Movies Are Not Poop Cookies

Emma Croft grew up near Seattle and is currently studying English and creative writing at Brigham Young University. She enjoys traveling, cooking delicious things, hosting book club meetings, and brainstorming ways to make the LDS community more welcoming to those who struggle to find their place in the church. She spends much of her time writing personal essays, conducting research on early Book of Mormon usage, and helping students improve their writing.

I watched my first rated-R movie as a sophomore in high school. It all started when my World History teacher offered extra credit to any student who stayed after school to watch Defiance, a 2008 film about a group of Russian rebels who banded together to kill Nazis in the forest. It sounded great, but I figured out pretty quickly that choosing to watch it would mean ignoring what I had learned in church for as long as I could remember: no rated-R movies, at all, under any circumstances.bcc

I was torn. I needed the extra credit. I also made sure to carefully pore over the “parental advisory” section on IMDb and ultimately decided that the “5 uses of f—k” and several scenes of graphic wartime violence couldn’t mar my spirituality any more than an average day existing in a high school. After talking with my parents, I believed that watching the movie would provide an overall positive experience with valuable payoff, even if it felt immoral. Learning that any “ungodly” content would destroy a film’s value and cause the viewer irreparable harm left me with the impression that—on some level—I was sinning.

Growing up LDS, I received yearly lessons in church involving salty cookies, analogies about dog poop brownies and spitting in milkshakes, and a MormonAd depicting a cockroach nestled into a scoop of ice cream. The message was always the same: watching a movie or a show, reading a book, or listening to a song that contains language, violence, or sexually explicit material is akin to eating something delicious that’s been contaminated. It is, essentially, a disgusting act that can hurt you before you even realize you’re making a mistake. “It’s really good, except for that one part,” would never be good enough for a Mormon like me.

I understand why the church wants to teach youth to monitor their media habits, especially during the formative years. There are several films I have seen and enjoyed as an adult that likely would have messed me up as a kid. It makes sense to encourage young people to think critically about the media they consume, because early exposure to certain content can be troubling to especially sensitive individuals. In addition, most kids lack the proper judgment to discern fiction from reality, and it’s important they understand healthy relationships, appropriate adult behavior, and good decision-making before they have the chance to embrace what Hollywood portrays as normal.

I also believe adults have every right to avoid whatever media they deem unacceptable. It’s not my job to judge or police other people’s unique thresholds. If you’re a grown man or woman who doesn’t want to watch any movies with swear words, that’s your prerogative. If you want to shield your kids from all profanity until they’re old enough to leave the comforts of home, I may question your parenting, but I believe it’s within your rights to attempt it.

However, the way we teach kids about media at church completely ignores the fact that watching R-rated movies and reading adult-oriented literature is normal and likely to happen over the course of one’s education. As a senior English student at BYU, I can assure you that even we read literature that contains profanity and sex, and most of us are doing just fine. Isolating ourselves from a world of quality art and discourse due to its “ungodliness” isn’t helping anyone. Choosing to ignore reality in favor of a PG-version of the world and its history inhibits our lifelong goal to “learn of things both in heaven and in the earth” (D&C 88:79).

Beyond the practical flaws of the dog poop brownie model are the problems that arise when we teach young Mormons that most of their non-LDS peers are, in fact, eating shit every time they watch, read, or hear something “inappropriate.” There must be a way to teach youth to respect other people’s decisions while also reducing the guilt they might feel when choosing to engage with media they’ve been told is disgusting and dangerous.

The truth is, plenty of card-carrying Mormons choose to watch R-rated films or read adult-oriented books. They decide that the value in watching something outweighs any potential spiritual risk. I, for one, think engaging with ideas that aren’t necessarily common or available within our own culture is vital to building empathy and understanding other humans with whom we share this world. I sincerely believe it’s good for people to branch out beyond Disney and YA fantasy because real life, for most of us, isn’t anything like that. It does us good to understand a broad range of stories and experiences.

As a church that relies heavily on the doctrine of personal revelation, shouldn’t we let our own relationships with the Spirit influence our choices? Why rely on a strict, universal list of rules when the very foundation of our belief is that we have the agency to choose what is best for us and turn to God if the consequences are unexpectedly harmful? There are several films I find offensive without regard to arbitrary MPAA classifications, and others that bring joy to my soul despite the capital-R that’s displayed on the screen before they start. If our job here is to avoid the negative influences of “the world,” why would we let a worldly organization determine what movies we can and cannot watch?

