Kids Can't Watch Depiction of What Their Lives Are Like

Sounds like an Onion title when put like that, no? Here’s a documentary about the bullying kids’ suffer that the MPAA rated R:

The MPAA defended its judgment thusly:

Bullying is a serious issue and is a subject that parents should discuss with their children. The MPAA agrees with the Weinstein Company that Bully can serve as a vehicle for such important discussions.

The MPAA also has the responsibility, however, to acknowledge and represent the strong feedback from parents throughout the country who want to be informed about content in movies, including language.

The rating and rating descriptor of ‘some language,’ indicate to parents that this movie contains certain language. With that, some parents may choose to take their kids to this movie and others may not, but it is their choice and not ours to make for them. The R rating is not a judgment on the value of any movie. The rating simply conveys to parents that a film has elements strong enough to require careful consideration before allowing their children to view it. Once advised, many parents may take their kids to see an R-rated film. School districts, similarly, handle the determination of showing movies on a case-by-case basis and have their own guidelines for parental approval.

Holmes complains:

There’s a grotesque irony in declaring that what is portrayed in Bully should be softened, or bleeped — should be hidden, really, because it’s too much for kids to see. Of course it’s too much for kids to see. It’s also too much for kids to live through, walk through, ride the bus with, and go to school with. That’s why they made the movie. The entire point of this film is that kids do not live with the protection we often believe they do — many of them live in a terrifying, isolating war zone, and if you hide what it’s like, if you lie about what they’re experiencing, you destroy what is there to be learned. It seems grievously beside the point to worry that the film is too much for kids. The problem is that even at school where there is meant to be protection, the world is too much for them; some of their parents will tell you that’s why they took their own lives. Any parent who is truly offended by the language their kids experience in seeing Bully would be wise to consider that they’re likely hearing it at school anyway — that’s how it got in the film.

This rating doesn’t merely give parents information. It presents a 15-year-old with the prospect of meeting an usher at the door who says, “I’m sorry you came here looking for the movie about the hard-charging teenage lesbian who overcame being intentionally hit with someone’s car and has survived to tell the tale with her friends and with her parents who love her. That one is rated R. Would you consider Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance?”

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • jamessweet

    Please excuse the R-rated comment, but: Really, the problem here is that fucking profanity should not be enough to trigger a fucking R-rating all by itself. That makes no fucking sense.

    I am sympathetic to the argument that even if a movie depicts an important issue that would make a worthy topic of discussion with kids, even if it is a movie that kids probably ought to see, the MPAA still has a responsibility to advise on the content. That’s pretty much their mission statement.

    But the fact that language alone can garner an R-rating is just absurd.

    This circumstance highlights the absurdity of it in a big way: While most kids don’t typically go to school and see their classmates shooting each other or performing nude strip-teases, what fucking school are you going to where you don’t hear profanity? Really? The idea that kids can be shielded from profanity is just stupid (even stupider than the idea that they ought to be). You can limit kids’ exposure to violence, but they’re going to incessantly hear the F-bomb one way or another.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Exactly, if you want a middle schooler to hear no profanity. Keep them away from other middle schoolers.

      And to fanatically sheltering parents, if you keep middle schoolers away from their peers you are hurting them more than profanity will.

      Life is hard. Talk to your kids. Teach them values and critical thinking and always let them know that if they tell you the trouble they get into, you will help them rather than hate them. Then just say “fuck it” because the rest is out of your control.

    • seditiosus

      What jamessweet said.

    • John Morales


      I know full well that in the vernacular, ‘profanity’ and ‘swearing’ and ‘cursing’ are conflated with ‘vulgarism’, and I’m furthermore aware of the etymological fallacy.

      But damn! :)

      (Egad! Sheesh!)

  • Alex Songe

    I went to a small private school where I was bullied nearly every schoolday from the 2nd to the 7th grade. I contemplated suicide during the second half of those years. While it only takes a couple people to really turn a crowd into bullying somebody, it only takes a few to set it back. In my own experience, having a few decent kids around can really change the dynamics and environment by tempering the crowd. I’m sure there are other kinds of bullies, but the bullies I had trouble with were reinforced and supported by their social groups.

    • Alex Songe

      Hit “Submit” a little too soon. Anyway, the MPAA needs to understand that they are the de facto agency for which policy is made on suitability. Taking this into account, maybe they need to set “age-appropriateness” as a separate category from these more objective/bullshit ratings. You can’t quantify context, and this movie is appropriate for kids.

  • Nomen Nescio

    i see this movie is still on topic, apparently.

  • sumdum

    And once again the victims are blamed for the lives they live. Having been a victim for my entire youth, I say a hearty fuck you to them all.

