moving towards a “spirit of the law” approach.

  13. There is a very good documentary entitled “This Movie Is Not Yet Rated” (that, based on sexual content, I don’t recommend to anyone here) that exposes the corruption and double-standards of the MPAA ratings board. These people meet in secret, there’s no clearly defined standards by which they judge, and they can be (and have been) bought off by studios that have clout and power.

    “‘Titanic’ has frontal nudity and simulated sex? No problem, Paramount/20th Century Fox; you spent a lot of money on it, and we don’t want to deny you your 12 to 17 audience dollars.”

  14. I ignore the ratings system completely. I haven’t heard it talked about in an official Church talk for many, many years. Instead, I go to “imbd.com”. They list the specific swear words, sexual scenes, violent scenes, etc. for each movie. There is no judgement as to whether it is good or bad or too much or anything – just listing of what it is. It is then up to each person to decide if it’s something for them or not.

    I believe God intended for us to use our minds rather than some arbitrary ratings-board letter.

  15. I haven’t thought about this for awhile. When was the last time the rated R thing was mentioned in a churchwide meeting, who mentioned it, and to what audience?

  16. The LDS Church got past the rating thing as a warning system (mostly geared toward young adults anyway) years ago. Here is the current For the Strength of Youth:

    “Satan uses media to deceive you by making what is wrong and evil look normal, humorous, or exciting. He tries to mislead you into thinking that breaking God’s commandments is acceptable and has no negative consequences for you or others. Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. Have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit.”

    No mention of rated R movies. I can’t find the quote, but I remember a GA, if not Pres. Hinkley, saying the R rating is just the starting point; we should be careful of any movies or entertainment. I remember a minor disagreement as those who thought the R system was arbitrary said “see, we told you.” Meanwhile, those who did use the R rating to avoid movies responded, “well, duh. I’m not going to watch them by principle.”

  17. The line, “A movie like “Coyote Ugly,” which is simply an excuse to show women wearing almost nothing for 1 1/2 hours, seems extremely harmful to young men.” I would amend to add that this would be extremely harmful to young women, too.

  18. The rating council was in a Young Men’s manual three or four decades ago. But since so many of us crave to have strict rules, it exploded in popularity.

  19. I am a relative newb in the church (only thirteen years) I am surprised that I didn’t distinguish between church doctrine and culture on this. I feel better about using my own judgement here anyway.

  20. My brother-in-law shared with me a concept he called the but scene, as in “It’s a great movie, but there’s a scene where . . .” For some, keeping unspotted from the world means it’s a good idea to give up on a couple hours entertainment (and transcendent enlightenment, apparently) if the price is a half minute of soiling, and such a choice means giving up on 85% of movie studios’ output. About 25 years back there was one particular afternoon after work I felt like going out to a movie and looked in the paper to see what was in the theaters. On that day, nearly every display ad featured a gun, about a dozen of them. As on several such occasions since when I’ve looked up what’s playing and come up empty, I realized the movie creators know they don’t need me, so I’ve tried to not need them too badly either.

  21. John Mansfield,

    I think the “but scene” rule is a fairly good one, but I don’t see the point, necessarily. Al-Ghazali once criticized Muslims who refused to read anything from the philosophers using the metaphor of sifting through dirt to get at gold. His point was that it was worth it in the end. And Joseph Smith acknowledged that it’s worth reading the apocrypha if we approach it the right way.

    There’s a story in BYU Studies of Elder Maxwell attending a play shortly after becoming an apostle. The play used “provocative and garishly dressed belly dancers” to show the sin in the fallen world, and was apparently quite shocking, even thought it was performed at BYU. While that scene played, Elder Maxwell quietly looked down at his program. And when the play was over, he complimented the playright on “the powerful affect of the drama” (Richard Cracroft, On the Way to Become an Authentic Reader). In other words, I don’t think we need to be so dogmatic that we miss out on some genuinely good things just so we can avoid a little bad. I’m not even sure we are supposed to be that cut off from the world.

  22. I agree with DavidF, above. The world itself is full of discouraging and awful things, but do we hold to the view that we should not go outside our front doors, or that we never should have come to earth in the first place?

    My concern is not so much with profanity, violence, or sexual themes, but the *gratuitious use* of these things, i.e. the presentation of them for the pleasure of the viewing audience. Just as there is a difference between good nude art (like Michaelangelo’s David) and pornography, there is a difference in film between violence for the enjoyment of the audience (the “Saw” films come to mind) and violence that serves the message and the story (like “Saving Private Ryan”).

