There have been some other really good posts on this topic. I will mention only two: Scott B.’s retrospective of other R-rated discussions and his Zeitcast with John C and his brother. In a future bloggernacle retrospective, this post will not be mentioned.
Just prior to returning home from my mission in April 2004 I had an interview with my mission president. Having heard the rumours (read: horror stories) about the advice MP’s have given during those interviews I was prepared to stand my ground in the face of any absurd recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised when my MP suggested that during the next 10 years I should aim to hold a temple recommend, remain active in the church (i.e., hold a calling), pursue education and/or begin establishing my career, and find a partner. He did make one final suggestion. He suggested that while flying home that I should make a list of ‘gospel’ standards that I intended to keep. I do not recall whether he suggested standards around media but during that flight I began thinking about my choices regarding films. I decided that, in reality, I would never stick to a rule that prohibited certificate 15 films but that I could avoid certificate 18 films (see Appendix). [Translation: I would watch some R-rated films but not all].
Since returning from my mission I have only seen two certificate 18 films. It is practically the only standard that remains from that quite hastily made list some 9 years ago and, if I am honest, I am little proud of that. The problem is that I have been rethinking this rule now for quite some time (at least 18 months) and I still unsure whether to relinquish this somewhat arbitrary rule. Below is some of my thinking:
Why I do not watch 18 films?
1. Because I (almost) have not watched one for nine years. As I said above, I am fairly pleased with the fact that I have been able to avoid watching them and I actually feel it would be a shame to (re)start now. The problem with this reason is that fundamentally, as a friend recently remarked, it boils down to an moral principle that finds support in having a ‘good streak’.
2. Many of coreligionists do not: community is important to me and one of ways that I signify my membership in this community is by following media norms. The challenge with this argument is that it is fairly clear to me that not all Mormons agree on whether we should watch R-rated (or 15-, 18-rated) films or not. Moreover, we do not really agree on what is wholesome or not. I suspect, and have good reason to believe, that these standards differ among the GAs as well.
3. Gratuitous violence and sex: I do not believe that all R-rated films are evil or detract from the spirit (I am not really sure what this even means, if I am honest) nor do I think that all non-R-rated films are virtuous. However, if I were to guess, I would argue that films with a higher rating may be more likely to contain sex or violence that I would consider gratuitous. Again definitions are difficult here but I do believe that watching gratuitous violence for enjoyment as a form of enjoyment is some problematic for me. The gorno genre, e.g. Saw, is a good example. The issue is that some non-R-rated films are guilty of this as well (so potentially are certain sports) and I think the issue is not so easy to pin down with regards to sex.
4. I do not trust myself: behind all of these explanations is another disheartening truth. I do not trust myself to avoid watching gratuitous films. For example, I know that I would watch Django Unchained and that I would probably enjoy it. This is problematic because in reality I know that I should be more mature and make those decisions myself according to my own standards of morality.
Why this is a dumb rule?
1. It is inconsistent: Only a few years ago some friends asked to watch The Shining with me and I refused because it was an 18. Now it has be re-rated as a 15 and I have subsequently watched it (it is a great film).
2. I am allowing a group people I have never met be the arbiters of what media is verboten: this is fairly self-explanatory and the silliness of this kind of approach is quite stark when we see cross-national differences (see, again, Appendix 1). The problem with this argument is that, if I am honest, I do not believe that any of us can make those judgments against an objective criteria because we are located within cultures which shape those assumptions quite profoundly. So, if my decisions are a product of my culture and society then why not let that same society provide some guidance on what is already decision without a firm basis.
3. The value of watching R-rated films: some argue that watching R-rated or certificate 18 films allow us to see a world that we would not otherwise experience. This is not incorrect per se but this seems inadequate and it can, in some guises, assume that this new perspective is a good thing. However, this logic, if pursued, would just move the value judgment to another place: so instead of looking at ratings we should only be watching films or TV that has, or strives for, an element of social realism. It is not entirely clear to me how we would divide films that are able to offer insight in an unfamiliar world and those that don’t.
4. Some R-rated and certificate 18 films are totes amazeballs: this is the most persuasive argument for me because it is also the most honest. I know that I would love ‘The Wire’ and ‘Breaking Bad’. If I do not think that they are gratuitous or morally damaging (which I do not, as far as I can tell) then why not enjoy them? The problem here is that I do not quite think that entertainment is a good enough reason to start. There are relatively few areas in my life where I have successfully held to a moral standard (admittedly one of my own making). In nothing else I would like to try to keep as many of those areas as untouched as possible.
One final complication:
In the interests of full disclosure, and so that I can be mocked for my inconsistency, I have and would buy certificate 18 films or TV shows for other people as gifts, even if I have not seen them. For example, I have purchased season 1 of Breaking Bad for two people based on recommendations from friends. My logic here is that I do not think others should necessarily hold to this standard (especially those who are not Mormon) and I doubt that these films are gratuitous in the way I outlined above. In short, I would not buy someone Saw but I would buy them ‘The Wire’.
Conclusion: I know this has been hashed out in some detail before and i do not pretend to offer any insight on this issue, but I would be genuinely interested in hearing why my reasoning is faulty from either side. In fact, it would be great to hear from people who do have a media standard that they adhere to.
1. The two films were: The Godfather trilogy, which I still own and will watch in the future, and Die Hard, my wife had not seen it and in a moment of weakness I agreed to watch it together. “A dirty vest covereth a multitude of sins”.
2. There is a Saw theme park ride in the UK which is very good but I am not sure how it would be ‘rated’.
Comparison of US and UK film ratings.
The British use a different film rating system than the US. This has always made the R-rating rule regarding media choices somewhat confusing for British saints. Of course, the advice to avoid inappropriate films still stands but this allows the individual to make the choice and will inevitably result in some differences of interpretation.
|Film||US rating||UK rating|
|Saving Private Ryan||R||15|
|The King’s Speech||R||12A|
|Pulp Fiction||R (Original: NC-17)||18|