Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rated R

I really don't think anyone who knew about my actions and lifestyle would have seen much reason to expect me to leave the church. Oh, sure, I'm a scientist--well, currently a science student and community college teacher--and I'm also a role-player (as in Dungeons & Dragons-type roleplaying--I'm currently running a biweekly Planescape campaign), two things that some religious people seem to associate with atheism and devil-worship, respectively--though much more so in the Jack Chick flavor of Christianity than in Mormonism; the LDS church is much more supportive of science and education than many other Christian denominations, and as for role-playing games as far as I know the Mormon leadership has never said anything about them one way or the other. All that aside, though, I've followed the commandments and recommendations of the church leaders more assiduously than most other Mormons I know, at least in some aspects. Not in every aspect; the regulation temple garments endowed members (i.e. members who have gone through a certain temple ceremony called the "endowment") are supposed to wear night and day, I'd gotten to the point that I seldom wore when I was home alone. But in other aspects, I was an apparent paragon of faithfulness. Such as, for example, with regard to R-rated movies.

The church leadership has said on several occasions that they recommend against church members ever watching R-rated movies. No exceptions because such and such a movie is harmless and only R-rated for innocuous trivial reasons; if anything, the policy went, it may be better to err on the side of caution and avoid PG-13 movies, too, especially since the bar has been sliding since the policy was first stated and what would have been rated R then might be considered only a PG now. To avoid corrupting influences and worldly thoughts that might drive away the Spirit, the church leaders strongly recommended that members avoid R-rated movies entirely.

Virtually nobody I know paid any attention to this.

Oh, maybe in Utah they do, where the church is a strong enough social force to impose enough peer pressure to get people to follow such strictures. (Though maybe not; come to think of it, Nathan Shumate of Cold Fusion Video Reviews is a Utahn Mormon, and he doesn't seem to have any compunction about the ratings, or lacks thereof, of the movies he watches.) But I don't live in Utah, and where I live Mormons are in the minority, and I don't know anyone who was as scrupulous as I was about avoiding R-rated movies. (Well, not that I make a point of asking everyone about their movie preferences; maybe more of the Mormons in my area avoid R-rated movies than I realize. But there are some I know for a fact don't, and I suspect, though I don't know for sure, that, while I may not have been entirely alone, I was decidedly in the minority.) Part of it was that I was brought up that way by my parents, certainly--but really, I surpassed even them in my sedulity in following these guidelines. My parents and siblings were perfectly willing to watch an R-rated movie on network TV. The objectionable parts had been edited out, they reasoned, and anyway the people who made the movie weren't making any money from their watching it in that venue, so they weren't rewarding them for their creation of the unclean film. This struck me, though, as just rationalization. The church leaders hadn't said to avoid R-rated movies unless they were edited for TV. Maybe the worst of the objectionable parts had been excised, but the attitudes probably suffused the movie, and if one could guess what had been removed, was seeing it in one's mind's eye really all that different from seeing it on the TV? Watching an edited-for-TV version of an R-rated movie didn't strike me as being much better than seeing it in a theater, and so I went beyond my parents' principles and eschewed even that.

(As a side note, there are companies in Utah--well, I know there's at least one; I think there are more, but I'm not sure of it--that sell edited versions of R-rated movies. They like to present themselves as defenders of the family and champions of wholesome entertainment, but even before my ascent to atheism I considered those companies rather despicable. Not only for the reasons outlined above, though they were certainly part of it. There was also the consideration that the fact the company was selling these edited versions meant, well, someone there was doing the editing. Which meant that someone was sitting through the movies in their unedited versions, probably several times. Which smacks more than a little of hypocrisy. Oh, these movies are too vile and nasty for you, but we can sit through them without being corrupted. Because, um, we're doing the Lord's work of taking out all the vile and nasty stuff, so He won't take His Spirit from us, and it's okay for us to be exposed to it all, under the circumstances. Right. And there's the very significant issue that they do their editing without the permission or involvement of the movies' creators, some of whom have objected to versions of their movie being sold that were modified in ways they had no say over. The companies made all sorts of noise about how the moviemakers' talk of artistic integrity was just a smokescreen to defend their infatuation with filth, or whatever, but really I think the moviemakers were probably in the right on this issue both legally and morally. Purveyors of wholesome family entertainment indeed. As far as I'm concerned, whether you buy into Mormon theology or not, those companies are pretty much scum. But I digress.

Oh, hey, wait, one note on the digression. I just was hunting down a link concerning the company in question for the above paragraph, and I found some good news...the legal action of the moviemakers has apparently paid off; a judge in Colorado has ruled that the sale of unauthorized edited versions of movies constitutes copyright violation, and these disreputable companies have gone out of business or changed their business plans. So hooray for that. That's one victory for good sense and ethics. At least for now; we'll see how long it lasts before some enterprising crusader tries to find a loophole or file an appeal. Anyway, digression over; back to the main topic.)

