As someone who lives in Los Angeles, I see a shit ton of billboards. Usually some just make me laugh (AdultCon and HempCon are things that exist). Others make me wonder what they’re trying to achieve (multiple billboards of the same product within a mile radius of each other). But during the heavy promotional campaign for FX’s new show The Strain, I was taken aback by how grotesque and in your face the advertisements for that show were.
It’s not the most disgusting promotional piece to ever stare down at pedestrians. And hell, it’s certainly representative of the gore in the show (The Strain is disgusting and I love it). But then I remembered further back to Eva Green’s poster for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For. The MPAA had the original posters disapproved for “nudity – curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown,” which is understandable, since nipples are taboo unless they’re on a man. But if a poster involving nudity is forced to undergo changes, shouldn’t a billboard with a worm burrowing into the cornea of a human being at least be looked at again?
Younger audience members will be exposed to nudity as they get older. Whether they’re searching the internet for “Best Nude Scenes” or experience it first hand, it’s the state of the world we live in. What people tend to forget is that not everyone is exposed to violence first hand. Not to say that fictionalized violence is on the same level as actual tragedies or loss of life. The fact that the MPAA rating system is more comfortable with showing massive amounts of carnage rather than sexual content says a whole lot of fucked up things about our culture. Some of you might think that’s harsh, so I’ll clarify.
Depending on what movies gain support and are championed by audiences reflects on the current state of our society. It’s why I get so disappointed when something like a Transformers sequel makes over a billion dollars at the box office (REMINDER: Transformers 3 had our “hero” robots sacrifice millions of lives to prove a point and murder unarmed opponents). It’s why I cheer when we get a movie like Her, a movie with some strong language, sexual content, and brief nudity. Can you guess which one of these movies is rated R? Hint: Not the one with mass genocide. Nope. Instead, the movie that focuses on exploring all aspects of love and interaction between human beings gets slapped with the hard R. Her is also home to the best sex scene in recent memory, but even this scene has a fade to black before opening to a view of the Los Angeles skyline. This movie has something to say about the relationship between ourselves and technology. It just receives a slap on the wrist for fornication and having an adorable video game character blurting out “Fuck you!” repeatedly.
I’ve brought it up plenty of times, but I adore action movies. Who doesn’t? Shit, the Expendables franchise has made a living on harkening back to the gore-filled action movies of the 80’s. There is a time and place for everything. You can imagine my shock when it was revealed that the most recent installment, Expendables 3, didn’t push for a hard R rating like its predecessors. After having seen the movie, I can tell you the only difference between this and the previous two movies in regards to the violence is the fake CGI blood and some dismemberment. Is that really all it takes to get a PG-13 rating? Endless amounts of slaughter with minimal blood splatter effects and minimal F bombs (only one or two if I’m not mistaken), so all is forgiven? The problem lies deeper than the PG-13 to R ratings. It’s the rating system itself.
When this system was first implemented, it was a different time. There were no internet streaming services. PG-13 didn’t exist. The rating system covered broad strokes that didn’t apply to the variety of ways we consume our media nowadays. It’s outdated. It only lives to act as a barrier on creativity and exposure. Of course that isn’t the function of ratings, but just look at this 2014’s early addition to the Greats category, Boyhood: A film examining the growth of a young boy and his family over the course of 12 years. Boyhood is rated R for language including sexual references, teen drug and alcohol use. Shocker, I know. The poignancy of this story is more important than any rating the MPAA could have given it. The movie has resonated with audiences in such a profound manner that several theaters have actually decided to use this movie as an exception to the R restrictions. Maybe this is a sign of future reactions to the rating system?
I’m not the first person to discuss this topic, I sure as shit won’t be the last. The late-great Roger Ebert had a solution that is much smarter than anything I could ever think of. In his article, “Getting Real About Movie Ratings”, he proposes:
Perhaps only three categories are needed: “G,” for young audiences, “T” for teenagers, and “A” for adults. These categories would be not be keyed to specific content but would reflect the board’s considered advice about a film’s gestalt and intended audience. At a time when literally any content can find its way into most American homes, what’s the point of singling out theatrical films? It’s time to admit we’ve lost our innocence.
While we may have lost our innocence, that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our way. We can adapt to these new environments. It’s what we do on a daily basis. We adapt to survive. The symbiotic relationship for movies and ratings can survive too. They just need to work together to find a modern common ground.