Seeking that Which Is Praiseworthy

I judge movies not just by production quality, but moral quality as well. I ask myself, “Does this film or book make me want to be a better person?” In a recent post, I presented cartesian chart as a conceptual tool to help others who feel the same way that I do. My point was not to position myself as any way superior to others, or to condemn or judge those who feel differently. I simply wished to present my personal approach to entertainment, with a tacit invitation to others to consider its merits. I hope to strike the same tone in this post as well.

In response to my previous post, some people asked, “How do you measure moral quality? Isn’t that pretty subjective?” The answer is yes, there is a lot of subjectivity in evaluating moral quality. However, as I was exploring the history of the MPAA rating system, I discovered something quite remarkable: a standard for evaluating movies that expressed almost precisely my personal feelings on what makes a movie morally good. I won’t claim that this is by any means perfect, but I think it covers some of my most common complaints about contemporary movies and TV shows. Let me see if I can explain this clearly.

80 years ago, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was known as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). This was long before the 5 rating system was in place, or any rating system, for that matter. A number of Hollywood sex scandals and some explicit films sparked concerns by American citizens nationwide over the moral quality of their entertainment. Two men, Martin Quigley and Daniel Lord, wrote what was referred to as the “The Production Code.” It was designed as a strict guideline that all movies approved by the MPPDA had to follow. Keep in mind, this was not government censorship, as the MPPDA was a private organization.

I would like to share a number of quotes from The Production Code (hereafter referred to as “the Code”), which all movies stamped with the MPPDA logo had to follow. First, I’ll start with a few of its more philosophical statements:

The MORAL IMPORTANCE of entertainment is something which has been universally recognized. It enters intimately into the lives of men and women and affects them closely; it occupies their minds and affections during leisure hours; and ultimately touches the whole of their lives. A man may be judged by his standard of entertainment as easily as by the standard of his work. So correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and moral ideals of a race.

The document specifically notes that motion pictures have a particularly profound affect on the moral sensibilities of a nation, since their reach expands not just to the literate who read, but to every class of society, most especially young children. Because movies represent such an immensely powerful tool for influencing the moral fabric of the nation, the MPPDA acknowledged that it has an especially heavy moral responsibility to provide strict standards by which it evaluated films. Note that at this time, the MPPDA didn’t just categorize films. It simply wouldn’t endorse films that failed to meet the criteria in the code. Here are quotes from the standards that the MPPDA required films to adhere to if they wanted to advertise the approval of the MPPDA:

No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin.

This is done:

1. When evil is made to appear attractive and alluring, and good is made to appear unattractive.

2. When the sympathy of the audience is thrown on the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, sin. The same is true of a film that would thrown sympathy against goodness, honor, innocence, purity or honesty.

Note: Sympathy with a person who sins is not the same as sympathy with the sin or crime of which he is guilty. We may feel sorry for the plight of the murderer or even understand the circumstances which led him to his crime: we may not feel sympathy with the wrong which he has done. The presentation of evil is often essential for art or fiction or drama. This in itself is not wrong provided:

a. That evil is not presented alluringly. Even if later in the film the evil is condemned or punished, it must not be allowed to appear so attractive that the audience’s emotions are drawn to desire or approve so strongly that later the condemnation is forgotten and only the apparent joy of sin is remembered.

b. That throughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right.

Correct standards of life shall, as far as possible, be presented.

A wide knowledge of life and of living is made possible through the film. When right standards are consistently presented, the motion picture exercises the most powerful influences. It builds character, develops right ideals, inculcates correct principles, and all this in attractive story form. If motion pictures consistently hold up for admiration high types of characters and present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind.

Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation. … The presentation of crimes against the law is often necessary for the carrying out of the plot. But the presentation must not throw sympathy with the crime as against the law nor with the criminal as against those who punish him. …

Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion (even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience) is forbidden. …

Out of a regard for the sanctity of marriage and the home, the triangle, that is, the love of a third party for one already married, needs careful handling. The treatment should not throw sympathy against marriage as an institution. …

In the case of impure love, the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been banned by divine law, the following are important:

1. Impure love must not be presented as attractive and beautiful.
2. It must not be the subject of comedy or farce, or treated as material for laughter.
3. It must not be presented in such a way to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience.
4. It must not be made to seem right and permissible.
5. It general, it must not be detailed in method and manner.

In the 1950’s and the 1960’s, however, the MPPDA faced pressures to revise its rating system. This was because although the MPPDA was not a government organization and therefore had no regulatory powers, it exerted an incredible amount of influence and control in the movie industry. to my knowledge, these guidelines were voluntary, in that they were not enforced (in their entirety) by state or federal law. Certainly, many theaters were likely reluctant to show a film that hadn’t been approved by the MPPDA, and thus producers certainly had an incentive to comply with the code. Films that did not meet MPPDA standards were often never released to the public, due to bureaucratic policies of movie agencies and contractual obligations. As a libertarian, I bristle at bureaucratic restraints, government or private. However, I think the voluntary self-regulation of the movie industry was a good thing. Sadly, the Code was dropped in favor of our modern 5-tier system (G, PG, PG-13, R, and X).

Rather than attempting to increase the moral quality of the film industry, this new system simply attempted to relegate audiences to films deemed appropriate to their age-level. The implication of the system is that the portrayal of acts that are immoral are for mature audiences, and that the more one ages, the less inappropriate the material becomes. Content that may be perfectly appropriate for adults must be kept away from children, until they reach a certain age, at which it then becomes appropriate. While to some extent and in some cases, connecting the appropriateness of a film to age makes sense, I generally reject this model. If I would not want my 10 year old child to see a film, why would I be comfortable seeing it myself? If there is a moral innocence that would be shattered by witnessing events in a movie, why wouldn’t I want to retain that innocence? I generally believe that if I don’t want my future children to watch a movie, then I should reconsider watching it as well (and not just to set an example, but because it’s an indication of the moral content of the film). I imagine I’ll probably make exceptions to this (for example, Lord of the Rings), but I don’t think I’ll ever try to rationalize or justify them.

Willing suspension of disbelief is a crucial component of most fiction, and it’s fun. That’s what fantasy, science fiction, and many action movies are all about. However, a guiding principle of the Code is that movies should not ask us to suspend moral judgment. Films such as Ocean’s 11 and The Italian Job do a fantastic job at getting the audience to root for protagonists even as they are pursuing obviously immoral goals. Movies will often ask the audience to suspend judgment regarding the pursuit of extra-marital sex (again, even PG movies have done this). I don’t mind movies that seriously ask me to re-evaluate my moral judgments, and invite me to see the world differently, particularly if the result is that I’m a gentler, kinder, more compassionate person. However, movies like Ocean’s 11 and The Italian Job never actually invite me to reconsider my feelings about theft. They just ask me, for the duration of the movie, to pretend like it’s not bad, so that I can just have fun with the story. Although it may seem like fun and games, I believe that it has an aggregate affect on our collective perception of good and evil. Even though we put our moral glasses back on after the show is over, the habitual taking off of those glasses, and having tons of fun when they’re off, is somewhat dangerous. The current MPAA rating system does not address this. In contrast, the Code makes this one of its core guiding principles.

I agree with the writers of the Code, and believe that film and TV have a profound impact on our perceptions of good and evil. And this is what I mean when I refer to the moral quality of movies. Do these movies invite me to suspend moral judgment and to pretend that evil is good? Do they make sin look alluring and fun? Do they depict protagonists as pursuing immoral goals, or using immoral means to obtain their goals? The list continues, but I think the guiding principles of the Code are spot on. There were some passages that irritated my libertarian sensibilities (for example, the code says that movies should not depict the government or law-enforcement as corrupt), but the bulk of the code serves as a fantastic guide for evaluating the films we watch. I suggest you read the code in full—there is a great deal more than what I’ve quoted in this article, and it touches on just about everything that would affect the moral quality of a film.