Why was I so, well, borderline fanatic about avoiding R-rated movies? Certainly not because I had a firm belief in the importance of the church leaders' injunction, or because I really believed that R-rated movies would poison my innocent little mind and turn me into a filthy-mouthed, debauched hedonist. On the contrary, I was pretty sure that seeing a typical R-rated movie wouldn't really have much effect on me. Maybe part of it was pride, telling myself that even if the R-rated movies wouldn't have an effect on me, well, maybe there were some weaker-willed people who would be corrupted my them, and by not watching them myself I was setting an example for others. But that certainly wasn't all of it, because if it was, why would that stop me from just watching R-rated movies at home alone and not telling anyone? No, I think really the main reason that I didn't watch R-rated movies was, well, at the risk of sounding terribly conceited, integrity. A desire to be faithful to my principles. And those principles included following church guidelines. If I was a member of the church, and if I believed in church doctrines, then I should follow the words of the prophet. The prophet said we weren't supposed to watch R-rated movies, therefore I didn't. End of story. That isn't, of course, to say I did absolutely everything the church leaders said--there's the issue of the garments I mentioned above; I'm not immunie to rationalization myself--but I really did try, and with regards to the R-rated movies there I succeeded. (It also isn't to say, by any means, that I think those church members who do see R-rated movies lack integrity--as I said, my parents brought me up to think this particular guideline was important; that may not have been the case for them, in which case it's quite understandable they didn't follow it.)

(Now, that's not to say there weren't temptations. I'm a big enough fan of Joss Whedon's work that when I heard about the advent of Serenity, I seriously considered if it turned out to be rated R whether I would make an exception and go see it anyway. But, as it turns out, it wasn't, so I didn't have to make that decision.)

So. I have never seen an R-rated movie. Not one. Not in the theater, and not on TV. (Though I have seen the beginnings of a few R-rated movies before I realized they were rated R and left, and I've seen bits and pieces of a handful of others when someone else in the room was watching them while I was busy with something else.) The thing is, now, now that I've come to terms with the fact that the church isn't true, that the prophet isn't inspired by God and that what he says carries no more weight than the words of any other nonagenarian...well, I have no more reason to follow the church leadership's advice about avoiding them. (Not that I think I've lost my integrity, by any means...rather, I've realized I've been allegiant to the wrong principles, and my previous fidelity was misguided. I'm certainly not going to be any less faithful to my moral principles; it's just that those moral principles will no longer include adhering to the arbitrary dictates of fifteen old men in Salt Lake City.) In short, I no longer have any reason not to see R-rated movies. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly rush out and see R-rated movies just because I can. It does mean, however, that if there's a movie that I'm interested in that happens to be rated R, I'm no longer going to feel obliged to miss it.

The thing is, though, after going 30+ years without ever seeing an R-rated movie...I'd hate to waste the break of that streak on some piece of worthless junk. In short, I figure after having gone this long without seeing an R-rated movie, I want to make sure the first one I do see is really a movie worth seeing. Hmm. Any suggestions?


At 9/29/2006 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first advice would be - don't get worked up about going to see an R rated movie, or you'll be disappointed. The only difference between R and PG is either a little more violence, or a little more skin, not a difference in quality. So while you have missed a lot of good movies, they're not any better than the good PG movies you've already seen.

That being said, just take a look at IMDB's Top 250 List. Out of their top 10, I'd personally recommend The Shawshank Redemption as the first to see.

At 10/09/2006 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glory, it's worth it.

Shawshank is also a very good film, but Glory is just barely a rated-R film that it won't be ask shocking as say Shawshank, which is still hard to watch even if you're used to R-Rated films.

At 10/11/2006 11:45 AM, Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Since you mentioned D&D and Jack Chick, I might as well link to this in the off-chance you missed it.

At 10/21/2006 12:41 PM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

BD-Yeah, I saw that. I actually have a copy of the original Chick tract that's based off of...why I have that is something of a long story that maybe I'll make a post about in the future...

At 11/09/2006 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Australia so I'm not too sure which movies are R rated (we have a slightly different system), but anyway, I could recommend:
Pulp Fiction (violent, crazy, but funny- if you're not used to violence it might shock, but you might enjoy it anyway) and/or the Kill Bill films, which are violent, but funny violent, because it's so over the top.
Chopper- it's an Australian movie, the biography of one of our more notorious gangsters

Aside from that it's sort of hard to recommend something without knowing what you like. Read some reviews, look at websites- focus on the movie, rather than the rating.

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