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Tirade of the Week


6.13.99

Rated R for Ridiculous


So now, apparently, movie theaters across America are going to start carding kids who want to get into R-rated movies. All part of the same bullshit post-Columbine denial this country has fallen into. This isn't even really a new tactic; some theaters have been doing it for a while now. Still, just like any of the other empty quick-fix political moves designed to make you think we're doing something to prevent another Columbine, it's doomed to failure. Get ready for five reasons why:

(1) IT IS BASICALLY UNENFORCEABLE

On a hectic Friday night, do you seriously expect the frazzled 18-year-old behind the ticket counter to card every single teenager in line? It's not gonna happen. Maybe the assistant manager will, because that's what assistant managers do -- they toe the company line. But show me the 16-year-old clerk who's gonna card people she knows from her high school. Or the 20-year-old English major working his way through college, who's afraid the kids he turns away might be waiting for him in the parking lot after he gets out of work. Not to mention the pissed-off adults who might be made late for their movie because 15 kids in front of them are getting carded. You think those kids are gonna have their driver's licenses out and ready to show the ticket seller? Tell me another one. Half of them aren't gonna have any ID on them and will argue with the clerk, the same way that teenagers trying to buy cigarettes hope that if they make enough fuss, the clerk will let 'em buy the cigarettes just to get rid of them and keep the line moving. Speaking of which...

(2) THE MARLBORO LIGHT LAW

Named after the brand of cigarette most teenagers and a lot of twentysomethings seem to favor. Anyway, we've all had the experience of getting cornered outside a convenience store by teenagers who ask you to buy cigarettes for them. Similarly, you're gonna start seeing teenagers asking you to buy tickets for R-rated movies. And some adults will comply, because they're afraid not to. Who knows, that teenager might be in the Trenchcoat Mafia. I swear, teenagers probably don't know whether to be flattered or offended that adults are so scared of them these days. The distrust that goes along with that fear, though, is resulting in some borderline fascism among high-school principals. I would not want to be a teenager today.

(3) TEENAGERS = $$$

Studios might go along with this for a while, because they want to be perceived as sensitive to the growing problem of the Impact of Fictional Violence on Impressionable Teenagers. (Whatever.) But teenagers account for a large section of the demographic that studios are angling for. Turn away kids under 17, and you turn away a shitload of money. After the post-Columbine guilt blows over, expect studios to raise hell over intrusive policies cutting into their bottom line. Expect movie-theater chains to get sick of it, too.

(4) PARENT OR ADULT GUARDIAN

The golden loophole in the R rating: "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian." Well, if you're 15 and your parents -- or, more likely, your older sibling or an older friend -- accompany you, you can get into an R-rated movie. Now, how does that protect the impressionable 15-year-old from being permanently warped by the violence in an R-rated movie? Are theaters also going to start saying that no one under 17 is allowed to see it, with or without a parent or adult guardian? Oh, no, sorry, forgot, that's the NC-17 rating. What the fuck difference does it make whether you see it with a bunch of your 15-year-old friends or with your mom and dad? You're still watching the same mind-altering, desensitizing violence that's allegedly going to inspire you to blow away 13 people. Yet the loophole also allows lazy shithead parents to bring their four-year-olds with them to an R-rated movie. I say, let's ban parents from doing that. In fact, let's ban these idiots from having kids in the first place.

(5) OTHER OPTIONS

If kids miss it in the theater, they can rent it or watch it on HBO in a few months. Some video chains already have a restrictive policy in place, though. Blockbuster, for instance, offers parents the option of putting a block on their cards if their kids use the card. Say you and your spouse and 14-year-old daughter use the same card. You and your SO can rent R-rated movies, but your daughter is blocked. (Or you can opt not to have the block.) Kids, however, can get around this by taking videos out from the library, where we let you take out whatever the fuck you want to, no matter how old or young you are, and no matter what Dr. Laura Schlessinger says about how we're corrupting young minds by allowing them access to the Internet. (Little thing called intellectual freedom; look into it, Dr. Laura, you ignorant fearmongering cunt. For the full story on how yet another demagogue seeks to eradicate our freedom by invoking a nonexistent threat to children, check out the link at the end of this piece.) And kids can certainly watch R-rated stuff on cable, or even download it on the Internet. Not to mention that kids can either sneak into R-rated movies (the time-honored bait-and-switch wherein a teen buys a ticket to a Disney flick and then slips into THE MATRIX) or use fake IDs.

