The MPAA is being a bully. It teases us with misleading ratings and then pummels us with violence. It saps all the fun and meaning out of naughty words. It dangles interesting and important films just out of reach. And it holds a stubborn grudge when anyone thinks to complain about it.
Never have we been more irritated by the MPAA’s annoyances than recently with the upcoming documentary “Bully.”
“Bully” captures middle and high school students in their everyday social lives in an effort to point out the cruel behavior of teenage bullies that led one of its student subjects to suicide.
It was bound to be controversial, but the MPAA bestowed the film with an R-rating because it contains “some language,” effectively restricting it from the under-17 teenagers it depicts.
School field trips have been cancelled, teen advocates have generated petitions, producer Harvey Weinstein has threatened to abandon the MPAA, and critics have thrown around as many four-letter words as those used by the kids in the movie.
And after similar controversies with films like “The King’s Speech” and “Blue Valentine,” the latter of which initially received an NC-17 rating, effectively banning it from most movie theaters, it has become clear the MPAA rating scale needs rethinking.
The hypocrisy that one of the “Saw” movies can achieve the same rating as “The King’s Speech” does not need reiterating, but eye rolling and shouting over a few F-bombs will not facilitate change.
The original Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code, which granted its seal of approval to every American movie released throughout Old Hollywood, had a shelf life of 38 years from 1930 to 1968.
Even age wise, it’s safe to say the MPAA is due for a makeover.
But that change came about at a time of upheaval in the movies. The Hays Code was horribly outdated in its outright restriction of violence, nudity and profanity. This was the group that balked at Clark Gable saying, “damn,” so the late ‘60s were clearly a horse of a different color.
Films like “The Pawnbroker” succeeded in portraying nudity because the film was a harrowing Holocaust drama that no one would find erotic. The profanity filled “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” squeaked by censors because of its powerhouse performances and cultural impact. And French and Italian New Wave films would quickly inspire a whole new generation of movies completely different from anything Hollywood had ever seen.
“Bully” and “The King’s Speech” are hardly on the level of a cultural revolution. In fact, the complaints seem almost as petty as the R-rating over a few swear words.
If the changes to the MPAA are going to be drastic, so should the movies inspiring them. Small steps are necessary to move the MPAA into a good place without it completely opening the floodgates to obscene, pornographic material in the way it did with the X-rating in the ‘70s.
One way to simplify this process is by returning to the basics established in the Hays Code. Although the specifics may be hilariously old fashioned, the root of the argument is still as poignant as ever: “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”
We are more than capable of judging movies on a case-by-case basis through the use of a moral compass. There are those movies that beg to be seen and those that thrive in selectivity. History has proven that we are smart enough to tell the difference, whereas a checklist of swear words, genitalia, blood and pelvic thrusts is getting us nowhere.
The MPAA needs to stop being a bully and grow up to know the difference between right and wrong.