Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rated "R" for "Rather Not, Thank You"

Thank you to those of you who have posted feedback in my previous post. I'm working my way up the comments, because of the complexity of some of the topics. Know that I'm not ignoring them, just having to ponder more deeply. My view on media watching, however, is something I've had to exercise many times and therefore it is rather well formed.

Originally, I had a rather loose view of movie-watching. I saw one or two R-rated movies, and several PG-13. When I was about 15, I discovered that I was somewhere I did not want to be, spiritually, and decided that I wanted to change my life. After prayer, fasting and pondering, I felt impressed to offer a symbol to the Lord of my desire to change: I would not watch any movies rated PG-13 and above.

In the years after that personal covenant, I forgot why I had made it, though I did not forget my resolve. Most of my friends ridiculed me for that decision at first, but eventually came to uphold it, generously changing their plans to accommodate my oddity. There were a couple of times I was told a movie was PG, only to find it rated PG-13 after beginning to watch it. At one point, I remember going home from a night out because I knew Monty Python and the Holy Grail was most certainly not a PG movie once it got to the Castle of Anthrax, despite what I had been told.

At any rate, despite feeling stupid on multiple occasions, I managed to live by my decision. It wasn't until a few years later while I was serving a mission that someone asked me why I did not watch PG-13 movies. It set me back for a few minutes, because I did not remember. Then it came to me, the moment I had covenanted with the Lord that if I did this, He would help me change my life.

The feeling was incredible as I reviewed my life and the direction it had taken since I chose to make that small offering to the Lord. Although I had not remembered the covenant, the Lord had upheld it so richly. I knew I had been blessed beyond measure for this comparatively tiny effort.

In addition to no longer watching PG-13 or above movies, I no longer had the desire to watch television or listen to the radio much. Movies themselves were not even that important to me. I still enjoy a movie now or then, or the chance to relax in front of the television, but the media in general were not nearly the hub of my schedule the way they had once been.

All that being said, I think that the choice to watch or not to watch is entirely between an individual and the Lord. For me, the things I was watching were taking me away from Him one chip at a time. Another person may not be so affected. I have no desire to preach my way as the right decision to make for everyone. In fact, I find it interesting that the new Strength of Youth pamphlet makes no specific recommendation for ratings-watching. It summarizes by giving the One True Standard of Discernment:
[I]f you have any question about whether a particular movie, book, or other form of entertainment is appropriate, don't see it, don't read it, don't participate.
This is the key, in my mind. As I have lived this principle, I find myself better able to discern what media brings me down, and what is uplifting and/or productively instructive. I have even found myself walking out of PG movies, at times. The Lord has blessed me beyond all expectation for using this standard in conjunction with my own personal covenant, and that is all I can say.

Now, I find so many wonderful things to do, even average-to-good television and movies often seem a waste of time. Even my reading has been tempered by my gradually growing dislike of time-wasting through various media (and I'm a confirmed bibliophile.) There is a time, place and purpose for entertainment, but it is a relatively small one when seen within the framework of all the productive, creative, beautiful things there are to do. How much more wonderful is it to stand over a weeded garden, share my testimony in blogging, admire a completed quilt block, or listen to my daughter flawlessly recite her colors when compared to switching off the television before going to bed?

There really is no comparison.


  1. I think you have made and kept to a great decision. While a have significant issues with the MPAA rating system, I am all for standards. I like to use kids-in-mind when seeing a movie instead. It isn't perfect either, but I know the film companies do not have a financial stake in what rating a movie gets there. Either way, following something is good. Even more impressive that you have kept it up!

  2. Thank you for writing this post. It is hard for me to believe, but you are I are on the same page in relation to media. I say it is hard to believe only because I have not found anyone else who feels the same as I do about PG-13 or even PG movies at times (besides my husband).

    Having teenagers it has been challenging at times because their friend's are allowed to watch certain movies, while we don't allow them. Of course, it doesn't help at all that they are members of the church. If confuses them. Movies are just one issue, video games come into play as well. I have been amazed at how many parents are allowing their young children to play mature rated games. It drives me insane. I have allowed my kids to go to their friend's house and they come home telling me they were playing Halo. I wonder if parents are using these things to get their children out of their way because it doesn't make any sense to me otherwise.

