We had a bunch of kids over at our house to stay with a babysitter last New Year’s Eve while the adults went out to get appropriately inebriated. They were to watch a film, and as I was slipping on my coat one of the girls, aged 7, asked me if we had “Paddington 2.”
And I simultaneously realized several things:
One, we did not, in fact, own “Paddington 2.”
Two, the cinematic interests of girls were apparently somewhat different from those of boys.
Three, the movies we allowed our own 7-year-old son to watch were light years outside the bounds of what would probably be deemed age-appropriate.
Four, I really, really needed to get the hell out of there in order to let the babysitter deal with what was clearly, inevitably, going to be a protracted battle regarding the film they were ultimately to watch.
Which made me think a bit. Until I got appropriately inebriated and ceased to think about much besides how I was going to deal with the inexorable hangover to follow.
When our eldest was maybe 4 or 5 years old he was deeply into a cartoon called ‘Ben 10.’ It involved a 10 year-old boy who was unexpectedly endowed with a bracelet from space that gave him super powers, after which he subsequently battled various villains from the far reaches of multiple galaxies. (As well as baddies from our own.) It was innocuous enough, but I had tugging misgivings. Shouldn’t he, if he watched anything at all, be watching educational programs like ‘Super Why,’ which taught kids to read, or ‘Sesame Street,’ which taught kids to covet Elmo merchandise?
He did actually enjoy ‘Super Why’ – for a while – and was enamored of the usual panoply of Pixar movies. (Although he wouldn’t, couldn’t, watch any of the shark scenes in ‘Finding Nemo,’ which I had to skip over.) But our youngest never really got into them. Whereas his older brother had watched ‘Cars’ roughly eighteen bazillion times, he watched it once, enjoyed it, and never asked to see it again. Of course, by this time our eldest’s tastes in movies had changed, and he was watching things like ‘Poltergeist’ and his little brother wanted – wants – to see the same films. And so he did. And does.
So the other day I was considering showing them ‘Captain Fantastic,’ and looked up the film’s rating on IMDB. Rated R, suitable, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, for those 17 or older – so a no go. Then I noticed something interesting. The movie’s rating varied wildly among different countries. Argentina: 13. Brazil: 14. Canada: 14. Canada (Quebec): G – all audiences. France: G. Germany: 12. Sweden: 11. And so on.
I found this very telling. Clearly there were some large cultural differences about what is considered suitable for children to see. The R rating in the US is primarily the result of a very brief glimpse of Viggo Mortensen’s penis (not in a sex scene). In Argentina Viggo Mortensen’s penis was deemed perfectly dandy for 13 year-old viewing. The Swedes have even less issue with Viggo’s schlong, feeling that kids 11 years of age would not be damaged by a flash peek of it. In France it was felt that children of all ages should have a chance to see Viggo’s junk.
Generally speaking, most Europeans have little problem with nudity. Go to any beach in the European Mediterranean and you’ll see what I mean. They were mystified by the hullabaloo that exploded when Janet Jackson’s nipple was partially exposed at a Super Bowl performance. (540,000 people in the US filed complaints with the FCC. On the other hand, “Janet Jackson” immediately became the most-searched item in Internet history, essentially spawning YouTube, so we may be looking at a bit of hypocrisy here.) Nope, broadly speaking, Europeans are okay with states of undress.
What they’re not so okay with is film violence. (The British Board of Film Classification, for example, requires that many violent scenes from American films be cut.) So acting on a hunch I looked up ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ If you’ve seen the film you know there’s quite a bit of blood and gore. More than a couple impalements. Decapitations galore. And this is what I found. In the US the film is rated PG-13. Canada: 18: Denmark: 15. Germany: 16. Netherlands: 15. And so on. To be fair, countries like Iceland, Ireland, and Norway all rate it at 12, but overall the rating systems in Europe seem to conclude that watching Viggo slice off the head of the Mouth of Sauron is less appropriate for kids than a peek at his tallywacker.
I have a confession here. Our youngest has seen the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films. He loves them. He’s 7 years old. He watches movies all the time that are probably not suitable for someone his age. He should, in fact, probably be watching ‘Paddington 2.’
Personally, I would much rather have my kids see nudity than violence. They do, in fact, frequently see their parents naked. We take them to beaches where breasts abound all the time. We even take them to nude beaches. We also, however, let them watch films like ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
So I guess the upshot of all of this is that we parents have to constantly make decisions about what our kids are allowed to see. Not all violence is equal, nor is all nudity – it’s always a judgment call. But for me if the choice is between a brief shot of Viggo Mortensen’s wang or an orc head impaled on a spear, I’ll take the wang every time. I mean, which would you rather have your kids see – a naked human body, or a fully clothed one riddled with bullets?