I believe it’s time we change the way church lesson manuals talk about media. Sex isn’t dog poop. Profanity is not salty cookies. Violence (the most problematic offender of the three, in my opinion) is not a cockroach. Let’s abandon the silly metaphors to teach real critical thinking, share the positive and negative effects all types of media can have on us (including problems with racial stereotypes, misogyny, homophobia, and other types of bigotry), and stop pretending we’re the good guys for keeping everything incessantly PG. It’s a one-dimensional approach to a multi-dimensional problem, and it’s setting our youth up for unnecessary discomfort.

When the day finally came to gather in the school library to watch Defiance, I surrounded myself with friends and trusted teachers to watch a film that, by most accounts, would scar me for life due to its R-rating. The only other Mormon in my class chose not to attend. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. Would the spirit leave me? Would disturbing images be permanently burned into my mind?

To this day, I cannot remember a single detail about the film. If I ate a cockroach that day, it must have tasted like nothing. Maybe it even went well with the ice cream. I did not become apostate. I did not start swearing like a sailor. I did not become sexually promiscuous, and I did not begin shooting people for sport. In fact, it marked a change in my ability to discern for myself what I wanted to see, learn, and know. It was a moment that taught me to trust myself to seek out uplifting entertainment and reading material; to engage with uncomfortable ideas to better understand what it means to be good. I engaged with the “opposition in all things,” and I grew into a better person because of it (2 Nephi 2:11). If anything from that movie stayed with me for life, it’s that Nazis are really bad. Clearly, I am not worse off for seeing it.

As a growing, changing church, we deserve better than reductive worldviews that encourage judgment and shame, and can choose for ourselves what is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy” (Article of Faith 13). Hint: it might not all come from the children’s section.

Comments

  1. felixfabulous says:

    Great post, thank you for sharing. I love this quote by the Dalai Lama: “Learn and obey the rules very well so you will know how to break them properly.” I think that definitely applies to media choices. Young kids often do not have the experience and discretion to know the difference between a trashy R-rated movie and an inspiring one. We give blanket rules, at a certain point, people have the know-how to make their own decisions and decide for themselves. Hopefully they bring with them the lessons learned by early exact obedience to the rule. I think culturally we’ve eased up on this a bit. I think part of it comes from the way we consume media, so many things are not PG, PG-13 or R anymore, but are TV14, TVMA or unrated. When I was growing up there was a family in our ward that really wanted to see Schindler’s List, but it was rated R. So, they went and saw it in Germany when they picked up their son on his mission because it was not rated R in the equivalent German rating system. Loophole!

  2. I want to shout this article from the rooftops.

    The other problem I have with this whole idea of not watching R-rated movies? It means we’re abdicating our agency.

    (Also: Defiance wasn’t that good a movie, so if you don’t remember it, you aren’t missing much.)

  3. Very good post. There are many R-rated films (such as Silence or Mad Max: Fury Road) that are far more honest about the actual consequences of violence or use it allegorically in the service of larger, thought-provoking themes. In contrast, most PG-13 action movies are usually filled with gratuitous fighting and completely gloss over emotional, physical, and spiritual impact of violence. (There are of course plenty of R-rated movies full of crap, too)

    I would argue that the Silence/Mad Max approach can edify, instruct, and increase our ability to discern good vs evil. On the other hand, the PG-13 model, while usually very entertaining, often divorces action from consequence and can desensitize us. I agree that not everyone needs to seek out hard subject matter, and in general a no rated R movie policy pre-adulthood is good counsel. However, by broadly applying this as a universal standard regardless of age or circumstance, we miss out on opportunities for meaningful reflection and growth and are probably the poorer for it.

  4. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Heaven forbid that we use our own judgment rather than outsourcing it to people with hidden agendas and Byzantine methodologies.

  5. I always struggled with the “poop cookie” metaphor in the same way I struggled with “reading your scriptures everyday will make you glow.” In my opinion, the scriptures themselves contain a lot of horrific and uncomfortable places. Anyway reading straight through the Old Testament is not going to feel “glowy” after every chapter. If we throw out any story that makes us squirm or feel uncomfortable, then we are going to shelter ourselves from the very stories that would challenge our comfort zones and enable us to empathize with others and acknowledge the complexities of what it means to be human. Not every R-rated film is praiseworthy or of good report, but neither is every PG-rated film. That said, many of the most important film experiences of my life have carried an R rating—these are the films that have made me a better human being. Great post.

