Put aside for a moment the alleged LDS prohibition on viewing R-rated movies (I know that’s asking a lot from this group). Imagine a world in which no reference to movie “ratings” has ever been voiced by any of the Brethren, but a general admonition to follow the “Admonition of Paul” is in force. What I want to know is: “What kind of movies should good LDS members watch, and what kind shouldn’t they watch?” Most critical commentary on the “No R-rated movies standard” tends to condemn the MPAA’s rating system as “arbitrary,” “flawed,” and a poor guide to determining what is worth viewing and what isn’t. But if there were a perfect standard, or at least a hypothetical rating system that incorporated all the sophisticated concerns and nuanced criteria you think should count toward determining whether a film is acceptable, what would that standard look like? This may seem like a simple question, but I don’t think it is. Most LDS discussions of R-rated movie-watching confront it in passing, but not directly. Some specific questions:
(1) Surely there are fantastic, moving, amazing films very much worth watching, notwithstanding the fact they contain some offensive material. Surely there are other films that have lots of redeeming qualities but that are not worth watching, as their offensive content definitively outweighs the good they contain. Are there rules of thumb for determining how to distinguish between these two types of films? Where do we draw the line? Is there some sort of objective standard we can devise, or does it “just depend” on each person and his/her particular sensitivities? Whatever the answer, I don’t think the mere act of pointing out that Violent Film X or Sexual Film Y “contains some inspirational moments so we should see them anyway” is a sufficient answer.
(2) Where does everyone come down on the classic “sex vs. violence” question? One line of argument holds that gratuitous violence in film is worse than gratuitous sex. After all, isn’t murder worse than a little fornication? Would you rather that Little Johnny imitate the axe murderer or the horny teenager on screen? On the other hand, another line of argument has it that gratuitous sex is worse than gratuitous violence. Little Johnny is quite likely to experience a genuine sexual response to Kim Basinger fooling around with Mickey Rourke (and we don’t want that). He is less likely to genuinely get the urge to go on a killing spree just because he saw Charles Bronson do it. Is there a unique LDS perspective on this question?
(3) Assuming that “violence” and “foul language” are generally to be avoided, what exactly are we avoiding and when? Suppose I’m deciding between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest splatterfest, or a serious film about gang violence like “Boyz in the Hood.” Is the murder and mayhem of “Boyz in the Hood” more important to avoid, as it is more realistic and therefore more intense, or is Arnold’s film to be more fervently avoided, as its violence is “gratuitous,” rather than a realistic portrayal? Are the frequent cuss words in “Boyz in the Hood” more offensive than those in Arnold’s film because they portray gang life “as it really is”, or are they less offensive for that reason?
(4) Many decry the “desensitization” that accompanies frequent exposure to violence or bad language in cinema. I agree that desensitization is a real phenomenon and that I, personally, have been thoroughly desensitized. (I know this because I was sickened by certain scenes in “Robocop” when I first saw it, and now they seem like no big deal). Is my desensitization only a problem to the extent that I imitate the foul language I hear in my speech, or act out violently in imitation of what I see? Or is there something about the very act of desensitization, per se, that is a problem, regardless of any observable consequences?
(5) The only way to really know the content of a film, and thus know whether it meets your content standard or not, is to view the film. But if you have to view a film to truly know whether or not you should view a film, you’re really not in a position to ever avoid the films you should avoid, are you? So isn’t some sort of ratings system, MPAA or otherwise, ultimately necessary, regardless of its flaws?
(6) Can we all at least agree that the most offensive film of all time is “Turner & Hooch?” I think I’d rather sit through “Faces of Death” and a truckload of gay porn than have to watch that drooling dog again. Disgusting.