For many years now, I have known of the inadequacies of the system by which movies are rated. Standing in the aisles of many a Blockbuster, I have asked myself the following questions: “Just what does ‘some mild language and crude humor’ mean? Are we talking a fart or two? A mooning here or there? Using the word ‘crap’ but not ‘s—‘?” And the deeper into the world of kiddie film culture I have gone, the more frustrated I have become. Too often “Rated G” not only stands for General Audience but “Generic” or “So mind-numbingly dull it could cause brain damage.” (Yes, I realize the last one doesn’t begin with a “g” but remember I am suffering from “G” syndrome, so cut me some slack.) It isn’t even that the movies are boring for adults. I feel a constant tension in desiring to see my kids develop an aesthetic appreciation for the art of filmmaking when so many of the movies made for them are horribly made, uncreative or transparently agenda-driven. The poor creatures are often forced to watch old classics with Jim and I such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Buster Keaton’s The General rather than sitting through two hours of our berating their beloved swill.
Still, kids will be kids, and I thought I had made my peace with the kid-flick industry. This past week, however, my somewhat benign annoyance bubbled over into a case of full-fledged loathing. Jim and I maintain the upper-hand with popular culture to a great extent by not allowing the kids to watch television. By limiting them to DVDs and the occasional, archaic VHS tape, we avoid a great deal of nagging regarding upcoming releases. Over the holidays, however, we visited my parents and my mother-in-law and the boys enjoyed a few days of unlimited access to the Cartoon Network and Animal Planet. They started asking to see Marley and Me and after seeing a few harmless-looking previews, I agreed to take them. I must confess to an ulterior motive in that I love going to the movies. Not just seeing movies, but the act of going to the movie theater, eating over-priced popcorn, the whole enchilada. So off we went. After all, it was rated PG. How bad could it be? Bad…really, really bad. Sure it had plenty “Oh, look they tied the dog to the table and he ran away to chase a cat” moments to keep the boys occupied. But it also had enough “Oh, look Jennifer Aniston is taking off her shirt and jumping into the pool” moments to make me choke on that over-priced popcorn and wish I had stayed home and watched another episode of Flapjack. It isn’t too often that you have discussions with your nine-year old regarding birth control and the inappropriateness of bikinis in one afternoon. While I blame no one but myself for having blindly walked into the theater without much in the way of screening, what are these filmmakers thinking? Have they ever met a child? Do they really think this is what parents and kids want to sit and watch together? I may have my beefs with Walt Disney—hard-core Darwinist and occasional racist that he was—but at least he knew his audience. Call me outmoded, but I long for movies that tell a great story in an appropriate way for kids. When such a film comes out, let me know. I’ll be standing in the aisles of Blockbuster, muttering to myself and trying to keep my rantings at a PG level.