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In our opinion: Yes, content of movies affects the culture

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Harvey Weinstein conceded that criticism of Hollywood violence are not without merit. Content does affect the culture. Well of course it does.

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Hollywood is home to many outspoken activists who decry the high levels of gun violence in the United States, but most in the entertainment industry bristle at the suggestion that their products are in any way contributing to the problem. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear someone with as much influence as film producer Harvey Weinstein concede that criticism of Hollywood violence are not without merit.

What is shown on screens influences thoughts and, perhaps in subtle ways, behaviors.

“They have a point,” Weinstein recently said of his critics in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. He framed his dilemma in practical and personal terms. “You have to look in the mirror, too,” he said. “I have to choose movies that aren’t violent or as violent as they used to be. I know for me personally, you know, I can’t continue to do that. The change starts here. It has already. For me, I can’t do it. I can’t make one movie and say this is what I want for my kids and then just go out and be a hypocrite.”

These are admirable sentiments that run counter to those of many of Weinstein’s colleagues, most notably director Quentin Tarantino, who, when interviewed by NPR in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, insisted that his blood-soaked fantasies and real-world violence have “nothing to do with each other.” Weinstein is now implicitly conceding that this isn’t true.

It follows, of course, that other behaviors on the screen could be just as damaging. Sexual content, and even situations in which marriage and fidelity are needlessly denigrated or treated as something other than the gold standard for relationships, are commonplace in films. They, too, have had an effect on the culture.

In addition, consumers need a ratings system that more realistically reflects the content of films. “The King’s Speech” was a classic example of the inadequacies of the current rating system used by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The MPAA’s website says its ratings, “provide parents with advance information about the content of movies to help them determine what movies are appropriate for their children at any age.” “The King’s Speech” received an R-rating because of the limited use of offensive words. Sites that allow viewers to rate movies gave the film a more family friendly rating, given the context in which those words were used and the content of the film in general.

Other movies may be rated PG-13 but contain situations and attitudes that make them entirely inappropriate for children, teenagers and families.

Gratuitous violence, sexual content, language and the treatment traditional values all figure into a family’s decision whether or not to spend money on a movie. Current ratings are inadequate for helping them make such a decision.

Weinstein has done a tremendous service by acknowledging that the content of films, and the behavior of characters, do influence behaviors and attitudes in society. The film industry, like other industries that provide items for sale, needs to be as transparent as possible about its content so the buying public can make an informed decision.

Given how family friendly films tend to gross much more than those of a seedier variety, a better rating system would give the free market a better chance to reward good movies and punish the rest.

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