Mamma Mia" the other day. Yes, that movie with Meryl Streep and Colin Firth and a host of others doing song-and-dance numbers to ABBA tunes. And it got me thinking. (And that's how much of an overthinker I am - a musical based on ABBA songs makes me think. Sad, but true.)
What got me going, in this particular instance, was the movie rating. It's labelled PG; and apparently it got the "P" for "nudity" (that would be the guy wearing a thong with tattoos on his butt cheeks) and "language [that] may offend". Uh-huh, okay. Fine. No problem. (I guess the guidance that parents are supposed to provide to their eight-year-olds goes somewhere along the lines of "Now, darling, having a pair of eyes tattooed on your butt cheeks is in bad taste, you shouldn't be doing it.") Never mind the fact that throughout the film, there are some very suggestive dance scenes, one of them between a 50-something woman and a 20-ish young man who is openly panting after her (and gets the brush-off, quite hilariously, to the tune "Does Your Mother Know You're Out"). Never mind that Meryl Streep's character Donna has a conversation with her girlfriends which starts with the question "Are you getting any?" and progresses from there through some fairly heavy innuendo; and that the whole storyline of the musical revolves around the fact that Donna does not know who her daughter's father is - yes, for exactly the reason you would suppose. But all those things are not deemed to be worthy of parental guidance - it's "nudity" and "language" that does it.
Which brings me to my other point, "The King's Speech" - yet another Colin Firth film which took movie audiences by storm, and rightfully so. It was rated R. Restricted. And why? Because Colin Firth's character, King George VI, receives speech therapy for his debilitating stammer, and in the course of the therapy he says "fuck". That's it. That's all. That one word insured that children, even 17-year-old young adults, could not see this movie without an "adult" in attendance. Okay, fine - the word is repeated multiple times at high volumes, and it might even be accompanied by "damn" and "bugger"; I can't exactly remember. But the thing is that in the scene in the movie, there is a point to the therapist's making the King say this - he needs to get over his crippling inhibitions. And that's all he does, say it (or shout it, out the open window, as it were), and it, along with all the rest of the therapy, does its job. "The King's Speech" is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over fear and shame. But it was "restricted" from being shown freely because of a word.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Americans are afraid of words. Not of images, of sounds, or of actions - just of words. I wonder what has the movie ratings people in such a flap about it. Perhaps, when they were young, they were taught that "Sticks and Stones may break my bones / but words may never hurt me," and then they found out that that's nothing but a big fat lie. So now they're mortally afraid of words, and ban them from being heard by young audiences in movie theaters. Or can you think of another reason?
Incidentally, don't get me wrong - this is not meant to be bashing "Mamma Mia". I enjoyed myself watching it the other day, and will probably watch it again soon. It's an engaging, feel-good piece of fluff with gorgeous visuals, toe-tapping tunes, and marvellous actors strutting their stuff. Great fun for a dreary afternoon. I just wish that the movie raters would get off their obsession with "language", and start thinking about content for a change. The ratings would perhaps, then, start meaning something again.
Life, the Universe, and Words. Don't be afraid of Language.