    Sanitized violence — the kind where people get shot and fall down without blood or loss of limbs — can even lead to misunderstanding, especially among our youth, of the horror of war. War stops becoming mangled people and the screams of the dying and becomes something sanitized and heroic. This is one major reason why I insist the teenagers I know watch “Black Hawk Down” before enlisting in the military — military service is not wrong or evil, but these boys should be aware of what they’re likely to face on a deployment to Afghanistan.

  23. In a somewhat similar vein, I’m amazed at the radio talk shows that “bleep” out language in clips they will play. They don’t censor the entire word(s) that are (or can be) offensive, however; they invariably allow the initial consonant to sound, and sometimes the final syllable as well, so that the only thing that has been removed is a few very short vowel sounds. Essentially, nothing that disguises what has actually been said has been removed from the clip, so no attempt at censoring what was said might have well have been made. It’s like the use of the word “frakking” in Battlestar Galactica: we all know what it means, but because it’s not a “real” word, they can use it with impunity and never have to worry about bleeping it out at all. It all leaves me to wonder: what’s the point?

  24. The world, full of discouraging and awful things, is real and needs us. Movies are not and do not.

  25. All art, including film, teaches us important things about the world, things that we would not otherwise understand or appreciate. This is why I clearly distinguish between film that informs vs. film that is merely prurient.

    “Shindler’s List” is an important work that helps us grasp the horror of genocide and violence based on feelings of racist and nationalist superiority. These are issues that still plague humanity, and if they are to be ended, the common individual must understand them. Sugar coating them does a disservice to those who suffered.

  26. Like Mike Parker I wish I could recommend the documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated”. It shows how easily the MPAA is manipulated, and how a tiny group of people that may or may not represent your values are deciding how every film is rated. Film makers actually explain exactly what they do to manipulate the system, and the MPAA falls for it.

    I never even look at the ratings anymore, just check sites that give a better idea of what the content is, not somebody’s idea of what the content means to my children.

  27. Mike Parker, re: “good nude art”
    Maybe it’s just my simple male mind, but I’ve never been able to figure out a valid or even logical purpose for any nude art.

    About the movies, my kids are all very young still. The way I see it, they’ll be naturally exposed to all of this bad stuff as they move into the world. No need for me to introduce it to them at home.

  28. “Maybe it’s just my simple male mind, but I’ve never been able to figure out a valid or even logical purpose for any nude art.”

    Well, first of all, there turns out to be very little valid or logical purposes for almost any art. But perhaps I can offer a couple of justifications for nude.

    I think the common man’s judgement of art is the “whether I could do that” test. Throwing paint on a canvas doesn’t impress most people, but a good Picasso does. In that arena, nude art stands supreme. As one artist noted, realistic nudes show incredible artistic skill, since most people can judge quite quickly whether or not they find the proportions realistic (and therefore pass the “I could do that” test).

    The other point I’d make is about the effect of nude art. Nude art means something different to our post-puritan culture than it did to the ancient Greeks. Some artists paint or sculpt nude as a kind of tribute to the classical foundations for western art. But when you consider today’s audience, nude art is slightly shocking or scandalous. But even then, it’s not quite pornography, except to early teens and other very sensitive folk (of which are pretty much only Mormons). If you go a level deeper than that, you can find a powerful artistic message in nude.

    What is it? It depends on the work (it’s also somewhat subjective). Michelangelo’s David shows us the ideal form of man. Some other sculptures, various Venuses, show female, and therefore human beauty; those who agree with the representation can share in the celebration of the human form we are born into. Rodin’s sculptures capture love. True, there are other ways to show love, but having two nudes embrace each other shows love without any restraint to hold the figures back. In a sense it is erotic, but in another sense it’s pure.

    You may not accept that. It’s hard to convince anyone to accept something as art that they don’t like. But I hope my meager amateur justification shows that there is at least some purpose for nude art beyond its erotic features.

  29. DavidF makes some good points about art.

    Tossman: I also have young children, and I firmly believe that media should be age-appropriate. “Schindler’s List” is an important film, but I wouldn’t show it to my 9-year-old daughter. My 14-year-old daughter is probably at the bottom end of an appropriate age to see it.

  30. Or you could take my approach, which most of you will find a little drastic. I simply choose not to watch any PG-13 or R-rated movies. None whatsoever. And frankly, I don’t feel like I’ve been missing out on life. Of course, I’m not advocating this choice for everyone else. It’s just a solution that has worked well for me.

  31. Jason Allred, agreed. The missus and I have been burned by too many raunchy, foul language and overall negative toned PG-13s that we don’t even watch them any more. I don’t need Rs or PG-13s. We actually cut our satellite service a year ago and are doing quite fine on Netflix alone.

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