The MPAA currently categorizes films based upon entirely arbitrary criteria. For example, my dad designed the dvd cover and created some promotional literature for the movie Saints and Soldiers, and he was given a screening version of the movie some 8 months before its official release. Naturally, we watched it as a family, and it was a fantastic movie. I’ll have to watch it again to be sure, but I don’t think anything in the film violates anything in the Code (except for mild profanity, no more than you might see in a PG movie). However, the MPAA subsequently gave the movie an R-rating, because one scene in the movie depicted (at a distance) a exit wound from a bullet. Of course, the director and the producers of the movie were desperate for a PG-13 rating, since the film would be heavily marketed to a Utah audience, so they changed several frames of the film (they showed the same scene from a different angle), and resubmitted the film for review. The movie was then rated PG-13. The difference between the two films was minute, and neither version violated the principles of the Code. In contrast, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens upon dozens of PG films that extensively violate The Production Code.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed Captain America so much was that not only did the film take place during WWII, the film’s style and content reflected the movies standards of the era (The Production Code). The movie’s main romance was portrayed in a refreshingly chaste and restrained manner, and there were surprisingly few crude remarks and innuendos (although I may have missed them). I therefore consider the moral quality of the movie to be worlds better than Ocean’s 11, which “throws the sympathy of the audience to the side of crime,” and makes sin “appear attractive and alluring.” Both received the exact same rating by the MPAA. It seems, then, that the actual moral quality of a film has little to do with its MPAA rating (although I will personally be very hard to convince that most R-rated movies don’t violate the Code in some significant way).

In short, the MPAA ratings are virtually useless in protecting me from morally questionable content (by the standards of the Code). For this reason, I’ve decided to essentially philosophically abandon the current MPAA rating system as a guide to which movies I will see, and do my best to adopt the values of the Code. In times past, many of my friends have announced that because the MPAA is unreliable, they are comfortable watching R-rated movies if they can drum up a compelling rationalization for it (which, we should all admit, isn’t that difficult when it’s something you want to watch). That is not what I am saying. The standards of the Code are much stricter than the current rating system, and its guiding principles cut to the core of what makes a movie morally problematic. In general, this standard will likely mean seeing fewer movies. I will not watch an R-rated movie unless I am able to confirm that it doesn’t violate the Code in any way, which is highly, highly unlikely (but, I admit, possible, with the original version of Saints and Soldiers as an example). I wish to emphasize that I don’t see this as lowering standards, but raising them.

Unfortunately, I do not know of any rating agency that uses the principles of the Code, and so it will be difficult in practice to apply this standard. For that reason, I won’t be able to practically abandon the current MPAA rating system. The current rating system will likely act as a signal that warns when a film’s content warrants closer scrutiny before seeing it. And, as I said, I won’t use this to rationalize seeing R-rated films. Parental aids such as Kids In Mind may be useful, but they are also limited in their ability to reflect the guiding values of the Code. They might approve films with low counts of sexual innuendos, swear words, and bullets, but miss the fact that the protagonist’s goal was itself immoral. Most rating systems focus on the minutia and miss global problems with the story.

In conclusion, the 13th Article of Faith invites us to seek things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” I believe that The Production Code would be a more reliable guide in achieving this than the current MPAA rating system. I admit that it will be difficult to find entertainment that meets every single criteria of the Code, and that I will be far, far from perfect in upholding the standard. However, when I evaluate a movie based upon its moral quality, this is the standard that I am using. Perhaps this will help clarify some of the evaluations I made in my previous post. My main hope is that this will help myself and some of our readers to better discern what films are worth investing time and money in, and which are not, and to not rely too heavily on the MPAA to make these decisions on our behalf.

