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Watching TV tonight, I saw that The Spiderwick Chronicles was being advertised as “The #1 Family Movie in America!” It got me wondering — what is it, exactly, that designates a movie as “family?”

Spiderwick is rated PG.  I guess that if a movie is rated PG or G, you could call it a family movie. Jaws was rated PG too, so do you think your kids should see that?  Don might tell you, “Yes.” But your average American parent would probably not label it a “family movie.”  There isn’t a specific set of regulations for the use of “family” like there is, say, for the word “lite”:

From the FDA, foods with “lite” or “light” must meet one of these rules…

First, that a nutritionally altered product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.

Second, that the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50 percent.

In the entertainment industry, the rules are never this firm.  The documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated was an exposé of the corupt business of movie ratings, but the public outcry wasn’t loud enough that the government stepped in to fix the problem.  Americans are just lying idly by and accepting a system that is so flawed that I find it hard to ever take an MPAA rating seriously again.  It’s hegemony, and we the oppressed movie viewers have our media values controlled by a corporation, and we accept their control over our ideals as if it’s completely normal. We must come to revolutionary consciousness! Only then can we take back our own minds!

Whoops… slipped into a little Marxist theory there. Hope I don’t get blacklisted.

So why the tight grip on the diet industry, but hands-off on our children’s media?  The era of the kids movie is long gone.  We were lucky enough to be alive through the early-mid-’90s, when the kid economy was booming.  Today, almost no great films are made for kids without trying ever harder to market them to adults.  Television has long since taken over as a child’s main source of media, because it’s free and it is always on.  Why would a parent take their kids to a movie and spend $40 on a movie when they’d be happier staying home and watching SpongeBob? Movies can be a treat, sure.  But they don’t have a lock on kid’s pop culture anymore, at least not to the extent of the 80s and 90s. I guess this makes the label “#1 family movie” pretty insignificant these days, since there are rarely more than two in the theaters on any given weekend.

But I’ve digressed long enough; the point of this was to discuss why a movie can be labeled “family,” and my answer is that I’m really not sure.  It’s not MPAA ratings, so how else should we judge?  Can the studio just call any of their movies a family movie as long as they have a family in it?  Because there are pornos about families. That’s my conclusion, I think.  Even porno can be “The #1 Family Movie in America.”  So before you take your kids to see The Spiderwick Chronicles, be careful.  It might be porno.

I admit it, this ended very differently than I thought it would. But let’s just keep it this way, so when there really is a “#1 family porno in America,” I can say “I told you so.”