    This subject is one I have many feelings about and one that is something I have to be constantly dealing with because of the ages of my children. has been a great way to see exactly what is in a movie, so I use that often. Most of the time I find myself saying no to a movie.

    Anyway, I have rambled on long enough! Thanks for sharing your feelings about it, I really appreciate it. I think it is awesome that you have kept your covenant with the Lord in relation to media. It is inspiring.

  3. I too made the decision to not see PG-13 movies and worse. I have noticed the very same blessings in my life as the ones you have described.

  4. A handful of R-rated movies were part of the jigsaw that lead me back to the church. I'd say this was mostly due to the fact that they were deep studies of human evil, and I needed to be reminded of the reality of human evil, and that I might myself contain a measure of that. Thinking back on those films, they may or may not be something I would seek out now, I probably would at no point have recommended them to my mother. ~

  5. I find a great deal of inspiration, creativity, and beauty in various types of media. With all artistic endeavors, it's either well done, poorly done, or typically somewhere in the middle. There are some amazing works of art out there, and film just happens to be one of the artistic mediums that are used to convey messages. It is fine if people choose not to participate, but in some cases, they are missing out on beautiful expressions of life. I try to fill my life with the good and beautiful while avoiding the mediocre. So much in all media is mediocre and poorly done. But beauty in creation is what inspires me, and can be found in a piece of grass, in a handrail detail, in a cityscape, in an advertisement, in the design of a book, or in the structure of a movie.

    Rather than looking for things to avoid, I want to help my children look for things to seek. As I learned in design school, it is easy to see the bad in something someone has created, but very difficult to see the good. My constant goal is to find the good in life wherever it may be.

  6. I respect many different decisions that Latter-day Saints make in regard to watching movies. I especially resonate with GMA.

    My own view, I think, is far more radical than some of what is presented here. For me, I rarely watch movies for "entertainment." Rather, I think that there is much that is good in the film world in terms of expanding my horizons and truthfully telling stories about the world that are important for me to see. How "true" is the movie? is a better question, for me, than How non-offensive is it?

    From my experience, the very best movies are from a range of categories, including R (though I only occasionally see Rs). In contrast, many of the most, in my opinion, damning and destructive movies are G and PG. Disney is one of the most dishonest storytellers in the world and the fact that they are so championed by many good Latter-day Saints is all the more reason to be worried. Disney lies about life, happiness, gender roles, beauty--I could go on and on.

    So while I respect the views of the "I avoid movies over X-rating" types, I would ask you to consider whether many so-called non-offensive movies are any better. It's not just about watching entertainment with the least amount of casualties, it's about engaging truthfully with the world. That's a lesson for life.

  7. Thank you, everyone for your comments.

    greenmormonarchitect—This is also a very interesting point. I am an artist, by avocation at least even if graphic design does not count as official artistry. Although I do not think this is what you are saying, it sounds rather like similar thoughts I have heard many times before; that there is value in anything that can inspire to create.

    I don't know that I agree.

    To use an analogy, it is as if I am being told that I can find gold if I sift through enough manure to find it. Yet, I look around me and see plenty of gold for the taking, without the need to roll in the muck. I am a firm believer that one must feel sorrow to find joy, but I don't think we need to seek sorrow. It tends to come on its own.

    The same has held true for inspiration for me. Yes, I have found nuggets of gold in the dredges of life. However, I want to actively seek beauty and value in higher places. Beauty and inspiration is not so scarce in this life that we need to glean it.

    That being said, I love your thoughts about being taught to seek beauty, rather than avoid mud. I think it is a careful line, however, between teaching that one must muddy oneself to find beauty.

    Dennis—You raise an interesting question. As an avid fan of fantasy, I don't believe that the power of stories lies in the surface truth that it seems you talk about.

    For one thing, truth is highly relative, as any storyteller can attest.

    Secondly, I think that fantasy can come closer to truth in some things precisely because it can break through real-world biases to show us a better way. (An easy example is Horton Hears a Who.)

