Few things confound like movie ratings. Boobs are worse than butts, but vaginas are better than penises. The S-bomb is bad, the F-bomb is worse. And barely-glimpsed drug paraphernalia can hang a cautionary PG-13 rating on a heartwarming family film.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which assigns the ratings, is a convenient punching bag, easy to pigeonhole as a bunch of tight-ass prudes. But at its core, the idea of rating films–or any other mass media–makes sense. The problem is, the way they go about it–and even more the way they explain it–is at times comically nonsensical.
Take Get Him to the Greek, a comedy opening this week. (Read the MauiTime blurb and get local showtimes here.) The film is rated R for “strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language.” Think about that. “Pervasive language.” Pervasive, meaning: all over the place, a lot of. So what they’re saying is, this movie has a lot of language.
Which is a good thing, because unless I’m mistaken, this is not a silent film. Thus, it would be difficult to fill 109 minutes of movie without pervasive language, most of it hopefully English for the U.S. market at least.
OK, OK…I know what MPAA is trying to say is “bad” language (another loaded term, but we’ll leave that alone for now). But that’s not what they said; they just said “language.” “Bad” is only three more letters, and it’s a lot more descriptive. In fact, they wasted letters by saying “pervasive” and “throughout,” which mean the same thing. And another word for “bad language” is “cursing.” So they could have said this: “Rated R for pervasive drug use, sexual content and cursing.” That’s more descriptive, and significantly more concise.
It may seem like I’m splitting hairs. Partly that’s because I am. But I do have a point: As someone who loves language and words of all kinds, I find it telling that MPAA–the body tasked with deciding who should consume what films, essentially the nationally sanctioned arbiters of cinematic taste and decency –conflates “language” with “cursing.” To them, I guess, that’s the only language that matters.
That’s weird, and sad, on several levels.