Friday, March 14, 2014

Violence Vs. Sex On TV ... WTF, NBC?

I was watching last week's episode of "Hannibal," called "Sakizuki," this week, and I noticed something odd.

Despite the fact that the episode was disturbingly violent, it only garnered a TV-14 rating.

That got me thinking about TV ratings, and just how out-of-whack our priorities really are when it comes to violence vs. sex and bad language on TV.

Now, first of all, I could argue all day that rating systems are stupid and arbitrary. They are really based on what a certain group of people find acceptable, which is very dicey. I might be offended by completely different things than the people who are rating the shows, and things that they find shocking might be no big deal to me. There's also a shocking lack of context when determining ratings. For example, I always sadly laugh at the fact that the movie "The King's Speech" got an R rating because it had some "F-words" (in a very funny, turning-point scene). I think it stinks that a 16-year-old nerd who wanted to see "The King's Speech" would have to have a parent come with them, while the same year they could go see people get blown away in "Iron Man 2," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," "True Grit," "Salt" and "The A-Team" without parental permission, because those movies were only rated PG-13.

I also think that ratings systems have a chilling effect on artistic expression, because filmmakers and TV writers concerned with commercial success have to be very careful not to run afoul of the MPAA and the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board and get a rating on their movie or show that doesn't jibe with the demographics you're trying to reach with your piece.

(I'm not saying that kids should be able to watch anything that's on TV or in a movie, because they definitely shouldn't. But parents should be choosing what their kids watch based on their personal morals and ethics. That's why I got to watch movies and TV shows with naughty humor, like "Blazing Saddles" and "South Park," when I was in middle school, but couldn't watch scary, violent movies like "Jurassic Park" until I was much older. My parents valued satire and humor, and thought they were important for me to experience while I was growing up, but they didn't want me to experience violence onscreen at a young age.)

Anyway, I digress. The ratings systems aren't going away anytime soon. So, if they're not, they should at least be concentrating on making sure that ratings make sense.

"Hannibal" is a perfect example to me.

(Mild spoilers ahead)

In last week's episode, there were dead bodies galore, killed by a serial killer and stitched together. Hannibal killed a man and ate his leg as veal ossobucco. It was creepy and gross. There's also a lot of psychological torture going on with the character of Will Graham, which is quite disturbing. And this garnered a TV-14 rating! But had they shown a bare butt, or a breast, or said the f-word, they would have gotten a TV-MA rating, if the show even would have been shown on a network channel. But by all means, show some good ol' fashioned serial killing and cannibalism!

Another good example was "American Horror Story: Asylum." All of the episodes of that show were rated, if I remember right, TV-MA, and rightly show. "AHS" is a creepy, disturbing show. However, in one episode, they showed Evan Peters' bare butt. After every single commercial break, there was a warning about nudity. This, in a show that featured a character getting her arms and legs chopped off, Nazi experiments, alien abductions, torture porn, and a demon-possessed nun (dubbed Sister Mary Satan by the wonderful Tom & Lorenzo). BUT HEAVEN FORBID THE PEOPLE WATCHING THIS SHOW SEE A NAKED ASS.

Lest you all think I'm crazy, studies say I'm not. (Well, not on this issue, anyway.) A recent study shows that violence levels in movies have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, and that "since 2009, PG-13–rated films have contained as much or more violence as R-rated films (age 17+) films." It's not the same with sexuality and drug use. (The study doesn't mention dirty words.)

There is something seriously wrong with this figure, and it disturbs me greatly. I don't mind violence in movies - in fact, I am a big fan of several filmmakers who make very violent movies, including Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. I don't mind violence on TV, which is clear because I watch "Hannibal" and "American Horror Story." And I don't think that people should blindly watch movies and TV shows without considering whether they have content that they don't wish to see - and that goes double for taking their kids to the movies.

But if we're going to have rating systems, they need to be consistent and they need to give the proper weight to violence. Yes, you don't want your little kids to say a bunch of bad words, but a bad word never did anything worse than made someone sound stupid or got a kid detention. Sexuality in movies is more concerning - studies show that movies affect teens' thoughts about sex, and seeing more sexuality explicit content leads teens to have sex more often, engage in riskier behaviors when they have sex, become more likely to have sexual addictions, and increase the risk of sexual violence. Still, a quick bit of nudity that's not directly related to having sex is not going permanently scar a child. But violence ... "exposure to gratuitous violence in the media reduces the aid offered to people in pain," one study says. Being numbed to violence is incredibly disturbing to me. I don't understand why people seem to freak out at a bad word or a bare breast, but don't blink an eye at the constant murder on network TV. A cop on CSI would never say the f-word or moon the camera, but CSI is basically, as one friend put it, "a 45-minute slasher movie that millions of people who eschew horror allow into their homes every week."

I'm going to end by recommending two extremely foul but very funny items to watch and really consider when thinking about violence vs. nudity and bad language. One is "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," which contains the fantastic line, "Remember what the MPAA says: Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words!"

The second is the "South Park" episode "Good Times With Weapons," which ends with the townspeople being incredibly upset about Cartman being nude in public despite the fact that poor Butters has a ninja star in his eye for most of the episode.

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