This article is closely related to an article I posted a couple of months ago, entitled Spiritual Security Theater. In that article, I explored how when we set rules for ourselves, we can fool ourselves into thinking that whatever we do within the boundaries of those rules is perfectly fine. In precisely the same way, when we set a staunch “No R-rated Films” policy, we can inadvertently fool ourselves into being cavalier about the PG and PG-13 rated films we watch. And, since the moral quality of the film isn’t intrinsically connected to its MPAA rating, we may end up indulging in media that is morally problematic. I am not at all against a no R-rated movie policy, since I generally hold to it myself. The problem is in letting that be the end of our efforts to self-filter the media we invest in. The take-away lesson is not that PG-13 and R movies are sometimes fine, but that according to this higher standard, PG and perhaps even G movies may have problems that are just as severe. We need to be more selective, not less.

23 thoughts on “Seeking that Which Is Praiseworthy

  1. I think that this is what the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlets are trying to get us to do. (Rather than a pass to watch R-rated movies, like so many want to think.) It is a challenging prospect to use your own judgment, especially when it might mean wasting money spent in a movie theater by walking out.

    That’s why I prefer Netflix or Redbox. . . among other reasons. 🙂

  2. When you get right down to it, we don’t need a lot of rules, etc.
    All we have to ask ourselves is, “Could I be doing something better with the time that the Lord has blessed me?”

    Unfortunately, we all know the answer to that question, and we all know that asking that question of ourselves would have us doing things the Lord wants us to do, but we often don’t have the appetite for.

  3. Great points, LDSP. One very, very small quibble. There have been several iterations of the rating system from the 1960s until now. When I was a kid in the 1970s, you had PG, R, X and G. PG became steadily raunchier, so they created PG-13. Now PG13 is getting raunchier. Our rating system is virtually useless. I have seen horrible PG13 movies and relatively harmless R movies. We need to create an LDS-friendly rating system taking into account the issues you mention.

  4. Geoff, I never said there weren’t iterations, so your comment isn’t so much a quibble as an addendum. =) Good point, though. The issue, I think, is not just that movies are getting raunchier, but that the current categorization doesn’t take any reliable account of global aspects of the story, instead of just minutia. It’s not evaluating moral quality, but counting swear words and bullet wounds. And so my point isn’t that “PG-13” movies are getting worse and worse over the years, but simply that the label “PG-13” says nothing at all about the moral quality of the movie.

  5. “If I would not want my 10 year old child to see a film, why would I be comfortable seeing it myself? If there is a moral innocence that would be shattered by witnessing events in a movie, why wouldn’t I want to retain that innocence?”

    Because a movie is unlikely the only way in which you “spoil” your innocence. Take a hypothetical movie that deals with the pressures on teenagers to have sex. Is that pressure foreign to my 5-yr old? Yes, thankfully. Thus, I have no desire to expose her to such a movie, nor would she be interested in it. But that reality is a lot closer to my 10-yr old—perhaps just “around the corner”—and so it is conceivable that this movie would be appropriate for me now, my 10-yr old in a couple years, and my 5-yr old much later.

    Now, of course I saw that you qualified your objections with words like “generally” and “some cases”; nevertheless I see you making a mostly blanket statement that I simply reject. I see no reason to reject the idea that a movie could be appropriate for me and yet not for my daughters. Moreover, I believe that a movie could easily be appropriate for me and yet inappropriate for you, or my parents, or my wife. If a movie addresses concerns and problems that I face then it may resonate with me in a positive way without exposing me to any novel moral pathogens; i.e., without introducing me to any badness that I haven’t already experienced.

  6. Brian, good points. Thanks! =) I stand corrected in some ways. I still maintain, though, that the kinds of distinctions you are making are not the kinds of distinctions that the MPAA is making. If a movie is rated PG-13 because of raunchiness and sexual innuendos, that doesn’t mean that the raunchiness is more appropriate for a teenage/adult audience than for children. So while the distinctions you make do make sense, they don’t map onto the general assumptions advanced by the MPAA.

