Monday, August 10, 2009

Dinner Discussion and Ratings

When the young 'uns were tiny, having dinner table conversation didn't really happen. I often felt like the mom in The Christmas Story who never got a warm bite to eat because she was constantly helping all the little people with their dinner.

And let's face it: infants and toddlers really don't have much to discuss.

Now that the kids are older, things are a-changin', and dinner table discussion is one of them. I'm enjoying it. One of the more interesting discussions to crop up of late: movie and video game ratings.

It started because one of my daughters had been planning her birthday party for about, oh, two months. (I had to hold her back from delivering the invitations two weeks early. She'd been that obsessed.) Part of the event included a video. Originally she wanted something "scary," which in her vocabulary meant Hitchcock (I'm so proud).

But then she realized that not all her 10-year-old friends would appreciate Hitchcock. (Wise girl.) So she started researching online. (Scary how good she is at it.) She loves Robin Williams from things like Flubber. So she found another movie he's in and asked if it would be okay for them to watch: License to Wed. Immediately, I nixed it. No, I told her, that would not be appropriate for the party.

(What I thought was, With all the adult content in that movie, if I were stupid enough to let you watch it, your friends' parents would all flog me, and for good reason.)

She found a site that rates movies based on content and appropriateness for age ranges (how she found it, I'll never know; I'll have to ask her what it was, because it sounded really awesome), and discovered a cute little movie that was a great fit: clean and perfect for her age range.

So at dinner we got talking about movies and ratings. She mentioned that some of her friends' parents won't let them see PG-13 movies until they're actually 13. That's fine, I said. That's their rule. But I did wonder silently if the rule also meant that they're allowed to see any PG-13 movie at that age.

Which wouldn't be okay in my book.

My kids (only one of which is older than 13) have seen a few PG-13 movies. Each one is hand-picked by Mom and Dad. There are PG-13 movies I don't want them to EVER see (but when they're adults, that's their choice, and it'll be out of my hands.) And there are some that I'll let them see when they're a little younger than 13 but can handle the suspense or the content or whatever.

But the point of our discussion is that the ratings are a suggested guideline, that they're someone's opinion, and that we shouldn't take them as our only source to make a decision.

We talked about my son's video games as another example. He has the entire Zelda series. I've lost track, but I think there are four games. The first three have the typical kiddie rating. The last one is rated T ("Teen," basically, the equivalent of PG-13). Zelda is very much a fairytale fantasy game. You're a little elf-like creature, using your sword to hit open stones for gems to use as money. You fight evil monsters and the like. Good fairies help you along the way. Good and evil are very differentiated, and good wins.

It didn't worry me that the last one was rated T. Just like certain elements automatically give a film a PG-13 or R-rating, any blood automatically gives a video game a T-rating. My son has won the game twice and still hasn't found the blood. But apparently, it's in there somewhere. Hence, the T rating.

But then there's the game Medal of Honor, based on WWII, and directed like a movie by Steven Spielberg. (Which frankly blows my mind. What was he thinking, especially after making Schindler's List?). The graphics are intensely realistic. You're a soldier with a gun, killing other real-looking people. You shoot someone's limb off, and then they bleed and fall down and groan as they die. It's like a real-life movie you're in, blowing up people.

You're not in there rescuing prisoners from concentration camps or taking back cities. It's battles and rampant destruction. It's a far cry from the pretend, light-hearted world of Zelda.

And here's the other big thing: players of Medal of Honor don't (and frankly, can't) have the same mindset as real WWII soldiers did, knowing that they're fighting Hitler's regime and possibly trying to save the world, that they're fighting for home and family and freedom and their very lives.

That's what World War II was about. This game is about randomly killing people in a very realistic setting. And that's not okay with me.

Yet both the last Zelda game and this one have the same rating.

Explain that to me, because it makes no sense.

Medal of Honor will never, ever, enter my house. Yet if I based all my decisions purely on ratings, either both games or neither would be under my roof.

Two final thoughts:
While living in Finland, we (obviously) used the Finnish rating system as our guideline for picking movies.

Since non-sexual nudity is really a non-issue in Europe, we ended up renting a couple of movies that had the equivalent of a G-rating there but an R-rating here. A couple of others might have been PG there but R here.

One of those G-rated videos was rented by my father for a Family Home Evening. I still giggle when I think of that: the mission president renting an R-rated movie for his family. Hahaha! (But it was G over there! It was! And the nudity was seriously like 1/4 of a second long and totally non-sexual.)

I learned quickly upon returning to the States to check a video's rating before mentioning that I'd seen the film so I wouldn't freak-out my friends. Ratings are very much in the eye of the beholder.

The final thing I'll mention I still find a bit disturbing: Disney's Pocahontas was rated, as were all Disney animated movies at one point, G. We'll not discuss the lameness of the movie and its historical inaccuracy.

What specifically bothered me rating-wise is that at one point, a white man shoots an American Indian at point-blank range with a rifle, and the Indian falls down and dies. Pocahontas falls to her knees, and all the characters, including the shooter, are upset by the incident. This isn't "fantasy violence" like you'd see on the Roadrunner cartoons or Bugs Bunny, you know, someone running off a cliff and staying in the air a moment before they fall, or getting whacked on the head with a hammer and we all laugh. This was an actual rifle shooting an actual man and killing him.

