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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Ratings creep’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–It’s now being called “ratings creep,” the steady progression of offensive content seeping from one film ratings category into another. In 2002, I myself wrote a piece for ParentLife addressing the subject titled, “Are PG-13 Films Appropriate for Your Kids?” But now that there’s a catchy phrase for it, ratings creep is coming to public awareness on a larger scale.

In a recent column for the Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers wrote, “A Harvard University study confirms what parents suspect: Violent films that 10 years ago would have received an R rating –- therefore keeping children and most teenagers out of the audience, unless accompanied by an adult –- today are far more likely to be designated PG-13, meaning young people can attend on their own.”

As a 16-year veteran in the field of film criticism, I can assure you that many offenses formerly found only in R-rated movies are now staples in PG-13 movies. And material once found in PG-13 movies can now be seen and heard in PG films. With coarseness, crudity and obscenity increasing in Tinseltown’s product, movie ratings have become less effective and often more misleading.

An editorial in the Kansas City Star on July 20 pointed out the following: “The ratings are assigned by a film industry trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America. The association has refused to come up with clearly defined rules for its ratings. There are too many gray areas, and filmmakers know how to manipulate the review board. An independent review board would have more credibility than the lobbying arm of the movie studios.” (Hey, we had that once. It was called the Motion Picture Code, spearheaded by Catholic and Protestant groups. The code set standards studios adhered to between the early 1930s and late ’60s.)

My theory is that the beleaguered members of the MPAA are assessing film content without allowing their decisions to be predicated upon biblical standards. In other words, they leave God’s instruction out of the factor. To secular America, that statement would seem fanatical. But if God exists, then wouldn’t leaving Him out of any equation be imprudent? (Not that I expect the MPAA’s support of that perspective, mind you.)

So, will the pendulum ever swing back, providing moviegoers with gentler film content? It would be naive to think so. Unlike Washington, D.C., which sways from conservative to liberal every decade or so, Hollywood is not as compelled by the general society to re-examine its moral and social standards. That said, we should continue to apply pressure. After all, the entertainment community also is made up of moms and dads, many of whom are concerned with what their children are viewing.

When it comes to the content children are absorbing, how can Christian parents best protect their children?

There are now several Christian film reviewers who examine films from a family perspective; our reviews can be read via the Internet. But be careful. While I have many excellent colleagues in criticism, the Internet has opened the door for anyone who wants to give an opinion on movies. If you seek the Holy Spirit’s discernment when choosing a film reviewer, I’m sure you’ll find one that suits your needs.

More important than keeping the world’s perspective out is to get biblical instruction in. So allow me to pass along something that has influenced my life every year of the way.

When I was about 8, my parents rededicated themselves to Christ. Bible study and prayer soon became part of our lives. Before Dad went to work, we began our day by reading Scripture and kneeling in prayer. When a father heads such a regimen, it drives home a lasting message to his children. (“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it,” Proverbs 22:6.)

The Bible is a guidepost that keeps us in harmony with the Heavenly Father and with our fellow man. By studying Scripture, we gain an understanding of the nature of God. What’s more, knowing God’s Word will help us see through any ungodly standards that creep into our daily lives.
Check out Phil Boatwright’s film review website at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright