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Rating the Ratings

Betsy Hart 30 April 2008 One Comment

I went to see “Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed” the new Ben Stein Documentary, last Friday.

But this isn’t about the movie, though it is well done. (The purpose of the film is to show how utterly closed the scientific community is to any notion of “Intelligent Design.”)

This is about the fact that I apparently took a big risk in going to the theater to see it with my kids in tow.

Why? The movie was rated “PG” for thematic material, some disturbing images. . . and “brief smoking.”

Brief smoking? Yes, be prepared for what any little eyes might see. Two clips of Edward R. Murrow from the 1950s are included in which he is, well, actually smoking a cigarette.

Now, let the record show I don’t smoke, and for the most part I think people who do are kinda kooky. (Though for me, as bad as the health consequences clearly are, it’s less about my lungs than about those little lines women who smoke get around their mouths) But the point is I don’t do it, I don’t like it, and my kids know they’d better not dare try it because in that case the “health consequences” from smoking would come primarily from me.

But Hollywood – HOLLYWOOD? – working to “protect” families from evils like. . . smoking? Excuse me if I’m not overwhelmed by their concern for my family’s physical and emotional well being.

Dan Glickman, of the the Motion Picture Association of America (The MPAA), said in adopting the new standards on smoking in May 2007, “descriptions on sex, violence and language that accompany movie ratings now will include such phrases as “glamorized smoking” or “pervasive smoking.” (Some advocacy groups wanted films with depictions of smoking to automatically receive an “R” rating. Look for that next.)

So, I guess we’ll not just know if there is smoking in a film, but we’ll know exactly how morally outraged we should be about it ahead of time.

What’s next? Maybe, PG-13 for “Gin and tonic consumption,”or, “depictions of trans-fat intake.” And why in the world stop there? How about, “brief scenes of environmental degradation,” “some CO2 emissions depicted” or “extensive use of fur coats” in this film?

I remember once being in L.A. with a group of associates, sitting down to lunch, and one of the fellows looked up from the menu and quite genuinely asked, “does anyone mind if I order a cheeseburger?”


Excuse me for being cynical, but I have a feeling it’s easy for Hollywood to just feel good without doing good.

If the latter is what Hollywood was actually interested in, there might at least be warnings about things like: “depictions of family break-up,” “children treating parents with rudeness and disrespect,” “narly, unhappy teens are prevelant in this film” or maybe, an R rating for, “totally spiritually empty.”

That’s information a mom could use.

But I don’t expect to see such things, of course, and that’s okay. It’s up to me to deal with the culture, and guide my family’s values in the midst of it. And if the MPAA wants to warn parents about smoking, in and of itself that’s not the problem anyway.

The problem is that Hollywood is merely reflecting a culture in which we are apparently more concerned about whether we normalize smoking – than whether we normalize nihilism.

One Comment »

  • Black Robe (author) said:

    The purpose of the PG rating is that they want to make it more difficult to show this to children at school as they did Al Gore’s steaming pile of global warming hype. You can imagine the sanctimonious principal or school board liberal saying its inappropriate because of the rating and if parents want their children to see this they should rent the dvd. This is about censorship of ideas not of images of Edward R Murrow smoking. As to Ben Stein’s attempt to expose the shockingly closed-minded attitude of academia, Murrow might just tell Ben,”Good Night and Good luck.”

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