Little Timmy Goes to the Movies

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It is one of parents’ worst nightmares. Sitting beside their child watching a seemingly innocent film, they are suddenly struck with a full nudity sex scene. A panicked fumble for the remote’s stop button ensues, as well as the comment of sheer disbelief: “But it was rated ‘G’!” What was intended as a delightful family movie night has turned into Little Timmy’s first introduction to the birds and the bees. Oh, the horror.
Since 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) created its voluntary film rating system, parents have depended on it and similar institutions to guide them in choosing appropriate movies for their children. Actually, people of all ages use movie ratings to determine if a film is right for them. Contrary to the United States’ national system, nearly every Canadian province has its own rating system. However, the Canadian Rating System for Home Videos (CHV) sticker is required alongside the provincial one in every province and territory except Quebec. The Régie du cinema takes care of labeling films in Quebec, but CHV stickers will commonly be seen. Since most movie trailers shown in Canada originate in the States, they will also bear an MPAA rating. So, in the final calculation, most Quebecers have three ratings to decipher, none of which fulfill their self-proclaimed duty of properly informing the viewer as to their content.
In order to understand why Little Timmy’s movie night went so wrong, we need to review the three present rating systems in Quebec. MPAA and CHV have similar descriptions for the ‘G’ rating. Movies with this sticker are suitable for all audiences including children and have no offensive content. They also stress that a ‘G’ movie is not necessarily a children’s film. To the Régie, however, this rating has a significantly different meaning. On its web site, the Régie states that ‘G’ movies might “offend the sensibilities of children under eight years of age” and can even contain instances of nudity, violence, and expletives. Not exactly Winnie the Pooh, is it? A possible explanation for this not-so-innocent ‘G’ label may lie in the lack of a ‘PG’ rating in Quebec. Whereas both MPAA and CHV have this rating in order to bridge the gap between ‘G’ and ‘13+’, the Régie decided to exclude it. The importance of the ‘PG’ label is to warn that, unlike its cleaner counterpart, a movie rated with it needs to be examined to determine if it’s appropriate or not. Because of the habit of seeing MPAA ratings, most people have a “‘G’ equals safe” idea imprinted in their minds. In Quebec, this is not the case.
Examples of the flaws in the Régie’s system are not hard to find when comparing three ‘G’ labeled DVDs. If a child, completely unaware of content, were to choose three ‘G’ rated movies from the rental store, here is one scary possibility: Finding Nemo, Hotel Rwanda, and Trailer Park Boys: Season One. Imagine those viewings on family movie night. If, however, a parent were to glance at the CHV rating, it would become obvious that the last two are not suitable for their child. Trailer Park Boys received ‘18A’ primarily for language and Hotel Rwanda has a ‘14A’ sticker for violence and heavy content matter. This is but one instance of how contradicting movie rating systems can cause problems for parents and conscientious viewers.
Another weakness in the rating system is the assumptions made about how children and teenagers perceive certain content. For example, in its description of the ‘G’ rating, the Régie writes that “The tone and genre of the film are important elements in the decision-making process: scenes of violence in a comedy or adventure film centering [sic] on a hero who is larger than life do not have the same impact on children as those in a more realistic film.” This says that violence in comedies and adventure films as well as in fantasies and science fiction movies has a lesser impact on children. Although some children are able to discern a realistic film from a fantasy one, heavy content can still cause trauma. If I was five again and saw Carrot the Magical Bunny get his head chopped off, I would be distraught. A similar problem lies in the ‘13+’ category. The Régie states that “Teenage viewers are more aware of the fact that a movie is not reality and are therefore better psychologically prepared to follow more complex or dramatic films.” While this may be true, and the system carefully reviews heavier content to make sure that it will be properly understood by teens, there is danger in lumping all teens into one category.
What MPAA, CHV, and the Régie all have in common is that they base their labels more or less on age groups. ‘13+’, ‘14A’, ‘18A’, and ‘NC-17’ are all stickers seen in these systems. As many people rent or view movies blindly, meaning they base their choice as to whether its appropriate or not solely on that rating, they could be in for a shock similar to Little Timmy’s. Just as some teenagers experiment with various things early on and some later in their adolescence, the way they react to movie content will follow suit. Therefore, one 13-year-old may be at ease with watching a sex scene or gory violence whereas another may feel very uncomfortable. That is why the rating sticker itself is not enough on which to base a “view or not to view” decision. One must fully evaluate the content and how it ties in with the story.
Thankfully, there are many concerned parents and moviegoers taken it upon themselves to create alternatives to the current rating systems in both the United States and Canada. There are several web sites that describe in great detail the possibly offensive or inappropriate content of movies. Kids-in-mind.com is a good example. It rates movie on a 10-point scale in three categories: Sex & Nudity, Violence & Gore, and Profanity. It also lists every instance of those three sections in detail. Other sites have different ways of grading the movies, but they all give accurate information and restrain from critiquing the films that they rate.
While movie ratings coming from MPAA, CHV, and the Régie du cinéma do provide a general sense as to the film’s content and to whom it may be disturbing or offensive, they lack the information needed to know if its right for each specific viewer. For children, checking out web sites like the ones described above is a good idea to ensure that the movie is suitable not only to their age but to the ideas they can understand and accept. The same goes for movies with higher ratings such as CHV’s ‘18A’ or MPAA’s ‘R’. One should not discard a such movie without understanding why it was given its rating. Use of strong language, even not excessively, can warrant a harsh sticker, just as the presence of one nude scene can. Such things may not offend someone who is accustomed to renting ‘PG-13’ or ‘14A’ films. In the end, it comes down to a gut feeling. When choosing an appropriate movie that you or children will be comfortable watching, make the decision based on how you or they will react to the content. That way, they won’t have to endure the hour-long sex talk Little Timmy received.





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