Just whose fault is it if we find ourselves engrossed in a book or movie we wish we hadn't started? I had an experience recently to illustrate and use myself as a bad example.
Having read some of Pat Conroy’s books, I should have known better when a friend I trade books with handed me a copy of his “South of Broad.”
“It gets a bit coarse,” she warned, “but I couldn’t put it down.”
She was right. The first third of the book was hard to put down. Conroy presented well-drawn characters, beautiful descriptions of Charleston, S.C., and a cleverly set plot. The pages were turning when bang — the language and detail of dark things made me stop.
I went a few days, but the desire to find out what happened drew me back. Gently I picked my way through the book, avoiding parts that I didn’t want to place forever in my mind.
Most of the book was really good. It was about family, friends, church and community. It was about love, laughter and humanity. I am glad I read it, but I am also glad I skipped parts of it.
Why am I writing about this? Because in my opinion a writer like Conroy doesn’t need shock value and bad language to sell a book. So why does he do it and why did I read it?
The same mindset can occur at the movies, but sitting in a theater it’s hard to skip parts. You either stay or go, not hide your eyes and plug your ears.
Last year I noticed there were few movies for adults that were not rated R, so an article by Scott Bowles for USA Today caught my eye. He wrote, “The movie business has never been known for turning its back on profits. But observers are questioning whether the industry is shortchanging itself — and movie-goers — by churning out R-rated films at the expense of family fare.”
The industry short-changed itself because the glut of R-rated films apparently has not been profitable, but that hasn’t stopped the industry from churning them out.
Bowles then quotes filmmaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who says he threw in scenes that assured him of a restrictive rating. Gordon-Levitt’s comment is, “If you want to connect with audiences with certain messages, that rating is perfectly appropriate. Life is rated R.”
Now wait a minute. Isn’t that the whole point of entertainment — reading books and watching movies — to get our minds off all the bad things in our lives?
Why do filmmakers think creative artistry needs foul language, sexual content, graphic scenes and shock to make a movie creative and artistic?
I emailed my good friend, filmmaker Kieth Merrill, for some assistance. He sent back some very good articles he has written on the subject that I culled two ideas from.
Kieth feels, “Art reflects life. In the movies the lives and values reflected are those of the people who make the movies. It isn’t rocket science. If you want movies that reflect your values, you better find and support the filmmakers who think the way you do.”
In lay terms, I believe that is called putting your money where your mouth is.
Kieth wrote a four-part series for the Deseret News on the MPAA rating system. He questioned the validity of relying on rating systems. PG-13 movies can actually be as poor a choice as an R and need careful monitoring.
In one of the articles he said, “In spite of good intentions, we can be victimized by our own unwillingness to control the movies we watch and the images and ideas to which we and our children are exposed.
"Making those decisions ourselves becomes increasingly important. We cannot rely on others to choose for us on the basis of a letter-code rating.”
In other words, the finger points right back at us.