  7. That is a fascinating history of the rating system, and an interesting window on the moral decline of society. I think Geoff’s idea of an LDS rating system is a good one, although it would also have to be arbitrary. But it could help like-minded individuals share their views.

    Might I add another factor? Truth or Fantasy. Films can be great at introducing their audiences to new, vicarious experiences. When you take a very riveting and realistic war movie for example, it can transport us truly into this place of vicarious experience. It gives us a greater appreciation for the suffering and sacrifices of those who have fought and died for us. Although it might seem almost blasphemous to compare, Jesus also suffered vicariously for us, that he might know our pains and sicknesses. I find there is something deep and moving about the empathy that flows into us after experiencing a great war movie.

    When you have a movie like Lord of the Rings, it does not depict war in a realistic way, and it often glorifies violence and heroism in a kind of kitchy, slow motion way that does no justice to the true reality of war. You can admire it’s “moral” qualities as myth, but it does not present “true experience.” However, an extremely violent and realistic film like Saving Private Ryan can take a viewer much closer to the “truth” of war, and thus give someone a greater appreciation for the sacrifices of those who must face these circumstances. It invites self-exploration, as we ask ourselves how we would act under similar stresses. A movie that expresses “truth” and gives us vicarious experience, is something that can have great value, even if it might not always be “uplifting” or “moral” in the traditional sense.

    A film filled with sex and violence can sometimes still teach the truth that “wickedness never was happiness,” and it can teach it in a profoundly riveting way. Just as an example, one of my favorite films, the masterpiece “Little Children,” taught me more memorably and powerfully about the terrible destruction of adultery and pornography than any General Conference talk ever has done. But the film is very “R-rated” in it’s content, and I can see many Mormons walking out in the middle of it, before the incredible crescendo of truth and light that pours forth from the end of the film.

    Forcing myself to sit through the sickening darkness in the middle of “Little Children” was worth it for the incredible lessons it taught. It created a deep mark on my soul, and filled me with light and empathy.

    So maybe another factor to consider when rating a film is whether it is “challenging.” I think challenging films can be wonderful, and soul expanding, inviting us to open our minds to the deep suffering and experience of the world, and thus become more empathetic, passionate, engaged, and appreciative.

  8. The Production Code seems alarmingly morally naive – and even bankrupt – to me, because it’s almost entirely concerned with appearances. In the real world, evil in fact does appear alluring, while good – well, Isaiah 53:3. It’s incredibly important for morally mature human beings in fact to learn that choices that are good and those which are wrong do not always necessarily come readily labeled and easily identified, and preoccupation with such surfaces can easily lead to shallow morality. That’s why, in my last comment, I said Captain America and similar comic book movies are fun and wholesome but about as morally deep as a Saturday morning cartoon. Good is _hard_, and if Christ taught us anything it’s that it’s also often painful and bloody and not alluring at all, and its rewards are hardly ever as quick or as identifiable as what choosing evil will bring you. That’s the sort of world we need to teach our children to make decisions in, and that’s the sort of world I want them to experience in art.

    This is actually why I agree that the current MPAA code is similarly vacuous, because it doesn’t even try to make the choice; ratings are based on bean counting of certain types of content with zero reference to the moral compass of a film. Give me one morally serious R-rated movie with a dozen F words in it over a thousand PG13 teen sex comedies.

  9. Matt, I’m not convinced the Production Code is as naive or shallow as you think, nor do I think that it is all about appearances. Evil often looks alluring in real life. However, I think the Code invites movie-makers to unmask the allure of evil, and reveal its true nature. I’d rather have a movie that does that than a movie that simply portrays evil the same way real life society does. Society already does a great job of making evil look good, and it would be redundant if movies did the same in their effort to be true to real life. Life makes extra-marital sex look harmless. We don’t need Hollywood to do the same.

