Saturday, September 17, 2011

Language And Violence And Sex, Oh My!

When it comes to children, the biggest concern parents have in exposing their children to a movie is the content of the film. Most notably, their looking for sex, violence, and language. The more of these a film has, the less likely they'll allow their kids to see it. But how do they prioritize the content? Does one become more forgiving than the other. And how does one gauge how much is too much, and when it crosses that line? 

Let's take a hypothetical scenario. Three movies are released simultaneously: 
Movie A contains no violence or sexual content. Yet it does have an unacceptable amount of language. 
Movie B contains no violence or unacceptable language, but does contain nudity and sexual content. 
Movie C has no nudity, sexual content, or unacceptable language, but plenty of violence.

Now, as a parent, you find out over the weekend your child went with a friend and saw one of these films. To which movie do you fear the most him or her seeing? Which one is the least of the three evils? And then, why? 

Movies with nudity and sexual content tend to fall in one of two categories. Sophomoric adolescence in which sex is pursued for its own sake, and nothing more. Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's, and American Pie would certainly fall into this category. Other films use sex to convey a deep connection between characters. These are scenes of intimacy, love-making, and bonding. The sex scene in An Officer and a Gentleman is an example of this type. Yet, is one preferable to the other? Is one more appropriate than the other? And does age matter? My personal experience, I was given "the talk" at the early stages of puberty. As my body underwent changes, my parents put it in context for me. Still, I can honestly tell you, perspective or not, I gravitated more toward the Porky's type of films than An Officer And A Gentlemen. It didn't matter if I was 13, 17, or 19. Still, I have to wonder, if I were exposed to these films and thus the talk came sooner, say 10 or 11, would my curiosity be even more warped, or would my appreciation for sexuality be more mature by age 18? I also believe it's naive and foolish to believe that our kids will be fish-bowled from seeing these films, considering the wealth of access and outlets available today. Between the big three, sex and nudity is the most positive force. Violence leads to injury and death. Language can come off as crass and ignorant. But sex and nudity are "natural." It's the driving force behind life itself, and should be appreciated. Yet, such a powerful force requires discipline. Unwanted babies, abortion issues, incest, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies are just a few symptoms of this driving force gone unchecked. So, when it comes to letting children watch movies with this subject matter, is it better to shield them, or make it apparent, putting it in proper context?

Violence in film is almost unavoidable. Call the genre what you will, Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi, they all share one thing in common, they follow the Dramatic formula. In a drama, there is conflict, and violence is a representation of that dramatic effect. Like sex, there are two schools of thought, fantasy and realism. Films like Hook, Spider-Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are filled with violent action, but are often given the PG stamp of approval, due to little to no blood, maiming, or death. Movies like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List show realistic violence, and the results of violence, ie: blood and death. These films are rated R for their graphic realism. Yet, in a culture which demonizes video game violence, which is presented in an unrealistic manor, citing children who imitate the violence into the real world, one wonders if the ratings should be reversed. Is allowing children to see violence without the realities associated with it better than the truth? Would kids emulate the violence they see in film, knowing that people suffer. Not just those wounded and killed, but their friends and family. There is no reset button. Limbs don't grow back. Children are left Fatherless. Watching mutated turtles plow threw a hundred ninjas without a scratch is a context that can only glorify violence in the hearts and minds of the young. Yet, one cannot deny that violence in and of itself is evil. In fact, through violence comes honor, respect and courage. If we learned anything from the Rocky films, it's that it isn't that you fight, it's what you're fighting for. To consider Rocky a "boxing film" is to be short-sighted. The boxing is the metaphor. It's about the conflict a man faces to prove his self worth, his identity, and to find his courage. In the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the four kids escape the horrors of World War 2, only to be whisked away into a fantasy realm where they are involved in an epic fight between good and evil. This film neither glorifies or condemns war. Rather, it illustrates a time and place when people must make a stand in defiance of evil.

Language is a funny thing. Naturally, there are certain words which are red flagged. F*ck, Sh*t, P*ssy, Assh*le, are universally regarded as vulgar and can attract an R rating like a bog zapper attracts moths. The problem lies in the gray areas of the English language, which there are no hard and fast rules. On television, films run an exhaustive gauntlet of standards and practices. Certain words bleeped on one channel is allowed on another. Some consider context, while others are strictly verbiage. The saying we all knew growing up, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me", is apparently a lie. Words like fag is often bleeped. Used to disparage an entire culture, I can understand. Referring to cigarettes, its ludicrous. A fine example is a scene in the film Rock Star. Mark Wahlberg's character is flown from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and arrives at the recording studio home of rock band Steel Dragon. The band, all Englishmen, greet Mark and ask him if he's fagged out from the flight. This is obviously meant "Are you tired from the flight?" The word is appropriate due to context, but is bleeped by censors who hold fast to strict rules. Later, in the same scene, the real singer shows up, who's just been fired from the band, as it turns out he's gay. One band member says "like we give a toss who you're buggering." In this context, he is effectively saying, "we're not jerking it to the idea of who you're f*cking in the a$$." Pretty profane in context. But because censors see nothing wrong with the words "toss" and "buggering", it's passable. Some don't allow the words, "Retarded", "God", and "Honky" no matter the context for fear of offending someone. Even the deadly words like "f*ck" get alternative rules. For example, you can have the "F" word in a film without gaining an R rating if the word is used as an expletive and not as a sexual reference.

In the above hypothetical, it seems that in the television world, movie C is the least concerned. While language and nudity are censored, they have no qualms about taking commercial revenue displaying violence, in whatever context. Yet, paradoxically, of the three, it leads to the most dangerous behavior. But where do you stand? What are your priorities, and how and when do you feel what is appropriate for your child and when? Furthermore, do your values and sensibilities give you the right to impose them upon others? If not, than do censors and the MPAA have that right? What gives them that right? And what makes their opinions more valued than yours?

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I know it's tacky to have the first comment on your blog be from yourself, but I just had to share this...

    On the IMDB message boards someone posted the question if there is any nudity in the film Escape From New York, as they are watching a 13 year old who wants to see it. He or she asked the parents who said it's okay as long as there is no nudity.

    Hmmmmm. So, in this film, you'll see cannibals rise up from the sewers to kidnap a victim. You'll see a severed finger, a spiked baseball bat driven thru someone's skull, and the president being forced to wear a woman's wig and lipstick. Plenty of gunfights and people getting shot, stabbed and strangled.

    But rest assured...there is no offensive boobs. So there you go, perfectly acceptable film to be viewed.

    I just don't get the priority here.