Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 30/01/97

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

Really stupid ways to rate films

A rare Gusworld warning: if you're a devout Catholic, you are quite likely to be offended by today's rant.

When I saw the book The Family Guide To Movies And Videos remaindered for $3.95 at my local bookstore, I knew it was likely to afford me some little amusement. With a catchline like "Know what your children are watching" and a back page promise to "warn of gratuitous sex, violence or bad language", I was expecting the usual right-wing ranting about the dangers of copulation and the f-word in movies, and why don't we all support Disney, anyhow?

What the front cover doesn't make clear is that the guide is produced by the Department of Communications in the United States Catholic Conference (USCC). Yes, the religion that brought you guilt as a way of life, bans on contraception in massively overpopulated third-world countries and disgusting accumulations of wealth in the Vatican has now turned its hand to movie reviewing. Not only do you get a description of the various "undesirable" elements to be found in movies, you also get a guide as to whether the film in question is "morally offensive" and therefore unsuitable for viewing by practically anybody.

We'll get to what constitutes a "morally offensive" movie in a moment, but it's worth noting that even the introduction captures a stunning mix of stupidity, arrogance and xenophobia. Editor Henry Herx writes:

Youngsters are the most vulnerable to current screen fare and need some assistance in selecting movies that help them grow without false values and wrong ideals. This was not always a problem . . .

The genius of American movies [prior to World War II] was their appeal to the entire family. For the most part, they were simple stories told well. They were relatively inexpensive fare, easily affordable for most, and they became a regular habit.

Obviously Herx didn't stop to think about the endless scenes of war and carnage popular in silent films, the stylised orgy sequences that drew in the crowds, or the fact that movies were being made outside of America well before the 1960s. Nor does he contemplate the racism, intolerance for difference, and general bigotry that can be found in literally thousands of Hollywood 'classics' from this period. But hey, what's a little anti-Semitism as long as there's no swearing?

Because yep, that's pretty much all you need to qualify as morally offensive: a little swearing and any reference (even implied) to sex outside of marriage will pretty much do it. Oh that words could have such power! As someone who has probably spent more time thinking about swearing than the entire USCC has ever devoted to having a logical thought, I find this whole attitude laughable. Inevitably, of course, it leads to blanket dismissals of intelligent, thought-provoking and otherwise interesting films.

Take Michael Lehmann's stunning 1989 comedy Heathers, for instance, a hilarious and all-too-accurate portrayal of the horrors of high school in which Winona Ryder and Christian Slater find some solace by killing off the popular airheads who control Westerberg High. That sounds a trite description, but the film captures the feeling of a 1980s high school and the horrors of adolescence in a manner more realistic than practically anything else I've ever seen. The USCC verdict? The movie is "pointless" and "grisly". And its major flaws? "Intense profanity, teen promiscuity and much mocking of the value of human life". Of course, if you don't expose your kids to these things on film, they'll never see them in a real high school, will they? No such thing as a pregnant girl at a Catholic school, now is there?

Other morally offensive movies, according to the USCC, include Flashdance ("some nudity"); A Fish Called Wanda ("running gags offending animal lovers, stutterers and probably everyone else"); Airplane II ("quite a bit of nudity"); Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life ("vile bile . . . graphic nudity and an attack on formal religion"); and, among many other Bond films, A View To A Kill ("a benign view of promiscuity"). So much for the redeeming power of humour.

And it wouldn't be the Catholic Church without a healthy dose of sexism. The innocuous 1980 comedy 9 To 5 is not actually dismissed as morally offensive, but a warning is issued to parents that "the male-dominance theme is inverted". Heaven forbid your offspring see a film where the men weren't running the whole show while the women darned socks and got knocked up a lot.

Telling the USCC to pull its head out of the sand is probably about as sensible as telling John Howard to get a clue, but flicking through this volume really makes you want to yell at them. The underlying assumption -- that blocking your children's access to divergent views of the world on film will make them more morally rounded individuals -- is so stupid, it's criminal. Animals kept in cages tend to wither and die; the same is true of people.

I could go on with exhaustive examples of this crap, but if you're still in need of a laugh, you'll be glad to know that a selection of up-to-date ratings under the system (the book is from 1993) can be found on the Web. You'd probably guess that Seven gets the flick, but would you imagine that Drop Dead Fred was "not suitable for kids"?

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