Salt and Seed
What "The King's Speech" Teaches about Mormon Culture
Perhaps another reason for the waning of the taboo on R-ratings is its growing irrelevance to both the nature of the cultural media we consume and the ways in which we consume it. For most Latter-day Saints, films rated by the MPAA and viewed in a movie theater (where restrictions can be enforced) represent a very small portion of their total media diet, and looking to the R-rating to screen out offensive material is futile. And in a popular culture as saturated with sex as ours, visual depictions of sex and vulgarity are hardly the only vectors of degrading sexual innuendo. As David Seidler, the screenwriter of The King's Speech, pointed out, when a film like Little Fockers can broadcast its pervasive crassness in its very title and earn a PG-13 rating, while a film like The King's Speech earns a restricted rating, you know the system is broken somewhere.
So I am glad, for the most part, that the taboo on the R-rating seems to be weakening, if only because it may encourage Latter-day Saints to be more mindful about the film media they view. And the R-rating is only one of several cultural taboos that seem to be softening in Mormon culture; the taboo on caffeinated beverages, for example, seems to have all but disappeared, as has the taboo on male facial hair; on a much more momentous matter, the taboo on working mothers is greatly diminished. A few new cultural proscriptions have appeared, of course, notably on piercings and tattoos. But overall I would say that Mormon life is less governed by taboo—that is to say, is less governed by unique community norms, folkways, and mores—than it was, say, at mid-20th century.
I am mostly glad about that, as well, but only mostly. While I'm glad that working mothers face less social resistance at church than they have in the past, for example, I also recognize that a robust system of community norms is associated with vibrant group identity and social cohesion. And somewhat paradoxically, strong cultural norms can allow a certain kind of personal freedom; when generally desirable behaviors can be enforced informally through the pressure of social norms, those behaviors don't have to be absolutely proscribed in law or regulations and thus aren't subject to formal penalties. Then when an individual community member faces a circumstance in which breach of the taboo is really necessary, he or she can act without fear of official penalty. (That's not to say that there won't be any social consequences within the community: there probably will be, and that's not an easy thing.)
Thus while I may not mourn the passing of some of our cultural taboos, I'm a qualified supporter of taboo in the abstract. Social norms, mores, and folkways generally do important cultural work, and they're a tireless assistant to parents engaged in the arduous work of socializing children. I can use the help. I myself haven't seen The King's Speech, because I'm just too darn tired to go out once the kids are in bed.
Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.