  6. Brother Sky says:

    Really good post. Thank you for your wisdom and your insight. I’ve always found this whole media/profanity/sex/violence thing puzzling from a Mormon (even a Christian) perspective. Two of the most violent works of literature are the O.T. and the B of M and somehow, reading about all of that violence is supposed to impel us towards Christ, whereas if we watch, say, Gladiator, where the film delineates clear ideological problems with violence, that’s supposed to corrupt us? Absurd.

    And I really like your comments about seeing beyond the Disney/YA bubble. The real world is harsh and unforgiving and full of violence that many people suffer daily. How can we change that fact if we aren’t willing to witness what people undergo? I think it takes much more moral strength/fortitude to be willing to watch people suffer and then do something about it rather than turning a blind eye to it.

  7. I grew up in Quebec where there was no such thing as an R rated movie. Films were rated “for all”, “14 and over” or “18 and over”. These classifications did not necessarily correspond in any way to the U.S. rating system.

    After BYU when I returned to Canada I moved to Toronto. I had a teacher who sat on the film review board that was tasked with rating film shown in Ontario. The Ontario system is closer to the U.S. system, at least in terms of the categories. My teacher told me all kinds of stories about how films got their ratings. Long story short, it’s pretty arbitrary. When the provincial government changed the standards for what constituted a PG or an R changed as well. In addition what was an R rated film in Ontario might not be one in Alberta because they had their own system. I can’t speak to the U.S. Are the classifications statewide or national?

    Still later I started attending TIFF, the second largest film festival in the world after Cannes, where horror of horrors NONE of the movies are rated because they have not yet been released to the public. In many cases all I knew going in to see a film was the title and maybe the name of the director. Over all the years there was really only one film I wish I hadn’t seen, a drama on the conflicts in Central America that had some very graphic violence. But I did see many wonderful films and had some very enriching experiences.

    I recall a conversation with a fellow in my ward who was shocked that I was attending the festival. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll see an R rated movie?” he asked. I said with that attitude you might as well never go into an art gallery either because you might see some nudes. He paused as if thinking it over and then said he was fine with skipping the art galleries too. To each his own I suppose.

    I understand the need for teaching youth to have some discernment. Adults should have some discernment too. But ratings are pretty meaningless as they are in most cases arbitrary and vary from place to place. Fortunately there’s lots of info available nowadays before you see a film.

  8. Paul Ritchey says:

    Well, said, Emma. This issue has been dear to me for a while. I once asked the president of BYU-Idaho, in a public, recorded meeting, to reconcile reading the Scriptures with the prohibition against viewing anything violent that is contained in the For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet (which that particular President had commended to us on many occasions). Of course, he handed the question to his Vice-President, who then (and this is true) told a story about how his mother, the wife of a current member of the First Presidency, had for years refused to read the war chapters in the Book of Mormon, because they were “too violent.”

    Obviously (I think?) that can’t be the right way to reconcile the inconsistency. The fact that Apostles have quoted both Shakespeare and Thomas J. Jackson in General Conference pretty much convinced me that any written expression of the poop cookie rule is deeply misleading and out of touch with correct, real behavior.

  9. Actually maybe the salty cookie isn’t the worst metaphor — cookies have salt in them! Without salt a cookie actually tastes kind of terrible. It’s only when it starts overpowering the rest of the cookie that it is bad.

  10. Troy Cline says:

    I gave up long ago on abstaining from R-rated movies as a general rule. It makes no sense. I am perfectly capable of determining which content affects me negatively and which I can easily look past to see larger principles that the media are communicating. Some of the most profound and meaningful movie-watching experiences of my life happened in front of an R-rated movie. The people and culture that tell Mormons to not watch R-rated movies is the same culture that tells Mormon girls to have only 1 pair of modest earrings. These snippets of advice may be well-intended (ie – based in the cultural preferences of 75-90 year old men) but they are not eternal principles and, frankly, they ultimately are about control and lead to spiritual bullying.

  11. Bro. Jones says:

    Great post. An additional note: in these days of Internet reviews and crowdsourcing, another approach might be to encourage consumers of media to do research on the content of a particular item, and then evaluate whether they want to consume it or not. As you indicated in the post, a G-rating is no guarantee of enlightening entertainment, and an R-rating is no guarantee of depravity or spiritual corruption. And heaven forbid we have an idea of what to do when confronted with an unrated film! I’ve turned movies off when their content didn’t seem worth the “difficult” parts, and walked away unharmed aside from a bit of time lost.