    Good is hard, and often not very comfortable or alluring. But we need entertainment that reveals its true worth (not by dressing it up and making it look pretty), but by showing the true consequences of sin and the true blessings of virtue. I think the Production Code not only allows for that, but encourages it. Nowhere does it say we have to pretend that being good is easy or comfortable or that being bad is always miserable. Rather, it says (very reasonably) that by the end of the film, our sympathies should be with the good and against the bad, and in a profound (not shallow) way. In other words, as the Code says, “Even if later in the film the evil is condemned or punished, it must not be allowed to appear so attractive that the audience’s emotions are drawn to desire or approve so strongly that later the condemnation is forgotten and only the apparent joy of sin is remembered.”

  10. When you get right down to it, we don’t need a lot of rules, etc.
    All we have to ask ourselves is, “Could I be doing something better with the time that the Lord has blessed me?”

    There isn’t much that any of us do for recreation that could pass this test.

    Now PG13 is getting raunchier. Our rating system is virtually useless. I have seen horrible PG13 movies and relatively harmless R movies. We need to create an LDS-friendly rating system taking into account the issues you mention.

    This is one reason I stopped paying attention to ratings for what my children and I watch. I’ve seen PG movies that I’m not comfortable with my eleven-year-old watching, usually because of themes instead of the number of times characters swear. Some of the humor I saw in the first Shrek movie was enough for me and they’re now banned from our house.

    The rating system in place is very much based on politics and a very small group’s morals. If your morals do not happen to match up with theirs, the rating isn’t very usefull. There is a fantastic documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” that explores the how and why a film gets a certain rating. Unfortunately most of you won’t want to watch it because it shows examples of changes that were made to bring films down from a”nc-17″ to a “r” and “r” to a “PG-13”. It also gives examples of large studio pictures from Disney or Fox getting away with much more than smaller studios or independent films get away with. The South Park guys famously sent a memo detailing exactly what they cut to go from an NC-17 to a R rating, and how they had added some of that additional content just so their second cut would appear more tame.

    The small group on the ratings board historically judges female nudity more harshly than male nudity, violence less harshly than sexual content, and homosexual content more harshly than heterosexual content. My lack of confidence in this small group is why I prefer to rely on word-of-mouth from people I trust as well as the site Kids in Mind that ldsphilosopher mentioned in his post. While that site isn’t perfect, it does give you a better idea of what is going on in the movie than what you get with the MPAA.

  11. jjohnson, I just watched a trailer for the documentary you mentioned (you’re right, I’ll probably never actually watch the documentary, for the reasons you present), and my impression was that the authors of the documentary are critiquing the MPAA on the opposite grounds that I am. I’m arguing that they have no moral compass and are not protecting us from moral dangers, while it seems that they are lamenting the censorship MPAA imposes on Hollywood (heaven forbid the MPAA pressures directors to change their art!). Thus, the attitude of the documentary seems to be almost the opposite of the one I’m trying to convey here. The only thing we agree on is the fact that the distinctions between G, PG, PG-13, and R are quite arbitrary.

    (On a side note, I want to emphasize that according to Wikipedia, “MPAA ratings carry no force of local, state, or federal law anywhere in the United States. They only serve as a consumer suggestion by a group of corporate analysts.” This means that no movie studio has to follow the standards released by the MPAA, so cries of “censorship” seem somewhat unfounded. Of course, production studios will likely care what the movies they release are rated, so they will contractually require their directors to maintain certain ratings. But these are based on agreements, not external control.)

  12. It approaches the rating system from both directions, as a way to censor the art, but also as a way for someone who has morals you know nothing about making a moral judgement based on guidelines that aren’t easily available to the public. I think you’d find it interesting, but there’s really no way to watch it without seeing NC-17 material unless there is some cut version I don’t know about. I think the trailer is emphasizing the censorship thing because to the majority of people watching it, that’s probably the more interesting angle. The biggest thing I got out of it was three things, none of them having to do with censorship. It’s political. It’s easily gamed. And it’s a small group of people with values that may or may not reflect your own that make this judgement.

