February 29th, 2012

Why the MPAA Rating for “Bully” Matters

Even as The LAMP joins the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) tomorrow for the union’s first Anti-Bullying Fair, one of the most influential powers in media is contributing to the bullying epidemic. Rather than take advantage of an opportunity to send a message about an issue which affects millions of people every day, this group is proactively becoming part of the problem.

You might ask why anyone would want to sweep the anti-bullying movement under the rug, and the answer is: The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is the body of individuals responsible for assigning parental guidance ratings to films. Within the film industry, these ratings can make or break a film. Imagine if you’re making a movie aimed at a young demographic, and then the MPAA tells you that your film is unfit for that demographic. Your studio head might demand a few edits rather than watch a film go down a multi-million drain, and if you’re interested in continuing your film career, you’d probably comply. All because of one group of people with the power to make or break your movie.

Last week, the MPAA reviewed the upcoming documentary, Bully, which follows five students in middle school and high school as they and their families are faced with bullying on a daily basis. Based on the trailer, the film isn’t just heart-breaking, it’s also hopeful as it illuminates the anti-bullying movement. Yet the MPAA gave the film an R rating due to language, meaning that virtually none of the teens and young people who would benefit the most from the film’s message will be able to see it. There are also plenty of adults who would do well to see how other parents handle the problem, how it is and isn’t addressed in schools, and what they can do to take action once the film ends.

Did you know kids use swear words when they beat up on other kids? Of course you did, and so does Lee Hirsch, the director of Bully. In an interview with Salon, he explained why he refuses to edit scenes of bullying to make them more palatable to the MPAA: “For me, when it comes to bullying, people are always minimizing the experience, they’re whitewashing it. The tendency is to say it’s a rite of passage or it’s just kids being kids, but it matters because the honesty and the brutality and the truth of those scenes are important and relevant. They aren’t thrown in there or scripted — this is what happens.” Apparently, however, the MPAA believes that the same young people involved in acts taking in schools and playgrounds across the country should not be allowed to see those same brutal, raw acts represented uncensored on screen. Quick! Protect our children’s virgin ears—after the other kids are done boxing them, of course.

One might make the argument that even if the MPAA were to give the film an R rating, the kids who really should see it probably won’t; no one wants to feel lectured and guilty, much less buy a ticket for the experience. But that’s not the point. The point is what the rating implies about how we view bullying. Bullying is as brutal as any violent R-rated movie, and as is shown in the trailer and documented in the news, it is much easier for adults to ignore the problem and pass the blame than it is for them to address it. Perhaps this is because adults are often involved in bullying as well—one recent study reported that 13% of social network-using adults encountered bullying, compared with 8% of teens—and dealing with bullying can mean some pretty deep soul-searching.

The issues surrounding the makeup of the MPAA and the clandestine way in which it operates are not irrelevant here either. The irony of an anonymous group of people effectively silencing a message about what can happen when no one is accountable is somewhat mind-boggling. It is infuriating that the MPAA has chosen to be part of the problem instead of the solution, and while I know their action is not representative of all Americans, I can’t help but see it as symptomatic of a larger issue. I hope that the response to Bully, regardless of an MPAA rating, can prove me wrong.

Click here to sign a petition demanding that the MPAA give Bully a PG-13 rating.

–Emily Long

Follow The LAMP on Twitter: @thelampnyc

Follow me on Twitter: @emlong

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