    (Aside: it’s kind of funny how the “S-word” has nearly reached acceptability in all levels of discourse these days. I’m not even snarky enough to make a comment comparing the post to a poop cookie because I am a frequent user of salty language myself!)

  12. Bro. Jones says:

    @ Paul Ritchey: So wait, was that the end of the story? “My mom just skips the parts she finds objectionable”? Wow.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    Most of what passes for children’s entertainment today is vapid and mind-numbing, if not overtly commercial. A few of the kid’s shows on PBS even fall into this category (Sid the Science Kid and it’s successor program Splash & Bubbles have lifetime bans from my house). I consider that a greater threat to my children’s intellectual/spiritual development than, say, nudity displayed in an artistic context, or historical films depicting wartime violence (when they are old enough).

    My 7-year-old daughter loves Wonder Woman. I enjoyed the movie, and I think the character is empowering. While my daughter is old enough to understand that Wonder Woman is fictional, I still won’t let her see the movie until she is old enough to process the ugly realities of World War I it depicts, such as chemical warfare.

  14. is it lunch time yet? says:

    How do Mormon media rules/guidelines cause judgment and shame? If you have found a standard that works for you and allows you to keep the spirit, don’t worry about Molly Mormon who only watches Disney movies.

    I think the church will always try to keep the norm strict because we have almost nothing to gain by welcoming more types of media and content into our lives.

  15. For full disclosure purposes, I admit to being too non-conformist to put the blanket ban on R-rated movies, and, when I was younger, to having seen some R-rated movies for what one might call the wrong reasons. So maybe I don’t have that never-eaten-a-cockroach spirituality that perhaps would’ve shaped a different opinion.

    I have no problem with the Church feeling protective about its youth–heaven knows there’s a ton of awful stuff out there that is not merely increasingly accessible but increasingly hard to avoid. And I think accepting violence, self-gratifying sex or words no president should use in public as “normal” affects not only spirituality but our everyday ability to function as a community of respectful, purposeful human beings.

    But I have two problems with the “no R-rated movies” idea and its increasing codification:

    (1) We are essentially making the MPAA responsible for our spiritual well-being. They don’t rate movies based on deep spiritual understanding or high moral values! Producers actively SEEK R-ratings to help sell their movies to some audiences, while carefully skating the edge (maybe just one or two f-words and a smidge of violence?) to get a PG-13 when another audience is their target. We abdicate responsibility when we let the movie industry decide for us that this PG movie is “good” while that R movie is “bad.”

    (2) To my great surprise, I spend more time talking with my rule-follower teenager about being too absolute in her standards than about keeping good standards. She’s grown up with very black-and-white counsel: No R-rated movies, no dating until you’re 16 (not a week before!), fingertip rule for skirts and shorts… There’s much less flexibility in the way these ideas are communicated than when I was a teenager, and I don’t know that it’s always to the ultimate benefit of kids who will shortly be on their own in a very shades-of-gray (movie reference unintentional) world.

  16. There is a way to square the circle: Pay someone to edit out the naughty bits!

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/12/14/outsourcing-morality/

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    This ridiculous LDS proscription against R-rated movies that many of us grew up with is symptomatic of the problems the Church is facing now with the growing religious disaffection of my generation (late-GenX/early-Millennial)–we were taught to obey arbitrary rules and “follow the prophet” instead of being encouraged to develop critical thinking skills and to use agency wisely. Some of us still haven’t gotten past that. Of those who have, many have left.

  18. This perfectly describes why I’m no fan of Video Angel and companies like it.

  19. An interesting and well-written piece though I must admit I have a minor “complaint”.

    I’m a little put-off by the description of Defiance being a film about Russian rebels, the film centers around the *Polish-Jewish* Bielski brothers who became partisans during the war. Certainly there are Soviet partisans involved but as I said the Bielski brothers are the main focus and erasure of Jewish people involved in resistance movements during WWII is something I take issue with because people often make the erroneous claim that Jewish people did NOTHING to protect themselves during the Holocaust, a claim which has links to the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews being physically inferior (whether or not someone makes this claim with malicious intent doesn’t change the fact that it is something that is deeply-rooted in Anti-Semitism).

