Film critic Roger Ebert is proposing that since today’s youth are regularly exposed to profanity, sex and violence, the Motion Picture Association of America should revamp the movie rating system. Aside from the easy availability of anything and everything on computers, he correctly says that with multiplex cinemas it is simple to buy a ticket for one PG-13 rated show and head to an R rated one instead. In his words, “It’s time to get pragmatic about this.”
Perhaps our reaction to these facts should be exactly the opposite. After all, I don’t see proposals floated to admit that we’ve lost the war on obesity and should stop trying to do anything about it. I haven’t seen the argument made that we should simply acknowledge that Americans do not have an educational system that compares with many other countries around the world and rather than try to improve, we should just change requirements for graduation. We certainly didn’t shrug our shoulders about cigarette consumption a few decades ago and let it be.
Like obesity or illiteracy, being exposed to gratuitous sex, profanity and violence, particularly at a young age, causes damage. I dare say there are enough social scientists and studies that could supply data to support that claim. If that is the case, perhaps we should indeed change the ratings, but in the opposite direction of what Mr. Ebert suggests. Perhaps, like alcohol, more movies should be restricted to an over 21 group. Then, just as happens in stores that sell liquor, government agents could send minors to buy movie tickets and fine theaters that neglect to ask for ID. To stop multiplex hopping, we could legislate that theatres that want to cater to the under 21 crowd cannot at the same time offer any restricted movies. We could draw the lines more firmly, not less.
Actually, those are terrible ideas. I’d like to see less government intrusion in our lives, not more. However, I do think it is valid to ask why as a society, we’re supposed to “get pragmatic” about some things while micro-managing others. If government involvement is required so that you can’t buy a soda without knowing how many calories are in it, why should it be excluded from other areas? Somehow the movie industry is immune to government tinkering. When businesses outsource because costs are less, newspapers castigate them as selfish and evil. Do studios make movies in Canada to avoid paying union salaries? Silence reigns.
Factories use power in order to produce their goods and TV shows expose them as ‘evil polluter’ However, I never hear rebuke of TV and movie production which possess carbon footprints bigger than King Kong’s.
We seem eerily comfortable with government intrusion into our lives under the guise of protecting our bodies, but we are inexplicably uncomfortable when that protection touches a moral issue. If a fifteen year-old gets into a liquor store, you’d think the sky fell in. If the same child gets into an NC-17 movie theater, well; that’s just reality.
Teen pregnancies, eating disorders, cutting, bullying and assorted other ills are not unrelated to a culture that the entertainment industry promotes. These phenomena have real impact on people’s lives, just as diabetes or cancer do. They impact our economy as well. If legislation is valid to ban cigarette advertising in magazines or to get soft drinks out of high schools, then rather than saying, as Mr. Ebert does, “It’s time to admit we’ve lost our innocence,” maybe movies need to be targeted by the regulatory gun just as much as other businesses.