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April 22, 2015

Potty Mouth

English: "PG-13" rating of Motion Pi...
English: "PG-13" rating of Motion Picture Association of America film rating system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Ross M. Kitson

Now I haven’t seen the film in question, but my dear wife took the older two of my brood to the cinema the other day to see Project Almanac . It was for a 11th Birthday treat, and two of Evelyn’s (daughter) friends came along. The film is a 12 in the UK, which equates with a PG-13 over in the US—so the wife expected potentially a bit of violence, dash of gore, a few risqué references or scenes, and perhaps a few cuss-words.

Hmmm. By all accounts the film was alright—standard consequences of mis-used science fayre, time travel paradox effects—a bit like a 50s sci-fi short story or a 2000AD Future Shock (but obviously not on a par with Back to the Future….). Yet the wife’s salient memory of the film was the swear-word content. Now, we’re not prudish in our house, far from it, but I think especially since she was taking some of E’s friends to the film, the wife felt rather uncomfortable at the tirade of S&^% bursting from the errant teenagers’ mouths at every opportunity, and the F-bomb dropped along the way. Throw in some mild rude parts and you can see why she won’t be getting the DVD any time soon.

Now it may be slightly naïve of me to expect no cussing in films of a 12A/PG-13 certificate, but when the good wife mentioned this it got me thinking about some of the 12s I’ve seen in the last couple of years, and she’s right… there’s a cuss-creep occurring. The very first 12A I recall seeing was Spiderman 1, and I thought for a long while that this was the first 12A. Apparently Batman was the first—although Spiderman was re-classified as a 12A. This was a British phenomenon, as the US had already started with PG-13’s back in 1984 with The Temple of Doom and Gremlins (which I recall were PG and 15 here). There was a discrepancy between film and video, so for a while Batman was a 15 on video before the law changed.

I’m not daft enough to think kids don’t cuss, as many, many winters ago I too was a young lad with a potty mouth. But film makers seem to be falling into the trap common to children and adolescents in equating swear words with coolness and maturity. It’s as if you can see some Hollywood script writer, fresh from the leafy glades of Harvard or Yale, thinking that to give his script extra credence with Da Kidz he needs a tirade of mild-moderate expletives, with a little F-bomb thrown in for added kudos. And it truly is a cuss-creep. We’ve moved from violence and mild sexual content earning you your 12A/PG13 to bad language being the main issue. I sat through both of the recent X-men films—Days of Future Past and First Class, wincing a little and then holding my head in despair at Wolvie throwing in the F-bomb. Why? It was almost puerile the way it was done. You can see X-men fanboys snickering behind their hands at big bad Wolverine using the big bad word. They’d say ‘oh, it’s in character, it’s what he’d say in real life.’ In real life? A mutant with regenerative powers, an adamantium skeleton, twelve inch claws, who’s a hundred and thirty years old? Yeah…oh, I see that realism right there.

It’s pointless and childish of film makers and it’s a cheap shot. If they’re relying on swearing in films to give their characters some integrity and realism then they need to go back to Screen Writing 101. We suspend our disbelief when we go watch movies, immerse ourselves in the worlds. We accept fantasy, sci-fi, superheroes, unlikely love stories, vampires and werewolves, astonishing plot twists and coincidences. It’s not too much of a push to accept that the characters may not swear as much on celluloid as they would in ‘the real world’ any more than we accept they always pull on pants/sheets/t-shirts when getting out of bed for a wee, never seem to need the loo, have astonishingly buff bodies despite seemingly sedentary lifestyles, and never switch lights on when there’s a monster/serial killer/werewolf/robot lurking in the lounge.

Maybe it’s time to look at certification again? Anyone for a 12-F category…?


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