  20. Eric Facer says:

    I believe the scriptures and the Articles of Faith counsel us to seek out all that is praiseworthy and of good report. If every R-rated movie failed to meet these criteria, then the prohibition would make sense. But I have seen too many excellent R-rated films to know that is simply not true. Indeed, two of the most spiritually uplifting films I have ever seen were “Schindler’s List” and “The Railway Man.” If you are unfamiliar with the second one, check it out.

  21. Though some people still hold to it, I thought it was generally recognized that the no-rated-R-movies rule was no longer an actual rule. It’s not in FTSOY anymore. I know the youth leaders in our ward don’t teach it that way and instead talk about using your judgment to avoid things that are not uplifting. I know they’ve had discussions about how this standard might permit seeing some R-rated movies and might counsel against seeing some PG-13 movies. Are there places in the church where the no-rated-R-movies rule becoming more entrenched, not less?

  22. Anonymous says:

    JKC: I’ve been in at least one discussion fairly recently where the teacher talked about “following counsel to avoid R-rated movies” and I was the jerk who spoke up and pointed out that there’s no current text that specifically uses that phrase.

  23. Excellent post, Emma. I’ve got two memories and a thought to share:

    1) Thank goodness I had parents that understood nuance in the midst of my B&W teenage years. I remember asking my father why he had gone to see The Killing Fields (about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) when it was rated R. He replied, “There is a world of difference between violence as entertainment, and violence that teaches something important.” Later when my two youngest siblings were teens, he took them to see Schindler’s List with the message, “You need to see this movie. It’s too important to miss.”

    2) I live in Alberta, and like the Quebec poster noted above, every province has a different rating system. It wasn’t until a discussion on an LDS forum that I realized that the U.S. doesn’t have a Mature (14+) rating, which seems so odd to me. Someone mentioned they loved Gladiator, but felt they couldn’t see it again because of the R rating. I remember asking in confusion, “What are you talking about? Gladiator is M, not R.” It’s so obvious that ratings are arbitrary. Both The King’s Speech and Saw are R where I live, and the content of those two movies are polar opposites.

    A note: I chuckled a bit at the idea of YA fantasy being “safe.” As a 40 year veteran of reading F&SF, I keep running across this idea from other Mormons that there’s nothing sexual in YA lit. It most definitely can be, and it’s not just the newer stuff either. For example, Tamora Pierce was publishing in the early 80s, and her teen characters sometimes have sex.

  24. Movie ratings are useful for children, but not so much for adults. They can also be useful for adolescents, but we fail to actually use them to teach. We set up an arbitrary rule—don’t see R-rated movies—and use it as an excuse not to grapple with complicated experiences like the meaning and rewards of art. We end up with some adults who have not grown up as much as they should have. The same pattern holds for other instances in Mormon culture where arbitrary rules become a mindless substitute for thoughtful engagement with life. I’m sure readers can think of their own examples.

  25. Olde Skool says:

    “engaging with ideas that aren’t necessarily common or available within our own culture is vital to building empathy and understanding other humans with whom we share this world.”

    Amen, Emma. Thank you for your well-reasoned points here.

  26. Al Miller says:

    Paul told folks that it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols but he also suggested that there were weak people who could not accept that doctrine. So how do we do that which is okay but could scandalize the weak? Paul didn’t really say but I think that the answer is that we do it quietly without calling attention to it. Liberty is sometimes best exercised quietly.

  27. I always said that if Rex Lee and Merrill Bateman had actually spoken Spanish, they would have shut down most of the teaching in the Spanish department at BYU when I was there.

  28. The OP mentions that Church manuals need to change, and cites the R-rated rule, but as far as I can tell the R-rated rule is not in any current manuals, and has, to my knowledge, not been explicitly invoked in GC recently.

    I too am bothered by relatives that would never watch an R-rated movie but watch every single superhero movie when it comes out (no offense to lovers of superhero movies, but you’re on a marshmallow diet). That being said, the number of R-rated movies I’ll watch has decreased as I’ve gotten older. I started watching the new “It” on a flight, saw the boy get his arm torn off in the opening sequence, and thought: why am I watching this? Yes, there are films like Silence and Schindler’s List that are required viewing, but in general the quality of R-rated movies don’t justify their added darkness.

  29. There was an article in BYU Studies by Travis Anderson entitled ‘Seeking after the Good
    in Art, Drama, Film, and Literature’ that is available for free download: https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/seeking-after-good-art-drama-film-and-literature

    To give you a sense of the article, here is a quote from it that stood out to me:

    “Rather obviously…movies, books, films, music, drama, dance, and other forms of art and entertainment that are without objectionable content are not in consequence of that fact spiritually or intellectually nourishing. And if something is free from objectionable content but is not nourishing, then it is the mental equivalent of diet soda—no unwanted calories, perhaps, but nothing very good for you either. All of this begs the question, then, how and why has the lack of objectionable content, in and of itself, become such a prevalent standard of goodness? Whatever the answer to that question, I believe that the consequences are bound to be far-reaching and potentially dangerous when decisions concerning the films and dramas we see, the visual artworks we contemplate, the music we listen to, and the literature we read are guided exclusively, or even primarily, by a negative standard. Why? Because judgments made primarily with reference to a lack of objectionable content implicitly require an eye focused precisely on that objectionable content, rather than on the good as such. One unfortunate consequence of such a negative focus is an attitude characterized not merely by an inclination to throw out the baby with the bathwater but by a reluctance or incapacity to see the baby at all.”

  30. Paul Ritchey says:

    Brother Jones: Yes, that was the end of the story. The VP did not defend (or reprove) his mother’s judgment.

    JKC: I think the language that *is* in FTSOY is far more problematic than the R-rated movie rule:

    “Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. ”

    https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/entertainment-and-media?lang=eng

    Seriously, I believe that a reasonable understanding of that language is not possible. It is one of the most profound contradictions I’ve found in the Church.

  31. Already shifting fronts. The rhetorical war on the Lord’s servants continues. Emboldened by cultural hegemony on modesty, sexuality, and marriage we now see the same tactics against something as simple as avoiding media that is not virtuous or of good report.

    On one hand we have receiving the Lord’s servants. On the other we have frequent questioning of those servants not with internet to understand and receive light, but with a desire to change them and their teachings.

    When you write a post like this I realize you put yourself out there uncomfortably sensitive to criticism, but I hope you don’t want a world where people don’t ever disagree for principled reasons.

    I can see how you’ve come to your conclusions, but what’s interesting is you use the, “I’m no worse off for watching unvirtuous media” troupe without actually realizing that the life story you cite is actually another brick in the wall of life’s experiences separating you from receiving the Lord’s servants.

    I don’t think watching unvirtuous (not just speaking sexually) movies is going to ruin a person. But advocating that we should no longer teach to avoid these things because you did that time and you’re just fine misses the mark. For a few thousand years the council of avoiding things not of good report has been given. If the prophets on the watch tower see a coarsening of society as a result of bad media, like it to that council, and warn to steer clear of it (perhaps in similar vein as the word of wisdom council adapted to the capacity of the weakest), then why debate contrary to it?

    Debate to seek to understand is great. But that’s not what I see here.

  32. Led Zeppelin rocks!

  33. There is also a bit of a two-edged sword with the “no R rated movie” counsel. That is: we are now accepting the advise of “the world” on what is good or not, since the “R” rating comes about by a group of worldly critics. We often seem to want it both ways: we want to use the world when it agrees with us, but rail against how evil it is.

  34. Great post, awesome comments, except for Ltd. I’m a senior citizen who never paid attention to Ezra Benson’s “no R rated movie” rule. I’ve walked out of PG-13 movies for the titilating sexual content aimed at young teens. I’ve stayed—even while averting my eyes—to watch movies that taught me empathy for others and the ugly realities of life—realities I’ve experienced myself. Children and youth need to be guided; adults can make their own assessment. Or else, why are we here with agency if the only way to use it is to follow counsel which, while well-meaning, is often narrow-minded and just plain wrong.
    I’ve seen no evidence of watching on the tower. I didn’t need the leaders to tell me society was coarsening. I’m not crazy about it myself. I steer clear of certain types of entertainment but I’ve seen too many great R rated films to outsource my decisions of what to view to others because of their supposed authority.

  35. Paul, why is that so problematic? Is it the “in any way” part that you find problematic? I think there’s a difference between a movie that *is* vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic, and one that contains depictions of violence, suggestions of sex, or swear words. The difference is in the second sentence: the issue is not just whether it contains a depiction of something violent or suggestive, the issue is whether it portrays violence or sex as acceptable. There’s a world of difference, for example, between Anna Karenina and Showgirls, or The Passion of the Christ and 300.

