Thursday, August 07, 2008

I decide what my child watches

I haven't seen "The Dark Knight" and I probably won't for some time, but just to dip my toe into the discussion about it's rating after Iain Duncan-Smith wrote to the Times deploring the rating compared to the violence in the film.

It's worth noting the story was followed up ConservativeHome and the shadow Culture minister, Ed Vaizey, gave them a statement about it. The comment thread there is full of significant moral authorianian hand wringing about the need to protect children.

However, in amongst the usual stuff is one comment by "Bob" which has largely gone ignored who simply said,
A 15 rating imposes the state's view of what's appropriate.
A 12A rating empowers parents to make the decision.
Aren't we supposed to be in favour of that?
I don't think it can be expressed any better than that really. As a parent it is my responsibility to decide what I allow my son to watch, not the states through it's rating system. The 12A rating gives me that freedom.

Interestingly, in the US, the "R" rating, which is synonomous to our "15/18" certificate works, if I recall correctly, like 12A does here. That being that anybody can watch it but that you have to be accompanied by an adult if you're under 18. I don't recall the socially conservative types in America ever calling for that to be changed, although I could be wrong.


Anonymous said...

There is alot of confusion over the nature of the BBFC certificates (please note we certify films, not rate them). The BBFC categories for films (unlike video and DVD) are not statutory, they are voluntary. Legally no cinema is required to abide by them. However local authorities generally do not licence cinemas that do not follow the BBFC scheme.

Censor powers reside with local authorities and they are quite free to change a film certificate as they see fit. I remember a case at the University of Warwick Arts Centre: during a film season they wanted to show a film that had not been submitted for a BBFC certificate. The local authority (Coventry Council) ultimately gave it a 16 (yes, sixteen) certificate.

If a local authority feels the BBFC 12A is not appropriate, it is free to put its own on the film.

As a personal note, while I do not like censorship, I also do not like watching adult films with children present. Films have become much more violent in recent years. The Dark Knight is not a childrens film and a 15 certificate would have been more appropriate (and I speak as someone who enjoyed the film).

This is not entirely an issue of the state deciding what people can watch, but film certificates do need to give a proper idea of what to expect in a film (note Two-face's make-up would have earned an 18 certificate not too long ago).

However I do agree with you Dizzy, ultimately it is for parents to decide.

Just my two-pennerth...

Ray Griffin, Coventry.

Anonymous said...

Of course, in the US there's NC-17, which functions like our 18 rating (although it applies to a minority of those films released here with an 18).

Even if we were to have 15 and 18 serving as parental guidelines rather than legal limits, I still think the arguments about the Batman film getting a 12A would be happening, since anyone who has seen the film can see that it has material which most parents would consider inappropriate for 12 year olds (let alone younger kids).

Stu said...

A 15 certificate doesn't impose the state's view of what is appropriate - it s far from impossible for a child to watch a 15 rated movie, particularly after it comes out on DVD. The 12A certificate may give a greater sense of control to parents, but it has been lambasted as confusing.

When The Other Boleyn Girl came out it was given a 12A certificate and there were many parents who assumed that meant 'it's okay for kids under 12 really'. Since their 8-12-year-old kids were studying Henry VIII they'd take them to see the film and discover it's full of scenes that you really ought not show a kid younger than 12.

As for Dark Knight: I loved it, but I think it's probably true that it's not for young kids. However, I wouldn't mind my sister watching it and she's 13, so I don't think 12A is too bad really. It's just important to remember that 12A means 12. Not 8. Kids under 12 shouldn't go, unless there's some good reason why they must.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint about films that allow young teenagers in is that few of them seem capable of watching a film without:

(a) loudly eating a bucketful of popcorn.
(b) constantly slurping from a litre container of Coke.
(c) needing to get up every 20 minutes to go to the toilet or ring their friends.

Or am I just showing my age?

Anonymous said...

@lakelander, no it's not our age but the seemingly increasing inability of young people to sit still for longer than 5 minutes without checking their mobiles to see if Chlamydia has sent a text updating Chavetta about her date with Tyrone even though they are sitting a couple of rows back.

At a recent cinema trip some young lads were misbehaving, throwing sweets at the screen. To be fair, they did desist when I advised the ringleader that the consequences of the next sweet being project screen-ward would result in the separation of his heads from his torso, as in "Do that again sunshine and I'll rip your fucking head off"

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

"A 15 rating imposes the state's view of what's appropriate."

Since when has the BBFC been an organ of the state? It's an independent body run on behalf of the film industry by a board of directors! There hasn't been a serious attempt to set up a state censorship of films since 1916 - which may be why we still have it.

tory boys never grow up said...

