Lies, Statistics and Ratings
by Dr. Ted Baehr of Movieguide
Which brings up a good question, “What is a family?” It was Jesus who said that man and woman who marry must leave their father and mother and become one flesh, and it was Jesus who rebuked the practice of divorce rampant in His age. The fact of the matter is, if we don't use His standards, then the other alternatives are confused and/or misleading. And, regrettably, Hollywood's ratings are but a self-serving marketing tool.
As a result, the long-term study of the MPAA ratings by the prestigious Dove Foundation falls short on several counts. First, who wants more G-rated films, if those G-rated films are full of spiritism, occultism, and magical thinking? So far, the public has rejected most of those types of films, even when they were extraordinarily well-produced, such as FERNGULLY.
However, the fact of the matter is, whether the public likes these films or not, God abhors them and says quite clearly in His word that we must not consult with spiritists, occultists, fortune tellers, and a long list of others who practice magic. In fact, King Saul incurred the wrath of God for doing just that.
When people of faith endorse movies that portray such practices in a positive light, they display a lukewarmness which physically revolts Him. Furthermore, believers need to beware lest they lead even one child astray. (Of course, the Good News is that we live in Grace, but that does not excuse antinomianism.)
Indeed, the movies that generally do best don't do best because they are G, but because they contain a Christian worldview. For the last few years, films with a strong Christian worldview—whatever their rating—have done much better at the box office than those with a non-Christian worldview. Perhaps this is because 40% to 60% of the population attends church on Sunday, whereas only five percent visit movie theaters. To evaluate or attend movies from only a MPAA ratings point of view ignores the important theological issues that are being played out in the cultural battles of the late 20th century.
Furthermore, the figures based on ratings only hint at what most savvy people already realize. From 1979 to 1989, 77 million new Americans were born. This “baby-kaboom” generation, as Time Magazine calls them, sought out LITTLE MERMAID and LION KING when they were seven and are now starting to seek out SCREAM and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, as they are becoming teenagers. Only the foolhardy would aim films at seven-year-olds when the demographic wave has passed, and, Hollywood may pander to the public with DUMB AND DUMBER films, but it does not suffer fools lightly. Thus, DreamWorks is putting a PG on all their animated films, trying to keep up with that demographic wave.
Finally, including the many films of the independent distributors that share in less than one or two percent of the box office each year, inherently undermines a study of ratings. By this, I am not talking about films produced independently and distributed by a major or one of its divisions; rather, I refer to the small independent distribution companies who congregate at the American Film Market. These companies put out a preponderance of R-rated movies. Most can only open a movie in a small theater for one week. Their movies make so little money that they drag down the average box office statistics for R-rated films. Additionally, they distribute almost half of the movies released each year and about two-thirds of the movies submitted to the MPAA for ratings. Including them in any ratings average is a smart choice for someone with an agenda, but it presents a skewed picture to the public, and Hollywood knows better.
When three out of four of Disney's top-grossing films are R-rated, they understand the economics of the box office and don't need doctored figures to revise their point of view. The intelligent and ethical way to consider this matter is to throw out man-made methods of classification and look at the entertainment industry through biblical principles, specifically Christian principals. Then, a very vivid picture does emerge, but it is not the picture being presented in the MPAA ratings study.
It is unfortunate that many people have been mislead by Hollywood's self-appointed ratings experts. As one wise man said, “What you see is what you get…” (not what you are told you are seeing!).
Posted December 1998.