  • Aliasalpha

    If it actually shows violence against children, that might be the reason for the higher rating. Kid violence is one of the things that gets removed or altered in games (usually resulting in a massive hit to immersion) to stop them getting an R rating, might be the same thing in films

  • sumdum

    In some cases there’s fair use, allowing people to use copyrighted material for educational purposes. I think such an exception should also be made here. Allow the violence to be shown in a case where it’s strictly used as an example, in protest against the violence itself. What these people seem to be doing is hiding it, making sure we remain an invisible group of non existing humans. And heck, if it’s not seen then surely it doesn’t exist, we must be making it up.

  • Pen

    Schools are often the site of mini Lord of the Flies scenarios. I don’t believe the collective education system as it exists is calculated to create socially healthy environments, but I can’t prove it. My school life was awful, but nothing as bad as I have seen as a parent. I removed my grade-school daughter from the other grade-school children and allowed her to spend time with kids of all ages in differently supervised settings instead. You would be astonished at the difference it makes. Next year she returns to brave the middle school environment, and we’ll see how that goes. I don’t think I could force her to spend the next eight years learning to live with abuse instead of developing her knowledge and interests, so I sure hope we make it work somehow.

  • Sheesh

    I want to echo Nomen Nescio. If you haven’t seen This Film is Not Yet Rated (or have read similar research) you really can’t understand the underpinnings of this story. (It’s on Netflix streaming.) The ratings board is completely unobjective, secretive and answers to no one. Members that have been uncovered are generally hyper-religious prudes and pearl-clutchers.

    Many school districts have an outright ban (policy) on R-rated films for classrooms and field trips. This rating will insure that most kids won’t see this film while it might be useful.

    On the other hand I’m less worried about the semi-censorship because kids that age are ruthless “pirates”. They’ll download it; it will probably be seen underground.

  • triamacleod

    In today’s society where we have such a wide breadth of what is and is not acceptable depending on cultures, religions and social settings. Why can’t the MPAA simply do as the TV censors have done. A simple code showing what they consider to be offensive (nudity, language, violence, etc) and a SUGGESTED age limit and then back the hell off and let parents do their effing job. I know some 10 year olds that could watch this film and do well. I know some 25 year olds that would watch this and see a ‘how-to’ manual.

    You can’t just declare some arbitrary age as being okay to handle something and other’s not. I understand that with alcohol and such it is more a convenience as the bartender doesn’t know one stranger from another, but really, I keep hearing how parents don’t parent anymore. Step back and give some of us a shot without tying our hands all the time. And yes, my well under ‘R’ rated children will be seeing this.

    • One Brow

      It’s not illegal for a 15-year-old to see an “R”-rated movie. It’s the decision of the movie theater to let them in, or not. The MPAA is an advisory board, just like the TV ratings are advisory. It’s the theaters that are the gatekeepers.

  • DuWayne

    Fucking dumbass fucking bullshit! The MPAA is such a fucking crock. The problem is not just limited to school districts that have absolutist policies – though of course they do, it is that a hell of a lot of parents set the rules about what to watch by the idiotic MPAA ratings. My mother is convinced that allowing a film into the house that has an R rating effectively = letting Satan into the house. While I would assume most parents don’t quite take it that far, a LOT of parents I know don’t allow anything worse than PG, or PG-13.

    These fucking idiots seriously give me a headache.

  • Luna_the_cat

    I see this rating as a kind of silencing tactic as well, kind of like what sumdum says — this rating is a vehicle to deny that this IS part of kids’ lives and puts it on par with fiction that kids “aren’t old enough for”, and enables parents to treat the experiences portrayed that way as if they actually weren’t part of daily life in schools. End message to the kids: “your experiences that you live are not really real and aren’t yours.” How’s that for shutting down communication or any ability for kids to articulate the real problems?

  • gushinrich

    It’s OK to live through, but not to watch… Jeeze.

    Reminds me that, 40 YEARS AGO, many of the kids who were AT Woodstock couldn’t see the movie about it since it was R-rated.

    Things haven’t changed much…

  • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

    Here’s a petition to overturn the R rating. You can also contact the MPAA directly if you like.

  • Ysidro

    The MPAA are bullies. Seems reasonable that they wouldn’t want kids to see a movie about bullies.

  • One Brow

    I agree with the commentators that loanguage alone should not b e enough to earn an “R”.

    That said, the film-maker4s had a choice to resubmit the file with that language redacted/covered up, and chose to keep it the way it was with the “R” rating. By agree the language is power and important, the film-makers are basically agreeing with the MPAA that tyhe language matters, even if the disagree about what the consequences of it should be regarding the rating.