In his latest contribution to PopTheology, Daniel Skidmore reflects on the MPAA’s rating system and its implications on the values that it promotes or withholds.
The recent release of Live Free or Die Hard and the filmmakers controversial choice to edit it to garner a PG-13 rating has struck anew in my mind the debate about the Hollywood rating system. The rating system was devised as a way for the motion picture companies to protect themselves from government censorship after the restrictions of the production code were lifted. However, I see many problems with the rating system that currently exists. One problem of Live Free or Die Hard is that it seems to stifle artistic vision via censoring and, at some points, “dumbing down” content in order to acquire the rating that the producers feel will be most lucrative.
What seems the worst about the rating system is that, in my opinion, it does not accurately express the worth and content of films. Recently re-watching Jerry Maguire inspired me to contribut this short essay. This film promoted values such as fidelity, trust, and both personal and professional conscience. However, in stark contrast to Live Free or Die Hard, this film with little violence and an overall morally uplifting message was rated R. Why was Jerry Maguire rated R? Sexuality and language.
Although I am somewhat liberal, I do not wish to put forth an argument that cursing is completely acceptable. There does seem to be a biblical precedence against swearing. Ephesians 4:29 states “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 1 Peter 3:10 declares, “For, Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” James 3:9-12 notes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
Certainly, there are also many biblical stances against adultery and non-marital sex; however, the Bible also celebrates sexuality as seen in the Song of Songs. Thus, looking at the rating system through a biblical perspective one can understand why swearing and sexuality may be seen as problematic and thus warrant a rating that prevents children from viewing a certain film.
On the other hand, I believe that a film, and certainly the Bible, must be looked at as a whole. Reading through Scripture, one can easily note that swearing is not a fundamental issue that is commonly debated or chastised. Further, one can see sexuality and violence throughout the Bible in instances where the behavior is both condoned and condemned. What, then, is a constant emphasis throughout Scripture? The New Testament, in particular, seems to have an overriding message of the golden rule to treat others as you would like to be treated. If one takes a more focused approach to Scripture, then she might not get that message simply from looking at a passage from Revelation.
Films must be looked at in the same way. Surely, rating a film must be more complex than counting curse words or nude seconds. The rating system must take the film as a whole and examine what values it promotes and how it does so. Presently, the rating system fails us all. To return to Live Free or Die Hard vs. Jerry Maguire, let’s look at the entirety of these films. Live Free or Die Hard is an undeniably fun film with an action-packed adrenaline rush touting a message of “kill them all and let God decide.” Jerry Maguire is a comedy-drama that expresses the difficult life choices of men and women who stick to their convictions and accept the consequences and who struggle through the difficulties of love and marriage. I ask the parents reading this (if there are any), which film would you rather have your child or young adult watch?
I would like to conclude with a suggestion and a question? I suggest that, along with a “maturity” rating (which seems inevitable and contrived), there should also be a morality rating. Of course morality is tough to judge; however, in looking at these two films, I believe we can clearly judge which film is more likely to illicit mature discussions of morality. Unfortunately, this film is restricted for viewers under seventeen. Finally, a question. If the Bible was produced as a movie, what should it be rated, and which version would you want to see? Would you like to see a version that truthfully depicts the complex issues that the Bible discusses or one that skirts controversy to garner a rating that the producers believe will be most profitable?