So, like most of the civilized world that’s ever picked up a YA book, I saw the Hunger Games film last week. I was intending to see John Carter (it’s also based on a book people – a book no less ground breaking than HG in its day, but whatevs) but the traffic gods conspired against me. You know that scene in the old Clash of the Titans film where Zeus has his little action figures, all fucking relentlessly with the lives of mortals and whatnot? He does the same thing these days, but with a model of my car instead of Pegasus.
So tHG is about a bloody gladiatorial contest between children for the amusement of a callous, bloodthirsty mob. To me at least (and maybe I overthink things) it’s about dehumanization. It’s a statement about our own society and our desensitization to violence as a concept. We have no problems turning on the TV every night and seeing dead bodies being pulled out of smoking rubble. Bloodstains and chalk marks and spent shell casings. Street hardened cops solving the brutal murder of the week through SCIENCE!™ Real life bloodsports like UFC bigger than ever.
And that got me to thinking (run while you can, my pedigree chums). Because while my own personal issues with HG stem from Katniss really only deep-sixing a SINGLE competitor with any real intent, it’s still a reasonably violent film. We see heads bashed open with bricks. People torn apart by wolfthings. Death by throwing knife, hatchet, arrow. A girl being stung to a screaming, agonized death by genetically altered wasps. And of course, a 12 year old girl getting stuck like a pig with 6-foot of spear. Weirdly, I think the film perpetuates our callousness to violence as a culture, rather than doing anything to actually address it.
Case in point? The Hunger Games is a PG-13 rated film in America.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America website, here’s what PG-13 means:
A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children… There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.
So essentially “You should check this out before your kids see it, but if they front up with their money, we will take that money and not think twice about it. BAM.”
Now in the other hand, I’ll hold up a documentary called BULLY, which recently wore an R-rating from that same rating body. For your edification, from the MPAoA site:
An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian… Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.
There is no murder in BULLY. No intense or persistent violence. No sexually oriented nudity or drug abuse. Just conversation. Some talk of homosexuality and the abuse/bullying suffered because of it. Some F-bombs. And it wore an R rating. The Hunger Games, a film in which 24 teenagers set about brutally murdering each other for the amusement of the bloodthirsty mob, is rated PG-13.
What does this say about us as a society? That its cool for an unaccompanied child to go see a 12 year old get spitted, heads bashed open, popped with arrows, but it is simply ILLEGAL for a child to go alone and see a film about an issue that any school teacher will tell you is a persistent and growing problem in our school system? And the MPAoA makes a big frowny face in your direction if you decide ‘No fuck you, this film is important and I want my child to see it’?
“Generally, that is not appropriate. We glower at you now. Grrr.”
Is BULLY’s message any less valid than HG’s? Doubtful. Is BULLY going to strike home harder because it’s a documentary rather than a Hollywood spectacle? Probably. Is it more threatening to a conservative right wing establishment? Definitely. Is being exposed to violence and murder perfectly acceptable, but being exposed to the notion of homosexuality and profanity somehow not? Apparently, yeah. It is.
This makes no sense to me.
And this isn’t a phenomenon limited to the world of film, either. We live in a world where it’s cool for Author X to write a book where people are beheaded, eviscerated or dismembered, but some stores won’t stock it and some librarians won’t recommend it if it contains a kid smoking pot. Or swearing. Or being gay. This is the reality of the society we live in. I know authors who’ve been warned ‘stores won’t stock your book if you use profanity in it – you can keep the bad words in there, it’s totally up to you, but ya know… sales and stuff. Hint hint.” I know other writers who’ve been told point blank, flat out “Take out the profanity” by their publishers. “We will not print this book with the word ‘ass’ in it. Change it. Now.”
I’m not fucking with you here, people. This is the world you live in. Violence is okay. Murder is okay. Spent shell casings and chalk lines and children killing children – IT’S ALL OKAY.
But bad words? Sex? Drugs? No, we’re not having it. We can’t. We won’t. Take it out. Cover it up. Hush it away. Slap it with warning labels and overly-harsh ratings so nobody will see it, hype up the new Hollywood blockbuster with buildings disintegrating and mass carnage and kids killing kids, because the world as we know it will end right this second if a child smokes a joint on film or says ‘ass’ in a book.
Books and films containing drug use or sex (straight or not) do not condone/encourage drug use and sex, any more than the Hunger Games condones/encourages the spearing of 12-year old girls. Saying the word ‘ass’ or ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ will not cause the sky to fall or the world to end, and I have news for you folks – your kids say those words already. In all likelihood, they talk about and experiment with sex. Ditto for drugs. And instead of fretting on it ‘til you shit blood, instead of doing your best to make this a world where entertainment trivializes brutality and murder and hides away every other ‘taboo’ in some R-rated closet, instead of doing that, understand that not talking about the issue will not stop kids having sex, or doing drugs, or saying bad words. It will only mean they do these things without your guidance. Without perhaps understanding risk, or consequence. Without being as informed as they could be. In some arena over which you have no control.
Declaring a subject taboo only makes it more desirable to the average young person.
Your attempts to shield your children only make them more curious, and more vulnerable.
In the words of the immortal Zack De La Rocha: