Ah, Christmas. A time for family, presents, and, of course, going to the movies. Amidst the heartwarming kiddie stories and the big, miserable musicals, moviegoers can always find a gratuitously violent offering. This year, it’s Django Unchained. Inevitably, crowds turn up to gasp and cheer at the carnage, but in the wake of the horrific shootings at Newtown, Conn., should this be the last year of the violent holiday movie?
NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre seemed to think so, when he blamed Hollywood’s glorification of violence for the Newtown shootings. And certainly it’s not a great thing to teach our kids that violence has no real consequences, that it’s all fun and games and splatter and gore. But violent movies make money, so they aren’t going to stop anytime soon. Nor should they. After all, freedom of expression is important. Plus, not all of these movies are dumb slasher flicks or torture porn. Some of them have valuable things to say about violence and its place in our lives.
There are better ways for us to treat this problem, like banning assault weapons and strengthening the support we give to those with mental illnesses. However, there is something that Hollywood can do, pretty easily, that might help in addition to these other steps. The MPAA, the organization that gives films their ratings, needs to start taking violence more seriously in the rating process.
Right now, the ratings process is a joke. Take the attitude towards expletives, as stated on the MPAA’s website: “A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.”
So according to the MPAA, hearing the f-word twice (or once, in a sexual context) is somehow more damaging to a child than seeing all the violence in, say, The Dark Knight. Similarly, American Psycho, one of the movies LaPierre name-dropped as particularly violent, only escaped the MPAA’s dreaded “Unrated” stamp by cutting out a few seconds of footage. Was the footage from some especially gruesome murder? Nope. It was part of a sex scene.
Changing the way the MPAA rates movies might not have a big immediate effect. But it could, over time, help contribute to the sense that we as a society should take violence seriously, because its victims aren't just characters on a screen.