We took our almost 17-year-old son to see the R-rated “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a movie that could easily be renamed “A Comprehensive Review of American Pornography, Substance Abuse and Profanity Disguised as a Movie about Global Finance.”
That was our first parenting mistake, some would say.
Mistake No. 2 was not expecting “Dallas Buyers Club,” an R-rated movie about a hard-drinking, hard-drugging Texas cowboy with AIDS, to depict the sordid underbelly of this man’s disease.
We brought our son along to that one, too, as we engaged in our annual race to see the Academy Award’s best-picture nominees before the awards show March 2.
It’s a fun thing my husband and I have done every year for the past 10 or so, dating back to at least 2004.
That was the year Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” won the Oscar for best picture, and “The Incredibles” won for best animated feature film.
That was also the year the Harvard School of Public Health completed the first critical review of the movie industry’s ratings system. The study, of movies released between 1992 and 2003, concluded that “ratings creep” was at play, that “movies contain significantly more violence, sex and profanity on average than movies of the same rating a decade ago.”
The Harvard study has since been corroborated by other research projects, including a detailed review by Ohio State University of 800 movies released between 1950 and 2012. Published last year in the journal “Pediatrics,” the study revealed, among other disturbing trends, that gun use in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985.
“If parents are basing their experience on (movies) from a long time ago, maybe they need to get recalibrated,” the co-author of the Harvard study, Dr. Kimberly Thompson, told USA Today. “The reality is, the ratings don’t mean what they did 10 years ago.”
It is important to note that the ratings system is generally voluntary. There are no ratings police checking IDs or waiting with a paddy wagon at the Regal ticket counter to take noncompliant parents to jail.
Nor is there any clear juris prudence governing the ratings system. Established in 1968 by the movie industry, the ratings system is an advisory tool only, designed to help parents make decisions about which movies to let their children view. The only requirement necessary to be on the ratings committee is parenting, says the MPAA. There are not even any set criteria, at least according to the MPAA, for determining a particular rating. The committee, of as many as 15 American parents at any one time from Florida to North Dakota, is told simply to make sure it “reflects the current values of the majority of American parents.”
And therein lies the rub.
There was a time, so they say, when all us parents, church, school and neighborhood shared the same values.
These days, I know “good parents” who let their kids play violent video games and “good parents” who don’t. Within my cohort are parents who don’t understand why I’m still trying to exert some control over the movies my son sees and others who think I exhibited a major lapse in judgment when I took him to “Wolf.”
Indeed, I’d like to know exactly what the current American values are that this rating board is trying to reflect.
I remain disappointed in a ratings system that let a movie like “Wolf” – described by one critic as the most profane movie Hollywood has ever made – slip by. Maybe, instead of a simple R rating (under 17 must be accompanied by a parent), the movie should have been rated the more restrictive NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted). Or banned. Or at the very least, sent back to the editing room.
But I’m more disappointed in me.
Had I been doing my job, as soon as my son announced he was interested in seeing the Academy Award nominees this year with his dad and me, I would have browsed one of half a dozen excellent parenting movie review web sites (www.commonsensemedia.org, www.kids-in-mind.com) – like I used to when I was considering PG-13 movies for my preteens.
The ratings system is only advisory, I realize ever more so now. I, meanwhile, am still the parent.