The meaning of general audience

I have seen in online forums a depressing tendency to judge a films quality by the rating it is given. Two recent cases are the film Deadpool being automatically praised for its R rating and a few months later people declaring that they will only watch Suicide Squad if it is rated R.

Before I continue I must make it very clear that I am not against the content of R rated films or the rating its self. The problem that I have is that the system is being wildly misused.

Think about the term general audience. It does not mean small children it means everyone and anyone. The reason why this phrasing was chosen is because films intended for adults are not automatically inappropriate for children. Conversely to have any rating other than G in early Hollywood had to either traumatize children or feature explicit sex.

Allow me to give two examples of true general audiences:

My fair lady

This political satire was introduction to social commentary as a child. It tells the story of a linguist coaching a lower class woman to pass as a royalty. These days I prefer the original non-musical stage play by George Bernard Shaw Pygmalion. Discussion of drunkenness and the phrase “move your bloomin’ arse!” might disqualify it for a G but that was how it was classified in 1964.

Boy

This New Zealand film is rated M (the unenforced rating just below R) but was widely treated as a family film and deservedly so. It is about a boy in a small, crime ridden town being reunited with his father who has just been let out of prison. There is nothing in this movie that children from such a town aren’t already familiar with and the Director Taika Waititi tactfully takes these issues seriously while mixing them with light humour and an uplifting tone.

Both of these are high quality films that adults will enjoy the most but also good introductions to more mature films and that is the key issue. Excessive application of film ratings and similar systems segregate audiences by age and result in films for adults becoming explicit to the point of distracting from the plot while simultaneously delaying people’s introduction to serious story telling.

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