I suspect that you don't yet have teenage children. But if you think that they will think it is your responsibility to decide what they want to watch when they become teenagers you are sadly deluded. I think that you will find that at best your role will only be advisory in this regard.

dizzy said...

Rioght, so instead of dealing with the substantivge point about where responsibil;ity lies in this regard you attack me instead. I would suggest that Labour MPs researchers never grow up. Now bugger off unless you're going to add something of value.

tory boys never grow up said...

I wasn't attacking you - just making the point that when you have teenagers they will have their own views on what films they want to watch and they will not want to follow Dad's rules - you will not decide all the time on everything (and my guess is that you probably wouldn't want to). And given that parents cannot (and should not) control everything I think it makes some sense to have some rating of films rather than none as you appear to propose. Actaully, I think the current system is about right - and I certainly wouldn't change the rating for Batman.

And before you accuse me of being a typical liberal dad who lets his children run riot - I'm afraid that isn't me - it's a balancing act and a very hard one I'm afraid.

dizzy said...

"I think it makes some sense to have some rating of films rather than none as you appear to propose."

Where did I propose that? Oh look, I didn't! In fact what IO said was that I preferred the American system. Nothing more, nothing less.

tory boys never grow up said...

The American rating system is not that different - see an opinionated view here

In practice NC 17 films are very rare in the US and tend to be limited to a few cinemas in large cities. Not sure that the idea of having to give permission every time a teenager wants to see an R film - sounds even more restrictive than our 15 certificate. But then you cannot drink in much of the "liberal" US until you are 21.

Anonymous said...

"As a parent it is my responsibility to decide what I allow my son to watch, not the states through it's rating system. "

Well, it isn't the state that runs the rating system for a start. It is an independent body. But lets apply your thinking to other aspects of childrens lives:

"it is my responsibility to decide if my son should experience anal sex at the hands of my mates"

"it is my responsibility to decide if my son should reach 16 without any education"

"it is my responsibility to decide if burning with cigarettes is a suitable punishment"

"it is my responsibility to decide just how much hardcore porn my son should watch each day"

You are right of course, the children are not the property of the state - but please try to remember they are not YOUR property either. So broader society tries to protect children from irresponsible parenting, and that seems to me a good thing. Just why would you be so keen to make your son watch Batman anyway? Would it really harm him to miss out? Is there some deep political context that makes this a "freedom of speech" issue? I think not. Kids can do without seeing yet another violent Hollywood export.

I think a small jury of randomly chosen parents with kids of the relevant age groups can determine what the rating should be by majority vote and then inform the rest of us. That isn't state interference, that's just good sense. I don't want to drag my 8 year old to a movie that frightens the bejesus out of him anyway

dizzy said...

What utterly specious reasoning. Also, this point about the certificates being "independent", I think you will find that it is a criminal offence to allow someone under 15 to watch a film under 15, so saying the state has nothing to do with it is also specious like the idiotic slippery slope examples.

Anonymous said...

You claim it is specious reasoning without saying why!

You are baulking at the idea that "the state" should have any say in what you decide your children sahould watch.

I point out that if we took that as a general principle - that children were ENTIRELY the responsibility of the parents and parents alone that this would open the door to all manner of abuse. So we MUST conclude that the proper upbringing of children must concern broader society. It isn't a question of "slippery slopes" - it is establishing the principle that broader society SHOULD take an interest in what you are doing with your children, because we are concerned for their welfare and wish to extend them our protection. Once your children have reached adulthood they can watch Batman as often as they like, so one can hardly consider them grossly deprived.

The fact is that you have tried to pass off your own specious reasoning by using the term "the state" as a pejorative description of some massively authoritarian body seeking to crush the will of the people when in fact in our case "the state" is in principle the elected representative body of the people, seeking to govern in accordance with the wishes of the people. Having said that "the state" does not, in fact, try to force its own views directly on the people - but lightly regulates through an independent body. Even then, should you fall foul of the law, you will be permitted to present your own case to the local magistrate who is the people's representative in such matters, engaging professional counsel if desired. You make it sound as if you would be hung out to dry in some kind of show trial and then sent to the gulag!

dizzy said...

You claim it is specious reasoning without saying why!

Oh I'm sorry, it's called a straw man!!!

You are baulking at the idea that "the state" should have any say in what you decide your children sahould watch.

No, I'm saying that the state, through legislation, should not take away parents ability to choose to let their kids watch, for example, The Dark Knight. You then chose to set up a fallacious straw man suggesting that the end of that argument is that I should be allowed to choose to let my friends bugger my son which is, as I said, specious, because it takes the argument, over-simplifies it, extends it, and then attacks the oversimplified version.

