Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1087: PG-13 Means Plenty Gunplay For 13 Year Olds

A new study says that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since the creation of the rating in 1985, and folks are predicting the end of civilization because of it.

Now I'm not going to discuss how cinematic violence affects children, since juvenile violent crime, gun crime, and violent crime overall is in the decline, because then it rapidly becomes a political argument, and this isn't a political blog.

What I will do is explain why there is more gun violence in PG-13 movies.

That means it's time to step into the Wayback Machine and go back to the era of big hair, shoulder pads, and Reaganomics, the 1980s.

Back in those olden days, when dragons and unicorns frolicked in the forests, the Soviet Union still existed, and everyone was fully expecting to be nuked at any moment.

It was also an era when filmmakers wanted to push the edges of what could get their films a PG Rating. One of the most famous examples was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which featured magical heart removals, shootouts, and the eating of monkey-brains. Another film was Gremlins which took the rating to the edge with those homicidal Mogwai.

Both those films involved Stephen Spielberg, as director and/or executive producer, and in the 1980s Spielberg ruled Hollywood. Three major studios, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Universal, depended on him and his cronies heavily for their blockbusters.

What Spielberg wanted Spielberg got, and Spielberg wanted a rating that lay between the more family friendly PG and the "no kids allowed" R rating.

PG-13 was the compromise, telling parents that the content probably required some parental supervision for kids under 13 years of age.

Now that we have the origin story done, let's look at why all the guns are a popping.

Back in the 1980s R-Rated action movies like The Terminator, Lethal Weapon, and Robocop ruled the roost. They made big money for the 80s, and had a certain edgy street-cred.

But there was a problem.

The costs of making those kinds of movies were going up. There were two reasons for this inflation:

1. Star Salaries. The cost of hiring stars went up and up, as they demanded and got more up front, and bigger and better enforced "dollar one" deals.

2. Keeping Up With The Joneses. Those first big 80s action movies started a trend for a constant escalation in quality and especially quantity in stunts, explosions, and gunfights. Those things cost money, and lots of it.

Then the studios started noticing that the novelty of the R-Rating, which took hold in the early 1970s was fading fast.

The promise of nudity and hyper-graphic violence was no longer the selling point with mainstream audiences that it used to be. If they wanted those elements many would just rent the video and watch them in the comfort of their own home.

That combination of factors could easy kill the modern mega-action movie.

But there was a way out.

That way was PG-13.

Drop the nudity, tone down the blood, and the  fucking offensive language, and you could still have your action cake and eat it too.

Let's recap.

Action movies were in a figurative arms race with each other in terms of shoot-outs and explosions. This caused a spike in bullets fired and the budgets to pay for them. (Then add star salaries.)

However, the returns on R-Rated movies were declining overall, meaning that they could no longer support the bigger budget extravaganzas.

So the studios adjusted their movies to fit the PG-13 rating, while still maintaining the already mentioned arms race.

Kids see the shootouts, get desensitized, and then refuse to give the experts the civilization dooming and censorship justifying spike in violent behaviour the very same experts are demanding of them.

See, it's simple really.


  1. Sandy Petersen13/11/13 4:01 pm

    1) pretty much every violent movie released in Hollywood is also released in Canada. We are not all that culturally distinct, after all. No offense.

    2) if movie violence is what makes Americans violent, then presumably it also makes Canadians violent.

    3) Are Canadians violent?

  2. Canada's violent crime rate per capita is probably not much lower than the USA's rates, but we have 1/10 the population, so every murder will make at least the local news.

  3. Sandy Petersen19/11/13 12:29 pm

    Really? Because the media here takes every opportunity to make Canada sound like a paradise.