The film Consuming Kids talks about ratings creep—that is, the tendency of the film rating board to allow more and more images and situations to appear in more stringently rated movies, mainly because we just get used to them. So sexual situations, violent acts and language that might once have made a movie R-rated, is seen in more recent years in a PG-13.
As we watched the 2010 film Red with the boys, I was reminded of this tendency. The movie is rated PG-13. In one of the first scenes, a man is seen with a rope around his neck, standing on a table, and begging for his life. Another man callously kicks the table out from under him and he hangs by his neck. We have no idea what the situation is or who the men are. The scene struck me as very disturbing. My son is 12 and he has of course seen lots of violence in movies. All the other explosions, shooting, etc. in this movie? Eh. He knows it’s all fake. In fact, it’s kind of a satire of action movies. But I wanted to put my hand over his eyes for this scene. It wasn’t graphic, but the image stuck with me. I thought this alone should have made the movie an R.
Meanwhile, there’s this. Throughout the movie the language is rather tamer than other PG-13s I’ve seen, but then at the end, there is a “F*** you, Cynthia.” Now that’s interesting, because it reminded me of the movie Lost in America, in which Albert Brooks’ character delivers a passionate and comically well-timed “F*** you” to his boss. It was, I must say, actually really appropriate. Unlike the comment in Red, which was frankly a hackneyed usage. The point, though, is that Lost in America, made in 1985, is rated R just for this one incident of profanity, as far as I can tell.
What’s the greater meaning? I don’t know. People do get used to things. The community standards are different now than they were in 1956. Probably it would be good for parents to be aware of ratings creep. It happens in television ratings too. So you have to use your own judgment as to whether something rated TV-14 is ok for your own 14-year-old. (My use of this prerogative annoys the heck out of my 14-year-old son.)
Also, one disturbing image isn’t going to do a great deal of harm, but many disturbing images might. I do think it’s worth limiting the total amount of violent images that children see.