    But while I once thought of Disney much more like you do, I have come to see more value and reality in it than I thought. Fairy tales as once told by Walt Disney himself have a way of touching the knowledge deep within us that good will win over evil, that true beauty comes with goodness, that laziness and wickedness will never be happiness. There is real power in that, a power which I think we are losing, if it is not already lost. It may be simplistic, but it is still truth.

    That being said, I agree that not all PG/G movies are of value. I take my PG-13 line as a guide, not as a justification to watch anything PG/G.

    I know that most people can't understand that I chose my standard not to condemn everything that does not fit within it, but as a personal standard, a relatively arbitrary place where I can sketch a line of initial acceptability.

  8. SilverRain,

    Just to clarify, by "truth" I don't mean "realistic" or anything like that. I mean "true" in that they accurately reflect, according to the gospel, life's lessons, true virtues, true consequences to actions, and so forth--as opposed to film that provides false promises of a certain kind of lifestyle, that is misleading, that justifies sin, and so forth. So I'm not at all talking about "surface truth," but probably truth in a general way you would agree with (though we might disagree on details of what we mean by truth). I agree completely with what you say about fantasy.

    Perhaps a better word is "values." What are the values that are proselyted (not simply portrayed, as bad values can be portrayed in their true light), implicitly or explicitly, in this movie?

    I say all of this in large part in reaction to people who think that "mud" or "filth" is simply measured in terms of swear words, gun shots, and skin shown. It's much more nuanced than that. I used to work at a prison, for example, which required me, in my efforts to help, hear curse words all the time. Likewise, as truth is sought through a film that has its own unique, irreplaceable message, say Schindler's List, for example (not simply entertainment that can be sought interchangeably), there is sometimes a little "mud" that simply must be portrayed. This doesn't mean it's for children, but I think the wise seeker of truth will carefully pursue such films, regardless of a rating that the movie industry made up to increase its own profits.

    Here's another way of thinking about it. Who would you rather your children be friends with: A child who never curses but lies constantly, or a child who curses occasionally but always tells the truth? You could say "someone else," but let's suppose that without one of these two friends your child will have no friends at all. Wise parents, I think, would choose child number two (and teach their children not to curse).

    This lesson shows that mere absence of cursing, etc., is not always better than some cursing.

    Concerning Disney, I agree that there is a level of truth that you discuss. But the truth here is awfully thin and easily misinterpreted. You and I can see some good truths in Disney movies, but I don't want my daughter thinking that true happiness means being anorexic and allowing "Prince Charming" (read: any nice guy that comes along) to come sweep her off her feet.

  9. Dear Friend,
    I am hoping all is well with you, and you are finding the peace and healing that you seek. I know that this is an old post, but I have just been reading the debates going on a Segullah over watching “R” movies.
    I was troubled in spirit by some of the debate going on, some were obviously just kicking against the pricks. As I was pondering these things I remembered your post and decided to come over and re-read it, your post brought peace back to my troubled soul, thank you for your faithful posts. I also choose to not watch nor read things that would offend the spirit. I choose to do the things that feed the spirit as to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, for me nothing else is more important that having that companionship, Gods love is great and sometimes I am overwhelmed by his tender mercies. I put your (blog) name in the temple each week , I pray for you daily, that you will be strengthened to match your trials. I was re-reading some of your other posts and this kind of stood out to me as a statement of who you are:

    ” when I really think about my life and the changes I have been through, I suspect that my understanding of the nature of God is not so much based on how I see myself, but that as I have come to know Him better, and allowed Him to guide me in my life, His nature has begun to shine through mine.

    I hope that is the case, for my greatest desire is to be like Him and with Him.”

    My Sister, let us all press forward in the work, let us feed his sheep, the work is challenging, but the stakes are high and the goal is lofty.
    Thanks for the peace I felt from your post, I leave my peace with you.

  10. Thank you, Allan. I needed to hear the things you said. I was feeling a little down, and your comment helped me feel the Spirit and lifted me up. Thank you for submitting my name to the temple. You have fulfilled your own prayer on my behalf.

    I feel very humble right now. Thank you.


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