There are many definitions of "family," but according to the Webster's dictionary on my desk, this one applies to "family movies": "designed or suitable for both children and adults."
So maybe it's the definition of "suitable" that seems to elude so many filmmakers and television producers in Hollywood.
This occurred to me as I watched the new straight-to-video high school-cheerleader sequel "Bring It On: All or Nothing." The first on-screen credit reads: "Universal Studios Family Productions."
The PG-13 rating is a red flag, of course. As everyone knows, most PG-13 movies these days might as well be rated R. How about R-13?
Nonetheless, the "Family Productions" credit led me to believe . . . fleetingly . . . that this might indeed be a family-friendly picture.
In the precredits sequence is the obligatory flatulence joke hardly unexpected, of course. Flatulence jokes seem to be a contractual requirement in movies today.
Then, within the first 10 minutes, the heroine is assuring her boyfriend that she'll give up her virginity on prom night! Yikes!
Is this really what Hollywood considers "family" fare these days?
And if PG-13 really refers to an acceptable age range, is this the message we want our 13-year-olds to get from their entertainment?
This isn't new, of course. The casual-sex-is-OK message is pretty constant in contemporary movies, video games, TV shows, music, etc.
And to be fair, this "Bring It On" sequel isn't nearly as raunchy as it could be, and there is a nice message about racial tolerance. But that just makes the sexual material all the more ill thought out.
Meanwhile, over on basic-cable TV, there are indications that the ABC Family channel is misnamed.
Look at TV critic Scott Pierce's description of the new ABC Family series "Three Moons Over Milford": "The central family is deserted by their father, the young daughter joins a coven and the teen son is having sex with the neighbor lady."
OK, this isn't the only show on ABC Family with "adult" story lines. There have also been reruns of "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" and whatever one may think of the quality of those shows, they probably aren't the kind of things children should be watching.
On the other hand, ABC Family is owned by Disney, and even the Walt Disney Pictures label is no longer reliable.
Back in the 1960s, when Hollywood began to up the ante on violence, sex, nudity, language and drugs, parents knew that Disney movies were still kid-friendly. In the mid-1980s, Disney adopted other labels for "adult" pictures Touchstone, Hollywood and, later, Miramax but the Disney name on a film was still a safe haven.Comment on this story
Now, however, the PG-13-rated "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, which are extremely violent and definitely not for small fry, are released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner. A dichotomy if ever there was one.
Similarly, in the 1970s, as adult material began to make inroads on TV, when a show was on in the early "family hour," parents knew it would be inoffensive. But that began to change in the 1980s and is now so much worse.
I'm not saying that everything should be squeaky clean. But when Hollywood labels a movie or TV show as "family entertainment" or targets youngsters in their ad campaigns, parents have a right to feel safe allowing their kids to watch.Not anymore. Parents can't simply take Hollywood's word for it.