Rated R “just for violence”

Have you heard Mormons justify seeing a given R-rated movie on the basis that the R-rating was “just for violence” (not nudity or sex)?

I have, and I don’t think it’s just my imagination that Mormons see graphic (non-violent) sex as worse or less appropriate for entertainment than graphic violence. Orson Scott Card argued (with relevant quotes from Ezra Taft Benson) that the prophet’s advice to avoid R-rated movies only relates to sexual content. On the other hand, in their discussion of applying LDS standards to art, the feminist Mormon housewives include violence on the list of standards (although the focus appears to be on sexual content).

This opinion isn’t unique to Mormons. After all, the violent film Card was commenting on in the above-linked article was the supremely Christian uplifting torture flick The Passion of Christ. In related news, some churches have taken to hosting game nights of the violent video game Halo in order to get young people in the door of the church. One leader compared this tactic to offering porn and alcohol to lure teenage boys to church, but in jest. The implication seems to be that violence isn’t to be encouraged, but sex is much worse.

Is it just the religious, then? Perhaps not. I argued in my review of the atheist fantasy trilogy “His Dark Materials” that the author seemed squeamish about sex — hinting about it in veiled terms — even though he had no problem describing violence. The Harry Potter series appears to be the same way although it’s not clear that it’s entirely secular. (There’s some interesting follow-up discussion here.)

This seems backwards to me: Why is violence entertainment and sex taboo? And why is this especially the case for entertainment directed at young people? I would hope that sexuality will be a part of my children’s life one day, but violence? I hope it won’t be. I think Christiann expressed the problem well (in a discussion of sex vs. violence in Rowling’s work):

It’s problematic for me because it is something that I think is over-present in popular media. Characters survive horrific events, stand up, brush themselves off, and go have a cup of coffee. So, violence in popular culture has this Looney Tune feel to it. But the even more troubling trend is the rampant graphic programming about raped and murdered women, while the FCC will descend like a ravenous bird of prey when, say, the breast of a live performer appears on the screen. In our culture now, there is tolerance of violence and even sexual violence (or even ESPECIALLY sexual violence) but complete INTOLERANCE of naturally expressed sexuality.

Sure, there’s a question of what is age-appropriate (see the birds and the bees and the whales), but the idea that sex is worse than violence seems pretty common in entertainment and media for all ages.

Personally I think the reason for it is that entertainment is social and sexuality is private — any mixing of the two makes a lot of people uncomfortable.


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at @chanson@social.linux.pizza or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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23 Responses

  1. dpc says:

    I’ve never understood the “don’t watch R-rated movies thing”. It’s definitely an American Mormon thing. In Canada, where I’m from originally, they have a different rating system, so you could have a movie that was rated R and another that was rated PG-13 under the American classification and have both end up being rated 14A under the Canadian system. The R rating under the Canadian system was for movies that were particularly pornographic (violence or sexuality) and I think that it may correspond roughly to NC-17 in the US. Since the R rating is almost never assigned, it was easy to avoid R-rated movies back home.

  2. chanson says:

    dpc — That’s funny, I hadn’t even thought of the America-centered aspect of specifically talking about this movie rating system in conference, etc.

  3. Holly says:

    I tend to avoid movies with graphic depictions of violence, or else fast-forward through the fight scenes when they come up. I think violence is far more obscene than sex. I’ve certainly encountered the attitudes you describe, but I think they’re exactly backwards.

  4. chanson says:

    Holly!!! Great to see you here on MSP!!!

    I know how you feel — I don’t think violence is entertaining at all, and I avoid violent movies. So, even if it’s a question of taste, at least it’s not just me… 😉

  5. chandelle says:

    am i the only one who worries far more if my children see violence than if they see sexuality or sensuality in a movie? i’ve watched various adult movies with my small children present and i hardly think about it when there’s sex…i do worry a lot if they see violence, which i consider terribly disruptive to a young mind. that might just be the waldorf in me talking, though. i grew up in a home in which i was allowed to watch r-rated movies if my parents had screened them first, and they seemed to worry a lot more about sex than violence. but i remember being far more affected by the violence – the sex was just embarrassing.

  6. chandelle says:

    am i the only one who worries far more if my children see violence than if they see sexuality or sensuality in a movie?

    oops, i guess not.

    oh, and by the way, by “adult movie” i don’t mean, ya know. adult movie. that goes without saying, right? 🙂

  7. chanson says:

    chandelle — I feel the same way about worrying about my kids seeing violence, but no so much with sex. Personally I grew up in a house where R-rated movies were forbidden, and of course you know how forbidden fruit works. 😉 I depicted the result a bit in my novel here.

  8. chanson says:

    p.s. We were just talking about Waldorf education the other day here. Is this a coincidence?

  9. You almost make me feel guilty for liking Fight Club, which I only recently saw for the first time. I feel like playing the devil’s advocate today, so I ask: is there an important place for violence in movies?

  10. chanson says:

    Jonathan — it’s possible there is. The same article I quoted above had another interesting observation (comparing Rowling to Tolkien):

    “Like everyone, I was reminded of the LOTR trilogy all the way through her series, but toward the end what I was comparing was the difference in how Tolkien and Rowling wrote about violence. His books were hugely violent and dark and worrisome… but he handled the material so artfully and with true gravitas. Of course he had experienced war, so he wrote with immense insight, care, and true understanding of suffering. In fact, for me, the way Tolkien wrote about suffering may be the most important and moving aspect of his work.”