As for your insistent on "light regulation" and indepednent body. The issue is not the body that issues certificates, it si the rating of the certificates themselves and the weight of the law that sits behind them that makes it part of the state which is a common term in political discourse to denote the body politic.

You make it sound as if you would be hung out to dry in some kind of show trial and then sent to the gulag!

This is another straw man. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

"Also, this point about the certificates being "independent", I think you will find that it is a criminal offence to allow someone under 15 to watch a film under 15,"

Dizzy, I know this was not necessarily aimed at me, but may I answer and clarify my original posting: it is a criminal offence to show a 15 certificate video/dvd to an under 15. The BBFC is a statutory body for videos and dvds (and only because it is the nominated body by the Secretary of State - though I cannot remember specifically which act gives this provision. It may be the one dealing with 'video nasties' in the eighties.)

For films in the cinema, it is a classification body with no statutory authority. Legally, films in the cinema do not require a certificate but, as I pointed out, local authorities generally will not (ie never will) license cinemas that do not abide by the BBFC system. It is local authorities that are vested with the censor's power, not the BBFC.

I too like the US system - which is designed to give parents authority over what their children see (see MPAA's website for their rationale). It is not a perfect system but does a decent enough job.

My concern is twofold: one - the amount of adult/realistic violence allowed in films that kids can watch (but again, I agree it's for parents to monitor), and two - I am getting annoyed at the number of kids seeing films made for adults, because they cannot keep quiet and/or stay in their seats.

But I stand ready to be corrected for any of the above.

Ray Griffin, Coventry.

John M Ward said...

The problem here appears to be the common perception (however erroneous) that 12A is "okay for kids". If that could be overcome, with a little bit of suitable education, then -- as you and "Bob" have correctly stated -- it becomes a parental judgment, and rightly so.

Not that I am particularly well qualified, as I am not a parent -- but I was a child myself, once upon a time :-)

Anonymous said...

OK here's a real-life scenario. I have a 12 year old son that kept badgering me to allow him to watch "I am Legend". "Oh," says he "All my friends have seen it, I'm the odd one out, you're so strict, they think I'm a wimp and its all your fault" etc etc etc. Usual crap. Well its got a 15 rating anyway so fuck him. He's not seeing it and that's that. I've seen it and he's too young for it. He wants to mess with me that's fine - one less brat to take skiing in February right? Save me a small fortune. I am not open to negotiation. But here's the rub. I'll get the same shit over "Batman" and this time I have a harder job "negotiating" because it's a 12A. Why is it a 12A? Because its called "Batman" which means its for kids, like the others were. Only now I'm told it's not really for kids after all and the BBFC have got it wrong. So how do I resolve this? Go and watch the Batman film for myself, first? Fuck that - can't stand Batman films. They are specially created for fuckwits that spent too much time masturbating over glossy Yankee comics. So Mr Vaizey pipes up and says it should be declared a "15" like "I am Legend" and kick the whole fucking thing into touch. I'm all for it. Little brats should be out and about doing something more constructive with their time anyway. Its not like modern cinema is full of quality product anyway. I could justify feeding kids all manner of porn and extreme violence in the name of "Art and education" but Hollywood isn't interested in art or education. The only reason the Yanks are so obsessed with violence is because they want to get youngsters to stop shagging and go out and join the US Marines to fight some damn stupid war. Its just state brainwashing by the backdoor. Come-on boys use up all that excess testosterone in killing Iraqis. You know it makes sense. Here's a new film to get you all pumped up over blowing the heads off of "bad guys" you dumb jerks. Should be banned to force the bastards to produce some real entertainment, instead of dressing up the same old guff. Oh look, bad guy looks weird acts wierd (don't they all, bit like foreigners really), does nasty things( just like those nasty Koreans/Iraqis/ Iranians whatever), makes us all hate him and want to see him killed (oh, that's nice and constructive - nobody ever wants to see the bad guy go meekly to gaol do they?), good guy comes along and kills him violently. We all cheer and go home happy, and want to be just like the good guy, who gets laid by some gorgeous bird with no brain who presumably really likes violent men. Is that the scenario? Usually is. Losers lap it up time after time. Clapping away like a bunch of trained sea-lions. No wonder we live in an increasingly violent society when we get brainwashed by this tripe night after night. Makes the Roman amphitheatre look civilised.

So go ahead and demand the right to let your kids see that stuff. Then demand the right for them to carry a gun. Its definitely the way society should be going. We should all go out and shoot each other. We don't deserve any better. What a bunch of wankers we are. Makes me want to become a Muslim and have done with it.