A little factoid for ya, too. Eric Harris was 18. Dylan Klebold was 17. Both were old enough to walk into any theater in the country and see an R-rated movie without a parent or adult guardian. Meanwhile, millions of kids under 17 see dozens of R-rated movies every year without homicidal incident.

So what we have here is a quick-fix solution that's stupid and unfeasible. In short, a classic government move.

People really need to wake up and realize that restricting access to violent entertainment is not the solution to real-life violence. Whatever happened to the concept of catharsis? Movies like CARRIE appeal to the high-school nerd in all of us who just wants to blow up the whole phony, clique-ish little world of proms and homecoming games. The impulse would be there with or without the entertainment that reflects it. If anything, violent entertainment gives most of us a safe outlet to vent our homicidal urges. (And don't tell me you don't have them. We all do. It's part of the human package. Most of us don't act on it, but all of us have felt a fleeting urge to kill someone. Particularly in traffic.)

How can we prevent another Columbine? You might as well ask how we can prevent another tornado. We can't. I notice, though, that nobody is asking how we can prevent another war. You gotta love how the government has no problem with dropping bombs on children in other countries, but it'll go to absurd lengths to shield American children from fictional violence. Hey, radical idea: why not shield children from real violence by, for example, passing laws to make it easier for battered mothers to get themselves and their kids away from abusive husbands? Nah, it's easier to talk tough and scapegoat entertainment -- that way we don't have to look in the mirror.

Why is society more violent now? BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE FUCKIN' PEOPLE! Does anyone just not grasp this? There are more people, therefore more people who will kill or be killed. There are more people, hence a larger percentage of violently insane people -- people who'd be fucked up even without seeing a frame of violent film. There are more people, therefore fewer jobs, more frustration and despair, less time for parents to keep an eye on their kids, more pressure to chain yourself to 80 hours a week just to keep food on the table. People are gonna go bugfuck and people are gonna kill and get killed to a greater extent than they did 10 or 20 years ago, and you know what? That's the way of the universe. Natural selection. Thinning out the numbers. AIDS, cancer, the psycho with the gun -- they all help keep the population down, don't they? People don't wanna hear that 13 people died to make room for 13 babies born the same day, but it's probably true. Or at least truer than the bullshit we're hearing from the pundits about violent entertainment.

With this continuing government witch hunt -- typified by Henry "Jekyll and" Hyde's ludicrous proposal calling for unprecedented restrictions on sales of music, videos, etc. -- a chilling question presents itself. Is our free ride over? Will we say goodbye to our freedom to read, watch, and listen to whatever we want? More importantly, why are we letting a few psychotic idiots dictate our policies and fuck everything up for the rest of us who don't kill people? It's bad enough that entertainment is forced to comply with standards designed to make it suitable for children who might stumble onto it. Now we're supposed to sit still while freedom of expression is disembowelled in order to make entertainment safe for maladjusted pussies with guns and bad fashion sense?

I'm reminded of something George Carlin says (growls, actually) on his recent album YOU ARE ALL DISEASED: "It's one more way of reducing your liberty and reminding you that they can fuck with you any time they want AS LONG AS YOU PUT UP WITH IT!"

One last thing. In the '50s, at the height of juvenile delinquency, the government took a close look at the key, indisputable cause of teen violence -- I refer, of course, to comic books. In reaction to governmental scrutiny, the comics industry decided to clean their own house before Big Brother did it for them. Thus was born the Comics Code Authority, chockablock full of ridiculous restrictions on content (good must always triumph over evil, drugs or booze couldn't even be mentioned, even in an anti-drugs story, etc.) The CCA kept newsstand comics homogenized and bland for about 30 years, until non-Code-approved comics began to make some money, more comics shops began opening, the Code started loosening up, and the comics industry started to grow some balls again. Question is, are we headed for 30 years of bland, homogenized movies? (Ha. I should say, even more bland and homogenized than they are now.) Will the studios decide to clean up their act before Big Brother does it for them? Are we going to see a revival of the ancient Hayes Code?

I doubt it. As long as there's money to be made with violent entertainment, and as long as people want to see it (they always have and they always will), it will continue to be made. The government is calling Hollywood onto the carpet because it's afraid to go after the NRA -- and let's face it, nobody ever died in a drive-by movie premiere, no one ever used a concealed comic book to rob a store, no Marilyn Manson album has ever gone off accidentally and killed anyone, and no one has ever brought videogames to school and used them to kill 13 people.


==> Salon story about Dr. Laura's anti-library crusade