Many of you probably know what these are. If you have Netflix, then you have seen them – they are over on the left hand side. It comes in three items – green, yellow, red, each with a clickable link outlining what is offensive about the film and what families can discuss while watching the film (usually their suggestion is so mundane that most critics would not even bother to mention it). And I have to say, this process needs to come to an end. Why? Because it treats the films as commodities rather than works of art (to art museums hand out brochures advising families to look away from the nude figures?) and over steps the bounds already set in place by the MPAA.
See what you are making me do, Common Sense Media? You are making me defend the MPAA.
With the rise of the internet, there have been several “alternative rating” systems that promises to help certain people more than the MPAA does in deciding what they want to watch. They also tend to be borderline useless; mostly because they treat films more as a commodity than the MPAA does. This is a personal favorite (I mean not due to its informative reviewing skills, but because it is so bizarrely over the top to the point of comedy) http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/. They rate films based upon their “offensiveness” to Christians. They even reviewed Scott Pilgrim vs the World, deeming it very offensive (you think this would make it the equivalent of an NC-17 rating, but Pilgrim is only PG-13). Here is an actual quote from their critique:”the item that many Christian viewers will find most offensive has to do with the sexual orientation of a couple of secondary characters. The first of which is Scott’s roommate Wallace, who, when introduced, discloses he is “gay.” To quote the review, “He says it in a very joking manner, and one is never sure whether he is being sincere or simply said it to get a reaction. When he kisses another guy and ends up in bed with him, it is clear he wasn’t joking.”
OK, never mind the fact that this is a moot issue that becomes more offensive when you describe why we should be offended (I removed the hyperlink that was originally connected to the world “gay” above; trust me, if you are an intelligent person, you do not wish to read it), it is also not about homosexuality, but about Scott’s view of his emotions! The film makes no attempt to try and explain the character; he is simply gay, and that is the end of the discussion. He is also far more complex than that, a man who still has feelings and desires in the same way Scott did. I think one of the funniest parts of the film was Wallace’s pining over Lucas Lee (the action star) while Scott Pilgrim is attempting to fight him. On a symbolic level, he is not gay; he is the voice of Scott’s fears and inadequacies. To not look beyond that characteristic is to miss a vital part of the characterization of Scott himself and utterly fail as a critic.
But we are not here to discuss that abomination of a website – we are here to discuss Common Sense Media.
I honestly do not know how Common Sense Media began its relationship with Netflix. Their website does not offer a clue; they do include their mission statement ( “We started this organization because we know families need trustworthy information to help manage their kids’ media lives” OK, then maybe it is time to switch off the TV and talk to your kids) as well as ten Common Sense Beliefs, which range from keeping kids in line to asking legislators to help regulate media “time and place.” In other words, a form of censorship (even though they call it media “responsibility”).
But that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is their reviews. Let’s pick one at random…how about Citizen Kane? It is rated 12+ for alcohol use and discussions of sex. Now, what does this mean? That Citizen Kane should not be viewed by the family? I agree; it is a film that requires knowledge of the film making process and Orson Welles’ fights to get it released. This is not something that the average consumer knows anymore (this is also a tragedy, but the discussion is best saved for another time). Yet it is not being treated with the respect that it needs to be treated with – just another movie that most in the family probably won’t like.
Ultimately, by itself, Common Sense Media is not dangerous. What is dangerous are the people who use these websites as a yardstick by which films should be measured. It does not take much to give people ideas. Maybe, if such things continue to take off, there will be a lobby for the MPAA to change their rating system and thus make it even more convoluted than it already is. Ultimately, the ideas presented on these websites are up to individuals. If you think something will offend you, don’t watch it. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to watch.