The Brisbane Times recently ran an opinion piece by Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) honorary chief executive (whatever that title means…) Barbara Biggins exploring the current state of film classifications.
The bottom line is that her organisation found eight out of 10 parents think the current system has to change. While you won’t find the finer details in the Times article, ACCM sampled 940 people from around Australia for their survey, 89% of whom thought an aged-based system would be better and 86% thought too many young children are exposed to “M” rated films. It would be interesting to find out more about the religious affiliations of those surveyed and what specific movies and TV shows parents are citing as paradigms of virtue for their kids viewing habits.
Does the current classification system work for everyone? I’m agnostic on that point and I still laugh when I visit JB Hifi and see DVD covers with “M” or “MA15+” ratings which list the word “themes” as a warning to parents. What does that even really mean to the average consumer? What is a “mild theme” versus a “very mild theme” in practical terms when you’ve got a screaming 5-year-old pulling down all the stock from shelves and demanding a Happy Meal and all you want to do is make an informed purchase (I saw this very scene in a store once)?
Are the finer gradations of violence, sex or “themes” which demarcate an “M” from a “PG” informed by any kind of rigorous science and data or are they merely at the arbitrary whim of someone paid to classify these per the guidelines? Maybe someone who has experience with the current system may like to clarify.
Part of problem seems to stem from the current cultural obsession with superhero movies which no longer aim to just capture the kids and teens with fast-food toy tie-ins and comic books; they’re behemoth mega-bucks franchises aimed at adults as well. So what may have easily worked for a 12-year-old in terms of violence may not cut it when Dad is watching and he’s expecting a better level of action to justify him taking the family to the cinema and missing out on the latest Call of Duty mission waiting for him at home. There’s probably a few more words in exploring how the success of superhero movies directly ties in to the West’s downwards trajectory in terms of political action (and our slide into cultural degeneracy and infantilism) but I’ll save it for now.
This is an awkward dilemma for parents when superheroes have been traditionally marketed as kid-friendly interests and toy stores are stocked with themed toys. If a kid sees a Wolverine action figure in the shops, plays with it at home and then sees posters advertising Logan s/he will probably want to see it. But then his/her parent is going to have to deal with the film being MA15+ and as Paul Byrnes’ review for the Sydney Morning Herald makes very clear “the MA15+ rating looks odd given how difficult the violence is to stomach”. I have some empathy for parents who have to balance the consumer desires and trends of their children for superhero merch with the reality of enforcing no-go zones around Netflix, the cinemas and iPads offering the latest superhero movies. But if parents have to instill a greater degree of discipline or teach their children the importance of delaying gratification maybe these are valuable lessons which will last far longer than the short-term buzz of getting to see Gal Gadot kick ass for feminism!
I did have to laugh though at Biggins’ inclusion of the paragraph, “Some distressing stories emerged: ‘My ex took my child to an M film. My child is five years old. He said he was scared and didn’t like it, but my husband doesn’t have enough awareness/empathy to not take him or leave if it doesn’t suit.’”
Why are you having children with men who lack awareness and empathy and ignore their five-year-old’s pleas to leave a movie because they’re scared? No amount of nanny-state tinkering with a classification system can help people who cannot do the basics of functioning in a modern society and picking a suitable partner to procreate.
Likewise Biggins includes the feedback from one annoyed parent who states, “I have had to leave PG-rated films with my two kids in the past, because the film was completely unsuitable for my young kids. It cost me $40 for 10 minutes. It was my own stupid fault for not researching the film beforehand. But still, it should be clearer as to appropriate ages.”
The key words in this response are “my own stupid fault”. You wasted $40 because you didn’t do your homework and now mummy government has to ride in and save the day? Give me a break.
Both anecdotal examples cited above by Biggins’ indicate lousy judgement on the part of the parent and not the classification system.
Biggins’ suggestion of Australia adopting the Dutch Kijkwijzer system may have some merit but no classification system can regulate the diligence and awareness parents exercise in their homes and in the wider society about what their children consume and their interactions with technology. I recently met some parents who have largely abdicated their role of shaping their young children’s lives to an iPad loaded with apps and cartoons. The kids sit glued to it with faces like something out of a George Romero flick. This will have later implications for their children’s patience and yes, their abilities to delay gratification. While they may be consuming child-friendly content now they will most likely have to exist within an environment where kids will be kids (and marketing teams will be marketing teams) so they can expect to be exposed to superheroes and video games which aren’t all going to be rainbows and puppy dogs. And they may need to learn that you can’t always see certain movies at certain ages and patience is required.
No one is suggesting children should be exposed to Kickboxer: Vengeance or Anatomy of Hell (I might suggest no one, regardless of age, should be exposed to that film) but parents at least have to do the basic homework of researching content and not just expecting the classification board to do all the heavy lifting: No child is the same and likewise no rating in the murky region of PG and M can adequately cover the wide range of children and the child-raising preferences of their parents.
Your solution? Comments sought below.