    Any system that treats two movies differently because of what name is attached instead of the content cannot be trusted with helping me decide what my children or I should watch.

    I’d argue the censorship angle because while it isn’t exactly being censored, it’s almost impossible to see a NC-17 movie in theaters. Once a film is hit with that label it is doomed to failure no matter how much artistic merit it might have (which of course some would argue is none). Maybe if the rating system were more clear, and you could trust it, then it wouldn’t be a form of censorship. It isn’t and it can’t. I don’t think it really applies to your post though, what you’ve written could easily apply to any movie, not just those with a rating of R, X or NC-17.

  13. I don’t know how much you know, or what kind of interest you have in comic books, but there was a parallel to the movie industry’s Hays Code for many years that comic book publishers used voluntarily. A few years ago, Marvel (the company behind Captain America) stopped using the code on their comics, (useless LDS trivia, the first comic published without the code was illustrated by a famous LDS artist, Mike Allred). The last publisher quit using it a couple of months ago. They’ve all gone to self-policing which in my opinion has led to much more accurate understanding of what is in the comic, as well as the ability for the companies to put out stories that are more mature (which doesn’t necessarily mean sex and violence, but mature issues).

    I’ve enjoyed your posts. It’s refreshing to see an LDS take on movies that doesn’t come down to a simple condemnation of the evils of those harlots in Hollywood.

  14. Well, that’s precisely the kind of content I wish to avoid in the films I watch, so I’ll pass. I’m in the camp that believes it’s hard to make art of pornography, and I’d gladly encourage media to self-censor that kind of content. I’m not sure there’s any value in watching movies with heavy sexual content or nudity. I’ve heard people argue that if a film depicts detailed sex between two married people, they aren’t modeling extra-marital sex, and it is therefore fine. I would argue that in those situations, the actors aren’t married, and even if they were, displaying one’s (appropriate) intimate activities to the world is inappropriate, as is watching someone else’s. I find it impossible to believe that films rated R or NC-17 for sexual content would ever be appropriate. Any significant moral lessons from those films can be learned equally well without the sexual content. When it comes to that sort of stuff, I don’t distinguish between art and pornography, so I’m quite happy to see those films doomed to financial failure.

  15. That’s interesting about the comic book ratings. Personally, as a libertarian, I’m a fan of independent rating services in general as an alternative to government regulation. For example, rather than having the government micromanage the food and drug industry with burdensome regulations, I would rather have independent rating services/businesses rate the safety and quality of food and drug products, and allow consumers to decide for themselves (like the Consumer Report). Since I’ve spent a lot of time arguing in favor of this approach (in contrast to government regulation), I’ve likely biased myself in favor of independent rating services. Self-policing one’s product is fine, but I see nothing wrong with seeking the endorsement of a trusted third party. Sadly, the MPAA is not a trusted third party.

  16. Self-policing one’s product is fine, but I see nothing wrong with seeking the endorsement of a trusted third party. Sadly, the MPAA is not a trusted third party.

    The Comic Book Code wasn’t either. There was a famously anti-drug issue of Amazing Spider-Man that absolutely didn’t promote drug use, but because the Comic Book Code wouldn’t allow any mention of drugs at all they wouldn’t give it the seal of approval. I believe context matters whether it’s language, sexual content or violence. Having rules for art that are black and white with no room for context isn’t useful.

    The biggest thing that drives me nuts with the MPAA rules is the hard rule on language. You can say the F word a certain number of times before the rating goes up. How does that make sense? Is that word appropriate for children or not?

  17. Yeah… if three times is bad, then why is once or twice just fine? I would side on being harsh when evaluating something like movies, so if I were to use a language rule like that, it would be all or nothing.

  18. It seems to me that any rating system is a problem, when it pretends to be objective. I’d rather read a description from a movie reviewer that I trusted.

  19. “1. When evil is made to appear attractive and alluring, and good is made to appear unattractive.”

    Well, there goes “Paradise Lost.”

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