For a variety of reasons, I find the movie industry's adoption of the PG-13 rating as the only acceptable mainstream standard annoying. One of those reasons is variety: while I understand the industry's desire to make movies that are all things to all people, I personally like to change it up every now and again. While I might be in the mood for a touching, heartwarming tale of family reconciliation one day, I might be in the mood for gruesome, blood-soaked ownage the next. And, every now and then, a little sex. Another reason the universality of the PG-13 sucks is how arbitrarily it's defined. Sexuality, forget it, nothing more explicit than cock/clit teasing allowed. Violence, that you can have all you want. You get the feeling Scarface would be a PG-13 today if they cut the number of times Tony Montana says “fuck.”“That word is special. We only use it for something really important.”---Hope and Glory
But that last is one of the things I'm starting to enjoy about PG-13 movies. Among the stupid, arbitrary definitions of the rating is: you can say “fuck” (as you may have gathered, one of the favorite words here at Movies By Bowes ™) once. That's it. Occasionally someone sneaks a second in there—like in Ocean's Eleven—but the second one tends to be either mumbled or spoken, as in Ocean's Eleven's case, in a heavy enough accent that the Republican soccer moms on the ratings board might not have processed it as a “fuck.” But, for the most part, PG-13 movies are allowed one.
The reason why I've recently become very fond of this rule is that filmmakers, tailoring their script toward the commercially-friendly PG-13 rating, have started to realize that if strategically deployed, their one “fuck” can be extremely memorable, maybe even the best quote of the movie. I just saw Super 8 the other day, and it's awesome and the second coming of sliced bread and kittens and sunshine. It's a PG-13 movie because writer-director J.J. Abrams is a pretty PG-13 guy; not knocking him, it actually works really well for him, since he can totally make the kind of movies he wants without having to censor or euphemize too much.
Super 8's one of those movies that shouldn't be spoiled, so I won't go into too many details, but there's a bit where all manner of hell has just broken loose, and this one guy has totally just slept through most of it, and walks over, looks at a massive pile of shit that's just been destroyed and goes, “What . . . the fuck?” in this perfect line reading. It's easily the funniest thing in the whole movie.
Then, of course, there's the magnificent Fast Five (the year's second-awesomest movie of the year so far only because Super 8 is really sincerely that good), also a PG-13, which also deploys its one “fuck” quite well. When The Rock and his gigantically muscular ownage squad touches down in Rio and Rock liaises with the Brazilian cops, he delivers his curt tough guy speech, and caps it off when the Brazilian cop asks him if he needs any help by responding “Stay the fuck out of my way.” Awesome.
In both instances, the solitary “fuck” got an enormous, enthusiastic response from the audience. This is partly because hee hee “fuck” chuckle chuckle naughty naughty. But also because each movie used its one “fuck” to its maximum strategic potential. It's like Abrams writing Super 8 and Chris Morgan writing Fast Five went “How the fuck can I make my fuck work for me?” and came up with the right answer. I like to picture both of them sitting at their keyboards after writing the line in question and going “Heh heh. 'Fuck.' Hehehehehehe.” This is because I'm 12. In a related story, this is why I liked both of those movies so much. And yet I digress.
I think that, rather than rail against the MPAA for its arbitrary, irrational, hypocritical, pointless social conservatism—a losing battle, since they're never going to change—the more effective way to point up just how dumb this shit is is by continuing to do what Abrams and Morgan did in their respective scripts. By making such a big deal out of the one permitted “fuck” they actually call more attention to the word than in an R-rated movie (or this blog, to be painfully honest) where it's like “fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” til it just becomes background noise. So, by keeping the “one fuck per PG-13” rule, intending to minimize “bad” language, the MPAA has actually, for lack of a better term, fucked up. If I can remember the exact scene and character and context under which the guy in Super 8 and The Rock in Fast Five said “fuck,” but couldn't begin to tell you all the different people were who said “fuck” in any given R movie—and I was paying more attention to other stuff in Super 8 and Fast Five, believe me—the “one fuck per PG-13” rule is not serving its intended purpose.
The MPAA basically has two choices. The first (not that I intend to give them any ideas, mind you) is to simply ban all “bad” language. They can totally get away with this, since the First Amendment only applies to government censorship, and the MPAA is not, de jure, the government. But even though they could get away with pulling that kinda shit doesn't mean they won't look like total fucking assholes if they try to. The other choice is to lighten the fuck up (so to speak) and stop tripping about a commonly used, extremely versatile word. If the MPAA is so concerned about kids and want to protect them, the way to be an uptight conservative fussbudget and actually do some good is to get more concerned about violence. I like ownage as much as the next guy, and I was watching extremely violent shit since I was very young, but I watched all that shit with careful parental supervision. My mom was always there to explain that what I was seeing was not only fucking awesome but just a movie. Since not everyone is as lucky as me (she took me to The Terminator, Robocop, Total Recall, and all the Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal you can shake a stick at in the theaters, among many many others) and since all those pictures I mentioned in that aside wear their R rating with defiant pride, it would behoove the MPAA, if they're going to “protect” kids, to enforce some standards about the way violence is portrayed in movies rated PG-13 and under. Language is just language, you know, sticks and stones may break my bones, but “fuck” can never hurt me. Sure there are situations where it's impolite to curse, but if you think about it, you can determine which ones those are.
Sadly, the whole “one fuck” rule derives, in large part, from not thinking. The simpler and less flexible the rating rules are, the easier it is for the Republican soccer moms to just dismiss something as an R. One fuck per PG-13, and it can't be “I want to fuck you” or have anything to do with the old in-out, otherwise boom: R. So if the MPAA wants to play it this way, and be dicks pointlessly over one special word, screenwriters owe it to the notion of justice (and trolling) to weaponize their “fucks.” After all, the only good thing about censorship is making the censors look like assholes.