If it weren't animated, it would have gotten at least a PG rating. If should have gotten a PG rating. Why didn't it? Because it was Disney and it was animated. And let's not forget that John Smith nearly gets his head cracked open by a rock. Is that really G material?

Granted, that was back in 1995. I was thrilled the first time I saw an animated movie get a PG rating. (I'm not remembering what it was called right now . . . it was something about a junkyard robot . . . and it came out before Shrek.)

Seeing a PG rating on an animated movie told me that the ratings board was finally cluing in: just because something is drawn doesn't mean the content won't impact the audience.

The discussion with my kids was awesome. They were getting it. Let's just say that this dinner table talk thing is getting fun. As much as I freak out about my kids aging, they're sure at a fun stage right now.


Heffalump said...

We use to find out the content of movies before we rent them. They have a chart that will list things like language, sex and nudity, tense family moments, etc and say how much or little there is. You can also scroll down and it will tell you exactly how much bad language and which types of words are used and exactly what other kinds of content there are. The sex and nudity section includes things like cleavage or the camera zooming in on a clothed rear end. Using screenit has saved us a lot of money as far as not renting certain movies. We use the free version (just scroll down to the bottom of the main page and click no thanks...

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

This is definitely an important discussion for any family to have. Personally, I think that ratings have little or no meaning. We won't be deciding what our kids watch based on them, and I want to discuss with them the why's of that. Unforuntately, the rating system is so dang convenient for some parents that they seem to base all their decisions on it. I hope we don't ever fall into that pattern. Fascinating post, Annette.

InkMom said...

Three things.

First. Have you read/seen/heard Elder Bednar's YA fireside given this past May? It's called "Things as They Really Are" (I think) and he speaks at great length about the concept of fidelity (in the true-to-life sense of the word) in on-line gaming and virtual relationships. Very interesting, and very timely.

Second. There are a few -- a very few -- R-rated movies that I have, after careful research, sought out and watched on purpose, and that I have been very glad to have seen. Take, for example, Schindler's List. To make that movie any less intense, less violent would have whitewashed something that happened -- something that actually was R-rated (at least!) in reality. I am glad I saw that movie because it broadened my perspective in a way that could not have happened in another way. To a degree, I feel the same way about literature. In Sue Monk Kidd's "Secret Life of Bees", Lily's father mistreats her, verbally abuses her, is just an all around unsavory guy. But not writing about it does not mean that it doesn't happen. The trick is in writing about it enough to get the idea across without being too explicit. Same goes for movies. I have no tolerance for explicit sex in movies. But sometimes the violence -- even the language -- is essential to the thesis of the filmmaker, or the development of a particular character, and that's what I ask myself when I'm evaluating something I've seen, or thinking about seeing, and in what I'm reading. Is this look at the baser side of humanity going to help me understand what's going on? Or is it going to debase me to such a degree spiritually that it's not worth watching/reading?

Very interesting post.

Third. MommyJ is my sister, and she says you're great. She's right!

Melanie Jacobson said...

I use to check ratings. That's how I decided the Zelda you mentioned is fine for my son and that it would be good for me to see Slumdog Millionaire (and it was). I have the exact same opinon as you about making informed viewing/playing decisions because the ratings are pretty arbitrary, so I won't go on. But good post.

Kristina P. said...

This is exactly why I hate the US rating system. And I know that the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet was changed a lot time ago to replace no R rated movies, with watching movies that are uplifting.

I watch R rated movies. And frankly, I can't believe some of the stuff right now that gets away with a PG-13 rating.

My friends and I joked all the time when I lived in Provo and everyone was seeing Titanic. You see bare breasts for like 3 minutes! But that was OK because it was PG-13. However, Saving Private Ryan came out a little after, and it was a huge no-no because it was Rated R. And yet it was a great, historical movie.

I'm not trying to justify what I watch, but I do take things on a case by case basis. And there are PG-13 movies that I think are horrible.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are very careful with both movies and games in our household. We've avid gamers. We like to play and we like to play with our children. Because of the HUGE selection of games out there, we have to be very vigilant and aware of what's available to our children. I wholeheartedly agree with you about Medal of Honor and games like it. We do not have "shooting games" or "war games" in our home. We make a point of researching and reviewing every game or movie before it crosses our threshold. The rating system doesn't guarantee us anything when it comes to content so we have to pay attention for ourselves.

I'm also with you on the kids and dinner-time dicussion. I'm loving the ages they're getting to. Yes, I'm sad that they're growing up but at the same time, I'm just so frickin' excited to get to know the people they are. I really like my children. Not just love them. I like who they are and who they're becoming. Preferred company, indeed!

CB said...

What a great topic for family discussion! It is so important.

I agree with everything you said and the Finnish R-rated movie cracked me up. I picture a red faced mission President - hee hee.

