What does a PG-13 movie look like? What does an R-rated movie look like? Can you guess, perhaps, which one has more guns and violence? Or which one is more likely to contain “thematic elements” or, clutch your pearls, “some sexuality”? Even the most cursory read of this weekend’s big movie releases highlights the increasingly irrational divide between what the MPAA considers a PG-13 movie — as in, totally cool for the 13 and older set — and what is more likely to require some serious parental hand-holding.
Barry Jenkins’ emotionally resonant “Moonlight” was saddled with an R rating for “some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout,” while “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” picked up a PG-13 rating for “sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.” You can probably guess which movie features more guns.
And that’s not just indicative of the last week at the movies, it speaks to a wider issue that has only grown more complex over the last three decades. A new report from The Economist, aided by research from pediatrics researchers and bolstered by crowd-sourced information from Internet Movie Firearms Database, reveals that “gun violence in PG-13 films has more than tripled since 1985; in recent years, it has even exceeded the violence of R-rated films.”
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Moreover, the report holds that the appearance of more guns in films has also impacted the way consumers feel about them, in some cases acting in much the same way as product placement. By way of example, The Economist notes that “the appearance of the Glock 7—a fictional model—in ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990), has helped the gun manufacturer to great popularity and sales. By the end of that year, there were over 300,000 Glock pistols in use across America.”
The outlet also noted that the idea of guns being purposely placed in films by way of product placement deals is hardly far-fetched, though it remains rare at this time. They write, “‘Lone Survivor’ (2013), which narrates a SEAL counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan, allegedly received $250,000 from Beretta for a product placement deal…they replaced all existent handguns with their own .45s model; in reality, the SEALs would have carried Sig Sauer p226 and Kimber 1911s.”
The connection between these two concepts — more guns in PG-13 movies, an increased awareness of guns in general — is a thorny one. The pediatrics research material that The Economist used for their piece notes that “even if youth do not use guns, these findings suggest that they are exposed to increasing gun violence in top-selling films. By including guns in violent scenes, film producers may be strengthening the weapons effect and providing youth with scripts for using guns. These findings are concerning because many scientific studies have shown that violent films can increase aggression.”
That’s the real issue at hand: By allowing more guns into PG-13 films, the exact kind of films that teenagers can see with ease (and without parental permission or guidance) may provide the easiest entry point for seeing the kind of violence that can not only increase their knowledge of weapons, but also bolster their own personal aggression.
What’s that about “language throughout”?