  11. andrew says:

    I hope that this notion of R-rated movies being verboten is being abandoned, for the reasons that you and many commenters have mentioned. I find violence, especially “Die Hard”-type violence, to be far more troublesome than sex.
    Further, I find the casual, crude, sex references of many PG-13 movies to be far more offensive than, say, a nude or sex scene.

  12. chandelle says:

    hm…fight club is one of my favorite movies. it’s hard to watch, but i don’t necessarily watch things just because it makes me comfortable. i still wouldn’t want my children to see it, but alas, still one of my favorites – as is american beauty, with its attendant violence and weird sex. does that make me a hypocrite? hm…

  13. chanson says:

    andrew — It’s true the MPA’s rating system is pretty arbitrary. Picking “R” as the exact cut-off doesn’t leave much opportunity to exercise good judgement on other aspects of the film than what the MPA looks for.

    chandelle — That’s funny, maybe I should go see this Fight Club movie… 😉

  14. Seth R. says:

    It really depends on how the subject matter is being handled.

    I would allow my teenage child to watch, for instance, the TV miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Some of the violence in that show is truly horrific, but it simply aims to show war for what it is.

    On the other hand, I would be more opposed to letting my child watch whatever stupid Steven Segal martial arts flick is on Wednesday night. Sure, the violence is less disturbing and more cartoonish, but that is also why I would object to it. I object to movies that deliberately seek to make you happy to see violence inflicted upon “that sneering drug dealer.” I object to the movie “Power of One” for this very reason. The movie was deliberately manipulating its audience into cheering when the villain gets beaten up.

    I also object to the idea of my kids watching sexual content. But that’s just a matter of self-respect and reverence for other people.

    Our household sort of avoids the issue altogether by simply not watching TV. This is for the simple reason that I consider the constant interruption of commercial material to be every bit as damaging to my children’s spirituality as the violence and sex. It kills the human ability to recognize and create sacred space in life.

  15. chandelle says:

    “Our household sort of avoids the issue altogether by simply not watching TV.”

    we download “the office” regularly to watch on our computer, and will occasionally watch movies after the kids go to bed, but we don’t have a television and it certainly does make life easier and more pleasant.

  16. Wayne says:

    My 11 yo son loves to watch movies, I have had to think about this a lot. Most of the movies he wants to watch have no love scenes in them.

    He wants to watch all the WW2 movies and the
    Westerns. I don’t mind because we can talk about history etc.

    For us it all depends on the content and not on the rating. And we have different standards for the two younger kids than we do for the older one. We don’t shield them from depicted sex unless it is really weird.

  17. Personally, it all comes down to whether or not the violence or sex or whatever is purposeless. The violence in Movies like Fight Club, Schindler’s List, American Psycho, or Saving Private Ryan is integral to the movie and serves a valuable purpose. Fight Club, for example, has a lot to say (pro and con) about nihilism.

  18. dpc says:

    “Fight Club, for example, has a lot to say (pro and con) about nihilism”

    How ironic… 🙂

  19. FFG says:

    This is a very interesting point. Christians, Mormons & Muslims all seem to think that way. I remember watching movies in the Middle East and they would cut out the kissing scenes. The couple would move in for the kiss & it would black out for a little while. On the other hand, violence was just fine.

    It is odd given that sex is obviously an integral part of having large families. If it is simply about privacy, why do they act like it is a dirty little secret?

  20. Hellmut says:

    Religious fundeamentalists in the United States and the Middle East are more concerned with sex than violence because the monotheistic religions are patriarchal religions.

    Hence the obsession with homosexuality and controlling female sexuality.

  21. E.F. says:

    Great post, Chanson. In my home, my father was allowed to watch violent films, especially war movies, but anything with sex or bad language was banned.
    A few years ago, when that movie “A Beautiful Mind” came out on video, my mom told me she was going to rent it.
    I asked, “Mom, do you realize it’s rated R?” She said, “I know, but ‘Sister Wonderful’ at the temple recommended it to me and she went on and on about how wonderful it is…”
    I just shrugged my shoulders. Apparently if someone in the TEMPLE recommends it, then it must be alright.
    So she rented it. She came home, put it on and after about 10-15 she shut it off, saying “I can’t believe the language in this movie! How could Sister Wonderful recommend this? I just can’t believe she watched this…”
    She ranted for days, she was very disturbed by the fact that someone could have raved about this movie “in the temple”!
    I also worked at the movie theater as a teen. One of my favorite past times was catching ward members attending rated R movies. I would act all sweet and say, “So what movie are you watching?” They would ALWAYS shift uncomfortably, “Um… (insert rated R movie here)”. I would just give them a quick nod. Talk about blackmail, I caught the bishop watching things like Basic Instinct. LOL

  22. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    someone in the COB apparently thinks they’re dodging some bullet by relying on the MPAA rating system.
    dpc: Do you know Who does the Canadian ratings(eh)?
    I believe the MPAA is funded/governed by producers…
    IMHO neither gratitious sex or violence are appropriate for most children.

  23. dpc says:


    Each province government has its own rating system. Here’s a link to Alberta’s (where a majority of Canadian Mormons live)


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