The other thing I thought of is that our US rating system used to be tougher. Movies that were rated R in the 80's would easily be rated PG now - think Dirty Dancing or Pretty Woman or Terminator - all of those were Rated R when they came out but comparable movies nowadays barely get a PG rating. You really have to be careful. There was a movie that came out last summer that had full on frontal (boob) nudity and it was rated PG-13. I am so glad my kids were not with me and I was out with my girlfriends and I am still shocked by it.
Great topic.

Rebecca Irvine said...

I recently sent an e-mail out to neighboring parents about some video games I felt were inappropriate--and ended up getting one boy grounded for a while. I did not mean to, but I would rather err on the side of caution than otherwise. Ratings can be helpful if parents are willing to use them. Some just don't, which is sad.

Jenny P. said...

Great post, and great topic. Some of my very favorite movies are rated R. The Patriot, Last of the Mohiccans, The Pianist, Schindler's List. And yet, just a few months ago, my husband and I watched a PG-13 movie that we turned off half way through because it was filthy disgusting horrible and so terribly offensive. It doesn't always make sense. Awareness is the best tool against it, that's for sure. :)

Sandra said...

I had this same discussion with my boys this morning when they asked if they could watch a movie that I had but they were not allowed to just watch because of the rating. I had put it with the family movie collection because I thought it was ok for them to see. I explained why it had that particular rating and then told them to decide if they were ok with the scene that gave the raiting.

I, too, love that conversations are real conversations and we can talk to each other this way.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Great topic, Annette! My feeling has always been that it's the spirit of the law that's more important. I think everything should be taken on a case by case basis. We have to be thinking watchers and not be so mindless and let organization's rating decide what we'll watch and what we won't. I do think too many Mormons go by letter of the law on this one and can get very judgmental of others who choose to make informed decisions.

Amber Lynae said...

That is interesting table talk. My hubby is a gamer, and I sometimes get a little uppity over the games he plays. Especially with out little girl in the room. He forgets how impressionable a child is.

And I agree that movies should be approached on a case by case basis.

Cynthia said...

I agree with your synopsis.

We were in a bit of a catch 22 over the weekend because we took the kids to the Drive In to see "Aliens in the Attic". We didn't imagine it would be rated PG-13! It's a kids show!?

We're B-list Mormons so we decided to see it anyway, even with the kids. I'm not sure WHY it had that rating. Ashley Tisdale does spend a good portion of the movie in a bikini and there is a story line with her older boyfriend pressuring her for physical intimacy which she DOES NOT go for but it's so veiled that my kids didn't pick up any of that part of the story line. If they had, the message was at least positive- anyone who really loves you wouldn't pressure you to do things you don't want to/ aren't ready to do.

Other than that- it was a cute but not really scary show. Go figure.

charrette said...

I'm visiting from Luisa. Although I've stopped in before.

Kudos to you for teaching your children to navigate the media world responsibly and reasonably! My husband is a filmmaker and we know the power of moving images. It drives us crazy when people allow a random group of people who make up the ratings board to govern their choices as though it were decreed from heaven. We also don't think a PG rating makes it automatically okay.

We always ask 'What is about?' (Meaning what are the themes, what does it teach?)and 'Was it worth it?' (Meaning did you have to wade through a bunch of foul language or locker-room humor to arrive at that insight?)

charrette said...

p.s. My husband used to work for a publication called Entertainment Research Report. It doesn't evaluate principles or values. Just gives a numerical tally of anything that might be offensive. So we used to sit in movies and tally up the swear words. Which seemed sort of ludicrous. Until Jeff had to see Goodfellas. 256 f-words. Nothing is worth that. Yeah, sometimes the count actually does make a difference.

Sher said...

I know I'm a little more desensitized than some people, but I do try to censor what I watch, and of course, what my kids watch.
Honestly, I look less at the actual rating and more at the content. Because I think the ratings are horribly inconsistent. So, anything that says BN, SC, or BV I shy away from. I've learned from unfortunate experiences that Brief Nudity, might actually mean gratuitous sex scene, and Adult Situations, might be a kissing scene.
They really need to come up with a better system.

Josi said...

I find ratings so frustrating--case in point, the new Ice Age movie commercials shows more than one scene that involves the discussion (or mistaken identity) of genitals--accidentally milking a male water buffalo, and then determining a child's sex mistakenly before looking. It angers me that in a child's film they would resort to that kind of humor. It isn't necessary. Kids laugh easily. Anyway, I have big issues with ratings and find them very frustrating. We're also trying to get our kids to understand how it works, it's a hard thing to do when some freinds can watch anything and other freinds can't watch anything. My kids fall in the middle.

I like and check it before most movies we go to, I find it helps me know what to expect.

Helena said...

We just read I Capture the Castle for our ward book club. There's a movie, but I understand it's rated R for a brief flash of nudity in a skinny-dipping-in-the-moat scene. Which means we certainly can't watch it for an official activity.

Chas Hathaway said...

I am amazed at how responsible kids get when they are simply taught right. I like your approach, and it's a good lesson that just looking at the rating is not enough.

Anything that lures us away from the Savior can be terribly destructive, and in the media-driven society that we live in, we have to be SO careful!

- Chas

Randi said...

I would LOVE to have your daughter's website. This is a huge topic of discussion at our house almost weekly.


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