    Now, what I do find problematic is our general squeamishness and euphemistic discourse about sex. If we mean sex, we should say sex, not “immorality,” because there are many, many more ways to be immoral without involving sex than there are ways to be immoral that do involve sex, and by saying “immorality” when we really mean sex, we imply that immorality is limited to sex, and leave ourselves vulnerable to the temptation to think that we’re moral as long as were chaste, while neglecting a good deal of what it means to be moral. But that’s a bigger issue than just the FTSOY standards on movies and entertainment, and I wouldn’t single this out for that problem.

  36. And what does the BCC commentariat say about the X rating?

  37. Paul Ritchey says:

    JKC: My problem is with “is,” and “portrays…as acceptable,” respectively, though “in any way” makes clear there’s no permissible tailoring of the rule (which makes the rule even worse).

    I appreciate your attempt at making it understandable, but in that attempt you literally say that portrayal of violence as acceptable is the key to discerning inappropriate media. To use the clearest example, the Standard Works rightly portray violence as acceptable within the appropriate contexts.

    The rule is even more wrong because it fails to realize that stories involving immorality (read the broad usage there, which you rightly call out) are not themselves necessarily immoral to view. The Standard Works are a prime example again. The story of the Atonement of Jesus Christ cannot be told without violence, betrayal, and vulgarity. We do more than view that story: we sing about it during the most sacred minutes of the most sacred hour in our religion. Our sacrament hymns have some fairly graphic depictions of violence – just count how many times the word “blood” appears. That can’t be wrong, so the rule must be wrong.

  38. “To use the clearest example, the Standard Works rightly portray violence as acceptable within the appropriate contexts.” Good point. And on top of that, whether a given film portrays violence as acceptable is something you can’t really determine until after the fact.

  39. I once dated a girl who said she would not see the Lord of the Rings films because they were PG-13, and she had made a promise to herself never to see PG-13 movies. While I admired her fortitude, no romantic attraction can overcome that level of intellectual rigidity.

  40. Virtue lies in the soul. My wife is an artist and a few years ago I decided I needed to at least see what she was doing. I enrolled in life drawing classes and started at a sculpture atelier. There was plenty of nudity. I managed to keep my thoughts on the difficulty of the work I was doing, I will admit to feeling a small tugging deep in my unconscious mind, but no more than a mosquito would bother you in the night.

    I came away from that experience with a deep appreciation of the beauty of the human body and an appreciation of why it should be appreciated. Now, when we walk through a museum, the experience is so much deeper. I love to place myself in the painting as if I were the artist trying to figure out how to do it. I love looking at brush strokes. The sinuous curves of bodies were meant to be pleasing to us and their portrayal is important and beautiful.

    Our reaction is problematic. If a person cannot stand in front of a Rubens without becoming aroused, or go to a serious movie without thinking of rape himself, these are serious issues and should be addressed by the individual. If rape and sexual aggression can be triggered by the mere viewing of paint on canvas or images on a screen, this person is in troubled and should seek help. It is not the paint and canvas or the skill of the artist that is at fault. The question is how can this unreformed individual deal with the opposite sex in life without causing damage?

  41. “If rape and sexual aggression can be triggered by the mere viewing of paint on canvas”

    I meant to say:

    “If thoughts of rape and sexual aggression can be triggered by the mere viewing of paint on canvas”

  42. Not a Cougar says:

    Are we talking about those no-bake peanut butter chocolate oatmeal things? If so, I LOVE poop cookies.

  43. I would submit that if you think “YA fantasy” is equivalent to a G- or even PG-rated Disney movie, you haven’t read much YA fantasy or YA in general. But otherwise, all good points.

  44. Not a Cougar says:

    yeah, I was shocked when I saw that Red Rising was considered YA with the amount of sheer violence and sexual content in it. Fantastic series BTW.

  45. I first came across this idea by way of Orson Scott Card, a hero and favorite author of mine, who wrote a short essay called “Is There An R-Rated Movie Commandment?” It’s endured with me. I’ve since watched some R-rated movies, some beautiful, and some–I’m ashamed to admit–trash. Smart people are more prone to rationalize (a very well documented fact), and having been trained in the humanities and a lot of critical thinking, I both sense that much beautiful art is “R-rated” but also sense my own weakness and proclivity to rationalize for the sake of “it’s high art!” “It’s this director” or “that director!” Life was simpler when I had a rule that said “no R-rated movies.” It was, for me, a hedge around the law. Without that hedge, I’ve swerved across lines that weren’t good for me, which is a risk I have chosen to make given my policy of occasionally watching such movies.

    Speaking of my wife, I’m married to a wonderful, smart, and virtuous young lady who will probably never, ever see an R-rated movie on principle. Like others, she–when she was young–vowed to never watch an R-rated movie, and doesn’t even watch most PG-13’s. She’s a good example of Elaine Aron’s “highly sensitive person”; for her, she is very much affected by violence, by profanity, and even by depictions of people cheating on others. (For example, she couldn’t get through the movie “Moonstruck.”) She’s also very much a subscriber to Elaine S. Dalton’s call to virtue, which she interprets to exclude a good many movies across all ratings; there is much that is good and beautiful and true outside of the domain of R-rated movies. Again, for her, it’s a hedge around the law and a way to avoid the pain that can easily come to as sensitive a person as herself.

    I admit–I don’t subscribe to my wife’s views as an individual. I was an English major too, and I know enough about art to know that some adult subjects can only be covered in what the MPAA would describe as an “R-rated” way. And movies tell beautiful, wonderful stories, strong in ways that books cannot. But I want to defend those who consciously and deliberately choose to avoid R-rated movies generally. There is too much great art in other places, and too many great depictions of the good and the true and the beautiful in story and art and literature, that for those who seek great art elsewhere, they won’t miss much. Perhaps it’s outsourcing morality, but perhaps it is also a help. Sure, there are “things I’m missing” on the other side, but few and far between, and enough on this side that I can’t complain. (Besides, with fewer movies, there’s more time for other art that modern life normally crowds out, like–as I said above–good art and good movies.)

    Emma, great post. Thank you for your thoughts!

  46. I first came across this idea by way of Orson Scott Card, a hero and favorite author of mine, who wrote a short essay called “Is There An R-Rated Movie Commandment?” It’s endured with me. I’ve since watched some R-rated movies, some beautiful, and some–I’m ashamed to admit–trash. Smart people are more prone to rationalize (a very well documented fact), and having been trained in the humanities and a lot of critical thinking, I both sense that much beautiful art is “R-rated” but also sense my own weakness and proclivity to rationalize for the sake of “it’s high art!” “It’s this director” or “that director!” Life was simpler when I had a rule that said “no R-rated movies.” It was, for me, a hedge around the law. Without that hedge, I’ve swerved across lines that weren’t good for me, which is a risk I have chosen to make given my policy of occasionally watching such movies. Of course, I’ve long since left Eden, and taste the bitter sometimes–to prize the good.

    Now, that is–I think–okay and very much in line with the OP. But here’s something else: I’m married to a wonderful, smart, and virtuous gal (my best friend!) who will probably never, ever see an R-rated movie on principle. Like others, she–when she was young–vowed to never watch an R-rated movie, and doesn’t even watch most PG-13’s. She’s a good example of Elaine Aron’s “highly sensitive person”; for her, she is very much affected by violence, by profanity, and even by depictions of people cheating on others. (For example, she couldn’t get through the movie “Moonstruck,” which is a favorite of mine, because a theme is infidelity and she hated that.) She’s also very much a subscriber to Elaine S. Dalton’s call to virtue, which she interprets to exclude a good many movies across all ratings; there is much that is good and beautiful and true outside of the domain of R-rated movies. Again, for her, it’s a hedge around the law and a way to avoid the pain that can easily come to as sensitive a person as herself.

    I admit–I don’t subscribe to my wife’s views as an individual. I was an English major too, and I know enough about art to know that some adult subjects can only be covered in what the MPAA would describe as an “R-rated” way. And movies tell beautiful, wonderful stories, strong in ways that books cannot. But I want to defend those who consciously and deliberately choose to avoid R-rated movies generally. There is too much great art in other places, and too many great depictions of the good and the true and the beautiful in story and art and literature, that for those who seek great art elsewhere, they won’t miss much, I think. Perhaps it’s outsourcing morality, but perhaps it is also a help. Sure, there are “things I’m missing” on the other side, but they aren’t significant in number, and there are enough “great” things on this side that I can’t complain. Besides, with fewer movies, there’s more time for other art that modern life normally crowds out, like–as I said above–good art and good movies.

    Emma, great post. Thank you for your thoughts!

  47. Ltd: another brick in the wall
    Talon: Led Zeppelin Rocks!
    Roger Waters: You idiot.

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