I adore this piece by A.O. Scott about the IFC Center’s decision to allow high school-aged students to buy tickets for Blue Is The Warmest Color, the French film about a long-running relationship between two women that includes extended and explicit sex scenes. The IFC Center’s choice is a reminder that the relationship between the ratings and admissions systems is a voluntary one, rather than a matter of fixed policy, much less law. And Scott’s explanation of why he’s allowed his teenagers to see Blue Is The Warmest Color is a reminder of what the “discretion” in “parental discretion” means:
In my capacity as a critic, I will weigh in on the artistic merits of Mr. Kechiche’s film in Friday’s paper. But I am also the parent of two mature, inquiring teenagers, one of whom, my 14-year-old daughter, has seen it twice, at the Telluride Film Festival. My permissiveness has raised some eyebrows among friends and colleagues, and I am not necessarily holding myself up as a role model. You have your own rules, and your own reasons for enforcing them, and naked bodies writhing in ecstasy may not be something you want your kids to see. But in some ways, because of its tone and subject matter, “Blue” is a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cutoff.
It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues — peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans — that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour.
When I moderated a panel with Joan Graves, head of the Classification and Rating Administration for the Motion Picture Association of America, at SXSW earlier this year, she was clear about what the Administration attempts to use. Working with a geographically diverse group of parents, the Administration attempts to come up with something approaching a mean of parents’ concerns, and to explain what in a given movie triggered those concerns. The point isn’t for parents to substitute the ratings for their own discernment, which is one of the reasons lots of other publications coming from more specific perspectives augment them, but for parents to use them as a jumping-off point. Scott is doing precisely what he’s supposed to do, factoring in his knowledge of his daughters, and his knowledge of the movie in question, and making a choice about what’s best for his kids, including in that calculation the idea that introducing them to art that will resonate deeply with them counts as an affirmative good.
So often, pop culture’s treated as if its only possible impact on young people who consume it (and too often, older people, too) is deleterious. And it’s absolutely true that films, television, books, comics, video games, and even museum installations can be frightening, confusing, upsetting, and challenging. But they can also provide flashes of profound recognition that make viewers, readers, and players feel less alone in the world. They can stun you with beauty, or wound you with ugliness. They can level you with humor. Loving something can provide profound connections to people who share your affection for it. And even when a piece of culture profoundly disturbs you, it can open up the world to you, and reveal big truths that you’d previously avoided. These are risks that are worth taking. Scott’s doing us a service by talking publicly about the value of introducing your children to challenging culture, instead of focusing solely and obsessively on the potential dangers.