This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

September 15, 2005 - R-rated movies

When I was five or six years old, my dad took me to see "Gone with the Wind," a revival at the big downtown movie theater. Years later, I realized it was packed with all kinds of steamy stuff.

But here's what I remembered from my early exposure: there was a big fire.

I believe that regarding many complex issues, children see and understand only what they are ready for. That includes movies. It even includes R-rated movies.

The library doesn't own a tremendous number of such movies (and no X-rated ones, if you were wondering). We do have some unrated foreign films.

There are lots of misconceptions about movie ratings.

First, movie ratings are labels, created by the movie industry itself, to suggest what movie producers believe is the intended audience. These ratings do NOT have the force of law. Movie theaters and video stores enforce them (sort of) also voluntarily.

Second, ratings are not authoritative. Anonymous people make superficial judgments. We don't know who they are. Ratings are determined through a count of naughty words, or kind and type of sex scenes, or variety of violent acts.

But the final rating has nothing to do with the content, with what the movie is about. Sex, violence, and language can be gratuitous. Or it can be germane to the dramatic action of the movie.

The ratings don't cover any of that. They don't say anything about the quality of the film, either.

So, in our libraries, we have not restricted the checkout of R-rated movies.

Over the past 15 years, I have gotten four phone calls from parents upset that their children (typically in or near their teens) could check out such a movie.

I always ask them the same thing: "DID your child check out the movie?" "Did your child WATCH the movie?"

In two occasions, the parents said, "Certainly not!"

On the other two occasions, one child did check it out and watch it. He knew he wasn't supposed to, and he'd seen the film before. But his mom caught him with the library copy.

Most recently, another young man checked it out, but his mom intercepted it minutes later.

Frankly, I just don't see an epidemic of children watching an hour of complex and nuanced emotional content to catch the 30 second flash of nudity. Generally speaking, people are interested in movies that are actually targeted to their age group.

Incidentally, most children don't have to go to the library to get R-rated films. My family has several of them at home, as I suspect most homes do. Others have cable or satellite.

Of course, many minors do have lots of unsupervised moments in our society. Both parents work, or there may be only one parent in the picture. Or none.

The question then becomes, whose values are being enforced, and who does the enforcing?

I believe that the discussion about which movies are OK to watch at home, alone, should stay between parent and child. Not between library staff and child.

Parents have the right to set limits for their children -- but only for their own children.

I understand that some children violate their parents' trust. But I don't think that misbehavior is always the fault, or the responsibility, of the public library.

However, public institutions must also listen to the people they serve. Our policies are reviewed and adopted by our citizen Board of Trustees.

Do you think the library should enforce Hollywood ratings for your children? Or do you believe what your children do and view is your job, not the government's?

Either way, I'd like to know. If you respond, let me know if you have children, and how old they are.

I can be emailed at jlarue@jlarue.com. Or call 303-688-7656.

And keep it clean.

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