Private Viewing: Are parents the wrong people to choose films for children?

Stacy Martin and her co-star Stellan Skarsgard at a photocall for their new film Nymphomaniac by co

Stacy Martin and her co-star Stellan Skarsgard at a photocall for their new film Nymphomaniac by controversial director Lars von trier. Scenes of real sex were allowed because of the serious subject matter discussed in the film. - Credit: PA

A new report suggests we are all too dazed by modern movies to protect our children. Arts editor Andrew Clarke disagrees

Christopher Lee as Dracula, leans over a potential victim played by Veronica Carlson in Dracula Has

Christopher Lee as Dracula, leans over a potential victim played by Veronica Carlson in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Hammer films from the '50s & '60s no longer terrify audiences but retain their entertainment value.

A new report has been unleashed upon the world this week by a group of concerned media types in the USA stating that parents have become so desensitised to inappropriate images that they can no longer be regarded as safe judges of what is and what is not suitable for their children to watch on film and television.

It’s the sort of thing that is a red rag to a bull to me and, yes, here I am, happily taking the bait. But, as my blood boils I am hoping that maybe, just maybe, if we rehearse all the arguments yet again, hopefully some of the insight and valuable lessons that the BBFC (the British Board of Film Classification) has learned over the years will lodge in the minds of those unable to accept that people understand the difference between fiction and reality.

Unhelpfully, the report says that censors are no use either. It seems that anyone who watches film or television becomes so accustomed to inappropriate images that they are unable to judge when scenes of sex and violence cross the boundary of acceptability.

To back up their argument they point out that over the years the ratings of action and horror films have decreased but that statement pre-supposes that the world stands still, that the things which terrified or disturbed us 50 years ago would still unsettle us today.

Take a look at Terence Fisher’s original 1958 Hammer Dracula. It took a couple of minutes of cuts in order to get an X certificate. Today, with the cuts restored, the rating is 12A. This doesn’t mean that standards have slipped it means that tastes have changed, that the special effects no longer look real, the acting style is theatrical and the plastic bats are more likely to trigger laughter rather than a shudder. All these combine to dilute the fear factor.

Even the Victorian Gothic horror setting contributes to a feeling that it is just a story and it’s not really happening. Most contemporary horror films tend to be rooted in the present and are usually populated by students as these tend to be the ones buying the tickets

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The potential audience for these films is also an important factor to consider. Do we only allow U certificate films because anything higher may be inappropriate for someone somewhere? The authors of the US report, researchers for the Annenberg Public Policy Centre, don’t actually offer a solution but this is the option that they seem to be leaning towards.

If we treat adults as children don’t they become infantilised? Unable to question or think for themselves?

The BBFC have long shed the word censor from their title. They are now the British Board of Film Classification. They now guide viewers towards films which contain age-appropriate material. But, film and television are also art forms. They should challenge, provoke, stimulate discussion as well as entertain. It is difficult to do that if what you produce is completely anodyne.

In their guidelines the BBFC have said that they weigh up the potential audience for a work as well as the film-maker’s intent before granting a certificate. This is how scenes of explicit sex have been allowed into mainstream films, particularly foreign language films or independent movies. These are unlikely to be screened at the local multiplex and come with a proven track record gained from various film festivals and often have directors with a reputation for making movies with something to say.

These films are unlikely to be accessed by youngsters and are also more easily policed. Independent cinemas are unlikely to have a dozen screens, so staff are more aware of who is in the cinema seeing what film. Television provides different problems but the solution is much the same. It’s all about guidelines. We should all now know about the 9pm watershed. Nudity, sex and violence should only appear after the watershed. Dramas with adult-themes should not be outlawed just because there is the possibility that youngsters may gain access to them. It all comes down to responsible parenting. Some satellite companies offer pin-protection to stop children accessing inappropriate content but at the end of the day parents should know what is right for their youngsters.

Drama of all sorts – theatre, film, television – offers a relatively safe window in which to view and discuss the outside world and its tangled web of tensions and problems.

We need to classify not censor. We need to talk to youngsters. We need to discuss the world in which we live and not pretend that we live in a U certificate society.

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