Note: After a couple failed attempts at wrangling the subject of age appropriate films into a single post, I wisely decided that this subject is Bigger Than Both of Us, so I’ll be tackling the issue in bite-sized chunks more appropriate to the blog venue. Indeed, age-appropriateness and censorship in films, books, and music, was a topic we came back to frequently in The Knucklehead’s upbringing. And that’s parenting when it comes to the big topics: you revisit, you revisit, you revisit. Lots of little talks are better than one big one (and both are much, much better than silence). So for today, a few words about the MPAA, and their role in regulating your Knucklehead’s viewing.
Also Note: At times it may appear that I am spewing venom at the MPAA. It is not my attempt to come across as a petulant, finger-pointing whiner. Yet. I was hoping to surprise you with that side of me at a much later date, but the MPAA being what it is, and me being who I am, here we are. You may disagree with my objections to the MPAA, and you may be right, but I hope my occasional diatribishness (like that one?) doesn’t stand in the way of the point I’m trying to make: we, as parents, are the responsible parties here.
Also also Note: As long as we’re talking, I’m aware that it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, longer than the weekly posts I’d promised myself I’d do. It’s the fault of the baseball playoffs, which have occupied my evenings, keeping me from writing. I felt guilty about that, and then I realized that at least half this blog is about baseball, so isn’t it reasonable that I should take some time to watch baseball while I can? Who are YOU, really, to make these demands on my time? Perhaps it’s YOU who should be feeling guilty here.
Also, etc., Note to Self: Probably not a good idea to alienate what readership I have.
Where was I? Oh, yes.
The MPAA is worthless. I don’t mean that unkindly.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the organization that’s responsible for setting the ratings on the films we all see in the theater. You know, G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. When this system is functioning at its best, with the attention and thoughtfulness toward protection of our families weighed alongside artistic expression and free speech, the MPAA is capable only of alerting the general population to what the Average American Knucklehead might safely enjoy. Here’s the thing: the MPAA is never, ever functioning at its best. And even if it were, you get into a lot of trouble when you try to take what’s right for a population and apply it to an individual.
Case in point: My brother and I are splitting a bottle of wine one night and talking about this very subject. I’m astonished when he mentions that his Knucklehead enjoyed both Jurassic Park and Jaws at an elementary school age. I’m floored. Jaws, especially, was my first experience as an adolescent of being completely terrified in a movie theater. Like many of my generation, I had nightmares for weeks, months after the – there’s no other word for it – the trauma of having seen that in a movie theater. These are both movies that to me, are essentially horror movies, and since they’re both so well directed, turn out to be particularly, well, horrifying. My brother’s Knucklehead shrugged both of those movies right off (interestingly, in much the same way I’d shrugged off The Towering Inferno as a kid the year before – my buddies and I thought that one was a hoot). What shocked my brother? The fact that I’d let my Knucklehead see ET at the same age. My brother saw the emotional trauma of that film (and I’d never considered that until then) too much for a young kid.
The point isn’t that you have to keep your kids away from Steven Spielberg. By all means, get your kids accustomed to quality story-telling right off the bat. The point is that you have to know your Knucklehead. Let me say that again, in all caps: KNOW YOUR KNUCKLEHEAD. Know what kinds of things set off your kid. Know what your kid’s empathy levels are, and try to see the story from your kid’s point of view. Know what your kid has seen in the past, what’s upset your kid in the past, what kinds of things in the past have sent your Knucklehead to perseveration. The MPAA cannot know your Knucklehead the way you do. You cannot rely on MPAA ratings alone to judge whether or not a film is appropriate for your kid. And yet, I’m amazed at how many parents seem to rely on a film’s ratings alone to tell them when to shuttle their Knucklehead off to the local Bijouplex.
“Haphazard” doesn’t even describe the way the MPAA works. The MPAA itself cannot describe how it picks people to screen films, except in the broadest possible terms. The MPAA itself cannot explain to their own screeners what the standards are, because there are no written rules for what a G or R rating requires. It is an entirely subjective process, beginning to end. It’s designed to be that vague!
Are you worried about the racist content your Knucklehead might be exposed to? The sexism? The homophobia? The jingoism? The consumerism? Sorry, MPAA won’t even touch that. Even their sworn duty of protecting our All-American Boys from seeing the stray female tit seems to be slipping lately (thank god the battle for keeping the unsheathed penis off the screen seems to have ceded no ground; can’t imagine the mayhem THAT would unleash on our poor kids). Even if the MPAA is covering all the ground you think they should be covering, they still don’t know your Knucklehead. You cannot rely on them to do all the parental recon for you.
But that’s what it is to be a parent, isn’t it? In the end, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own Knuckleheads’ development. It would be great to say, “MPAA, you got this. Whew, that’s one less thing I’ll have to stay on top of.” Seriously, that would be a huge relief. But it’s still up to us to check in, to make the adjustments, to be sure. Found a great school with a great teacher? Fantastic, you hit the jackpot. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for checking in on your kid’s progress. You still have to stay in touch with the homework, and the projects. Want the Boy Scouts or the Church to take over the role of moral education in your Knucklehead’s life? Many people do. But you will still be the final sounding board for what your kid is picking up there, so that makes it important to stay on top of what’s being taught. Even if only to show your Knucklehead that you’re paying attention. That these institutions are helping you, not taking the parenting job off your hands.
So, yeah, in the end, you have to check out these movies on your own. Many’s the time I’ve sat in a theater alone, or rented a movie to watch myself before I turn my Knucklehead loose on it. You can have help. Learn which of your friends or relatives have values that match your own, and rely on their advice from time to time to test how close that match is. Here’s another idea: whenever you see a kid’s movie, go out and read every review of it you can find. As you find reviewers who felt the same way you did about the film, remember who they were (not just the publication, but the byline, the person. For example, not just that Time magazine, for example, agreed with you, but maybe Richard Corliss of Time magazine agreed with you). In time, you’ll learn which reviewers can help you pick a film to see with your Knucklehead that your friends haven’t seen yet (this method also works well with finding reviewers who can steer you toward films you yourself may like). But what you cannot do is just job the responsibility out and forget about it, as tempting as it can be. That’s what makes parenting so hard. And worth it.
Final Note: Sorry about all the italics. But I’m used to writing on Facebook, which doesn’t have italics, so it’ll be a while until I get it out of my system. Wheeeeee!