Terminating adult indiscretion

Let reason prevail; parenting should be rated R, as in 'responsibility'

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

What is wrong with this picture?

The couple in front of me brought in a booster seat so their little girl could see the movie screen over the seat back in front of her.

I'd brought my little girl, too, and I had brought her with some trepidation. The film was "Shakespeare in Love," and I had qualms because it was rated R.

I knew the film had won critical raves and been nominated for a slew of Oscars. My "little" girl was a mature 16-year-old with an interest in Shakespearean literature. I had screened the movie beforehand with my husband, and we had decided it was worth exposing our child to some Elizabethan bawdiness.

But the kid in front of us looked to be about 4, and I couldn't help shaking my head. What could her parents be thinking?

Recently I recalled this incident when I read that the movie "Hannibal" is raking in big money, and I heard a rumor that someone in Anchorage was spotted taking a young child along to the show. After all, the movie is "only" rated R, meaning minors can attend with their parents at the parents' "discretion."

I'm not qualified to tell other people how to raise their children, but it seems that some moms and dads have about as much "discretion" as Jerry Springer.

It seems reasonable that film makers and television producers should provide variety to serve the diverse taste (or lack of taste) of the public. A ratings system to give parents an advance clue about content also seems reasonable.

But clues don't mean much to the clueless. And the ratings system, as it now stands, is vague to the verge of meaninglessness.

Hollywood has ratcheted up the sex and violence content from year to year, perhaps in an attempt to stir jaded and finicky audiences. What we have on the big and little screens today is a far cry from the time when "Gone With the Wind" raised eyebrows by using the word "damn."

Studies and investigations provide plenty of evidence that some of the sickest and slickest products are targeted to young audiences and document that the average American child is exposed to thousands of simulated murders.

But Hollywood does not deserve the main blame for this situation.

These shows would go extinct if the paying public didn't lap them up.

When I read that a movie contains torture scenes including a victim forced to eat his own brains ("Hannibal") or a fantasy sequence with human entrails twining onto a spit ("The Cell"), I want to run the other way. (As you may guess, I have not seen these movies, so my hearsay versions may be off-base.)

But obviously zillions of people are of a different opinion.

I can understand that such things get people's attention. Focused awareness of lurid death and dismemberment was probably a useful survival instinct back when it was helpful to know that a saber tooth tiger was eating Uncle Og on the other side of the cave.

But I'm perplexed that such things have come to be considered entertainment, to be sought out in times of relaxation.

Adults are entitled to whatever questionable perverse "entertainments" ring their bells as long as such things have no victims and are carried out with sufficient privacy to spare the rest of us.

But why are they sharing these things with the kids?

When my daughter was in fifth grade, her teacher asked students to write about their favorite movies and posted the results on the bulletin board. I was amazed to discover that one of the most popular movies with the other students was "The Terminator." It struck me as creepy that so many 10-year-olds were so familiar with that R-rated gore fest.

Some people say this stuff doesn't matter because it is all fake and everybody knows that. Unfortunately, we always have a few unbalanced individuals who have trouble drawing the line between real and make-believe. As special effects become more and more realistic and people spend more and more of their lives interacting with video display terminals of one sort or another, that line will get even harder to discern.

As people in our nation wring their hands over yet another school shooting tragedy, it would be too simplistic to label violent media as the cause.

But as violent images saturate our society more and more, our impressionable children lose their natural revulsion to such things.

It is time for families to reverse the trend.

As a parent, I know how hard it is. One of my children is appalled by violent, explicit and coarse shows. The other has a morbid craving for "the F-word," blood and mangling explosions. She relentlessly nags us to bring home assorted R-rated videos and thinks I am a pathetic prude.

Starting back when she was about 12, she learned that if we refused to rent such movies, she could arrange to see them at her friends' homes.

Speaking as a mom, I could use a little help here.

I want Hollywood to clean up its act. I want the local theater owners to shy away from showing offensive material and the video stores from stocking it in the same room as the family fare. And it would be nice if other parents would at least ask our opinion before they give young girls at a slumber party free rein to try to impress each other with their schlock tolerance.

Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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