Recently, a friend asked me my opinion on movie ratings and whether or not they’ve been permitted to “slide” over the years.
The answer is yes, but the main problem goes much deeper than that.
When movies first became possible, there was no censorship which naturally led to pornographic material. In order to “preserve American morality,” a censorship board was formed in Hollywood that included pastors. To gain a national release, a movie had to pass this censorship board. This was a positive thing for many movies and a determent to a few (one famous case is the altered ending to Hitchcock’s Rebecca, since it was against censorship policy to let a murder go free).
Eventually, the censorship board was done away with and movie ratings came in—at first, with only G, PG, and R. When Indiana Jones came along, it was too violent for a PG and not violent enough to earn an R, so PG13 was invented. And from that moment on, entertainment has exploded with immorality, graphic violence, pervasive sexual content, foul language, and everything else that desensitizes and dehumanizes us, under the banner of movie ratings.
Do I think movies are allowed to get away with more in their ratings now than in the past? In some cases yes – and in others, no. The Indiana Jones franchise has skin melting off faces, a priest tearing the throbbing heart out of people’s chests, and a man being shoved into a plane propeller blade, with grisly results. In many ways, that’s far less violent than the shocking kid-on-kid-murder seen in The Hunger Games.
Movies have always skated by with lesser ratings than many of them deserve; in the late eighties and early nineties, Disney had a “no-PG13 movie” policy, which meant their very violent Huckleberry Finn and the violent and frightening Tom ‘n’ Huck got a PG rating. In the more recent Harry Potter franchise, it’s strange that the first two films are only PG (one depicts Voldemort’s face growing out of the back of a man’s head, and the other includes frightening elements of possession and disembodied voices threatening to tear students to shreds).
And yet, as I contemplate this, my mind turns to what I think is much more serious: the change in television over the last decade. Indiana Jones’ tearing out of the heart earned it a PG13 rating in theaters, but you can see that on The Vampire Diaries on almost a weekly basis. Supernatural gets a grisly kick out of seeing how many gross ways people can die (impaled on a fork? head sliced off with a garage door falling?). Bones offers up a delicious assortment of decomposing, blood-soaked crime scenes, with bodies liquefying in bathtubs. On Hannibal, the viewer can see mushrooms growing out of half-decomposed corpses (or in one case, a survivor), the infamous Dr. Lector chopping up human lungs and frying them in a pan, or naked corpses with their ribcage exposed, with the skin of their back held up with wires to form “angel wings.” (None of these shows are on cable networks, either!)
It’s common on just about every show to have routine bed hopping, some of it quite explicit for prime-time programming. The good old days of a passionate kiss and closing door are gone; now we follow them into the bedroom for a five minute tumble.
Tragically, where it was once more common to have a couple married in a movie or on television, now it’s more common to have them cohabitating together. Entertainment’s constant pull in that direction has changed the face of our society; what was once taboo and thought of as inappropriate is now wholly accepted and embraced. The increase of homosexual characters on television (including Glee and gay sitcoms) is even cited as being the reason more Americans are leaning pro-gay marriage.
So, how did this happen?
We let them take God out of Hollywood. We stopped objecting to behavior that goes against our moral beliefs. We started to tolerate things on our television screens that we’d never let our friends do in our living rooms. Rather than being a positive force in our society, we let television guide its behavior.
The solution isn’t to crack down on television; it’s to remember that we, as Christians, must be the salt of the earth. Hollywood can take God out of its stuff, but it can’t take it out of us. Others won’t find it anywhere except in our lives, our behavior, how we treat one another, the lives we lead, and the choices we make. Don’t let movies or television define our society – fight to protect it by example.