Steve: The Usual Suspect said...

I'm tired of the 'Parents see a 12A and think it's appropriate...' arguments here. Are we forgetting, PG rating signifies suitable for most kids accompanied by parents.

12A is quite obviously different and frankly, if a parent is too lazy or stupid to do a little legwork on the subject matter that's their fault. Not the state's, not mine.

It should always remain the responsibility of the parents. Legislation for this film in a supposedly free country is purely wrong.

Incidentally, having seen the film and seeing nothing I haven't seen in other movies (Only, Dark Knight does it better), this seems to be a storm in a tea cup. No 12 year old I know could even follow the plot, they'd get bored anyway. But... that should never stop them seeing something if the parents agree.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy repeats a statement about 12As and 15s, but that misses the point. The debate is about the guidance given by the film board, which was IMHO a too low age classification.

I support choice, but it needs to be "informed choice". Until I saw the film I could not judge it for myself. They would have been better off creating a 14A for it, which would have told me all I needed to know as a parent of a 12 year old.

Anonymous said...

"That being that anybody can watch it but that you have to be accompanied by an adult if you're under 18. I don't recall the socially conservative types in America ever calling for that to be changed, although I could be wrong."

You are wrong. There is a lot of concern that the "adult" in question is not necessarily the parent. Kids get into movies accompanied by any old "adult" they can find, or by a bigger brother or cousin. There have been concerns that paedophiles have used the system to gain access to children wishing to see "R" rated movies.

Full details on the US system can be seen here:-

Note, however, that in effect there is an entirely independent ratings system run by the Christian right where Christian parents watch movies and then detail every instance of cursing, kissing, violence and gore, then list them in detail on the net. This effectively introduces an even more rigourous system than the current 5 ratings used in the official American system.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a 13 year old, I went to see Dark Knight myself before deciding whether he could see it or not. I really liked it and took the view that he would enjoy the flash-bangs and not understand the scary psycho-babble. So I took him and he loved it in just the way I suspected.

The 12A provision didn't apply to him and legally, I needn't have gone to the trouble. But I did it anyway; it's called parenting. If more people did it we wouldn't have these problems.

Plus, I got to see it twice ;)

Anonymous said...

Interestingly "The Lion King" was rated "U" despite the fact that it graphically portrays one murder, one attempted infanticide and a revenge killing. To be honest I was quite horrified at its content when I sat through it with my five year old at the time, and I was right to be concerned because it gave him nightmares for days afterwards.

There is an astonishing amount of violence, death and murder in Disney movies. It is quite interesting that the original Pooh Bear stories never had any nasty characters in them - Disney had them added for the film. Other kids movies are interesting for their willingness to give young kids nightmares. The childcatcher was added to "Chitty Chitty ang Bang" but didn't appear in the original story - gave me nightmares as a child and the stage version gave my kids nightmares too, even though they were much older than I was when I saw it. Personally I would prefer a system where it is much clearer what content the film or show has so I can guage for myself whether my kids are ready for it. I appreciate they are on a journey towards adulthood, but that doesn't mean they need to be confronted by adult issues at the age of 5.

Anonymous said...

Firstly Mr D - British Films are not censored by the Government. We have not gone down the Chinese route just yet. So I think you and your giddy critics should pull their knickers (and their facts) straight.

The BBFS is an independent non-government body first set up in 1912. Its true DVDs etc are censored by order of the govt - which chooses the BBFS as that (independent) authority

Its Local Councils that can, and sometimes do, over-rule the Censor.

BTW - Its the state rather than you for instance which says that your 12 year old cannot buy a drink in a pub. Is that so bad?

You may indeed think that its all down to you if your child goes to see Batman - but if you say no, then it is entirely up to the willingness of the Cinema staff to be persuaded that he/she is old enough if he/she chooses to make his/her own mind up. A 15 Cert would make that more unlikely.

Quite frankly I grow tired of the attack on mainly Tories who have come out and effectively said this is a crap violent film which has the wrong certificate. lets not shhot the messenger shall we - they are quite entitled to their view. They may be wrong but then that IS a cartoon.

I think people are struggling to dissociate themselves from the psycobabble Oscar bandwagon (deep dark meaningful film bla bla) hype.

Anonymous said...

Hmm .. I have just noticed the last sentence in next to last para is garbage.

To be pedantic .... It should have read 'They may be wrong, after all Tom and Jerry is quite violent, but then that it IS a cartoon'

Anonymous said...

Fuck off dizzy.