Sunday, September 22, 2013

A whole different classification

One of the topics I've been concentrating on in my early Australia days is the differences in phrasing.

For example, movies don't have ratings here. They have "classifications."

In fact, there's a little promo that plays before most movies that indicates the importance of making sure a particular film is suited to your children. The tagline is "Check the classification." There is a corresponding website run by the Australian government.

At first I thought it was just Australia trying to be different. I thought "What's wrong with the word 'rating'? Go jump in your lorry and piss off."

Then I got to thinking that "rating" is not a particularly accurate term in the first place. Forget for a second that you have grown up coming to think of film ratings as G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17. Doesn't the word "rating" seems like it should have a lot more to do with how good the movie is than the eyes for which it is intended? "How do you rate that film on a scale of 1 to 10?" That kind of thing.

Neither is "classification" perfect, though. It sounds more to do with genre than appropriateness. I'd say "classification" might be "horror" or "horror comedy" or "horror comedy musical documentary."

So what is the right term? I'll have to think on that.

For now, though, let me explain what the classifications are here in Australia. They're not so surprising, except for some seemingly meaningless distinctions that make them a bit eccentric. There are longer explanations of the classification, but I'll just give the briefer ones that appear when you hover the mouse over the classification on the website.

G - General - "Suitable for everyone."
My comment: No surprises there.

PG - Parental Guidance - "Not recommended for children under 15; may contain some material that children find confusing or upsetting."
My comment: This would be comparable to our PG, but it seems stricter. I don't think anyone would say that our PG movies would provide a challenge to children all the way up to 15. 

M - Mature - "Not recommended for children under 15; may include moderate levels of violence, language or themes."
My comment: Moderate levels of themes -- so, this one has a moderate dose of redemption, while this one has a smidge of overcoming obstacles? I understand the distinction they are trying to make between PG and M, but it would seem more useful if they would change the age cutoff. When both have the same age cutoff but each has a different description of why it's not recommended, it tends to muddy things. Also, "mature" seems too advanced a term for what they are really trying to indicate here. Our equivalent is probably PG-13.

MA15+ - Mature Audiences - "Restricted - unsuitable for persons under 15; may contain strong content."
My comment: Now things are getting a bit screwy. This would also be like our PG-13 except for the term "restricted," which doesn't come into play in our rating system until you get to R, whose cutoff is age 17. Plus, what's the meaningful distinction between the descriptors "mature" and "mature audiences"? Is the first group not a group of movie viewers, but maybe savings bonds? In the fuller description it also says that persons may be required to show proof of age in order to purchase a video game or attend a movie with this classification. So where does that leave us for ...

R18+ - Restricted - "Restricted to adults."
My comment: Okay, so this is our R, and it changes the age to clearly indicate 18. But because the term "restricted" is being used a little loosely -- coming into play as soon as age 15 with the MA:15+ classification -- it begs the question of what does it really mean to "restrict" a person. Especially when there is this classification ...

X18+ - Restricted - "Restricted to adults - contains sexually explicit material."
My comment: This would be our NC-17 ... except that it's actually our XXX. The website goes on to explain "This classification is a special and legally restricted category which contains only sexually explicit content. That is, material which shows actual sexual intercourse and other sexual activity between consenting adults. X18+ films are only available for sale or hire in the ACT and the NT." To translate that last part, only available in the Australian Capital Territory (which includes the country's capital, Canberra) and the Northern Territory (which includes such cities as Darwin and Alice Springs). This means that pornographic movies are part of the conventional classification system, which the NPAA in our country doesn't deign to do. But it's also not as straightforward as it appears to be; I live in Victoria, and I have noted pornographic movies for sale in a video store in downtown Melbourne. Though who knows; maybe the movies I assumed were showing "actual sexual intercourse" were not doing that after all. And where does this leave NC-17? There basically isn't an NC-17 in Australia, unless you consider it to be R18+, which I don't think you do because such films as Hostel and Evil Dead are R18+

Doing a little more searching, it appears that our R's in the U.S. split up between MA15+ and R18+. For example, Kick-Ass and Drive -- both definitely R's in our country -- are MA15+'s here. Each of those movies have at least one scene of such extreme violence that you can't imagine a country, in good conscience, allowing a 15-year-old to see them. Yet Australia does.

It's one of many conundrums about this country, apparent contradictions built into its fabric. In some ways, this is a very conservative country. There is a famously long list of films that were banned in Australia upon first release, including Pink Flamingos, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Salo. The uncut version of Human Centipede II: Full Sequence is still banned, as is A Serbian Film (though I'm pretty sure that's banned in the U.S. also). On the other hand, language standards are considerably more permissive than in the U.S. The local "alternative" music station (called Triple J) regularly plays songs containing profanity, and even DJ's themselves say the word "shit" on the air (just heard this yesterday). Regarding Kick-Ass in particular, the use of the C-word -- considered by some (including me) to be possibly the most universally offensive word in the English language -- permanently removed it from possibly being given a PG-13 in the U.S. Here, some Australians call each other this word in an "affectionate" way -- which may be how Kick-Ass was allowed to get "only" an MA15+.

I'll try to make note of more of these classifications as I see the movies.

As for my alternative term to "classification" and "rating," well, how about "flag"? How is the movie "flagged"?

Eh, I guess I'll leave this one up to the professionals.

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