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The Debate Over the Rating of "Bully"

The attention finally being paid to bullying in K-12 schools would seem to assure a wide audience for a documentary about the subject. But that hasn't been the case with "Bully," which received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because of six "f" words. Despite the absurd rationale, there are groups that support the rating, including the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan organization advocating responsible entertainment (" 'Bully' deserved an R," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 28).

Although "Bully" is being released unrated by the Weinstein Co., the issue will not go away - and for good reason. In this country, young people are exposed to films on television with the most violent content, but with vulgar language and, of course, sex of any kind deleted. As David Dobkin, the director of "Wedding Crashers," wrote: "Do we really believe that a repeated curse word, or showing a woman's nipple (an instant R rating), is more detrimental to our children than the high-magnitude violence portrayed in many popcorn films the MPAA gives a PG-13 rating" (" 'Bully' deserved better,", Los Angeles Times, Mar. 28)?

Other countries take an entirely different approach. In 1972, I took my date who was born and educated in Sweden to see "The Godfather" in Westwood Village, which is adjacent to the UCLA campus. As we exited the theater, she was ashen. When I asked what was wrong, she said she was confused. "Portnoy's Complaint," which was playing across the street, had a sign warning about the sexual content of the film, but "The Godfather" had no such warning about the violence. In Sweden, just the opposite was true.

I still don't understand why language triggers an R rating because I remember a childhood refrain: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never harm me." The MPAA says that if it bends the rules for "Bully" it will have to do so for other films. But doesn't the MPAA also have a responsibility to the 160,000 students who don't go to school each day in order to avoid being bullied ("Kids At Risk," The New Yorker, Apr. 2)? The only way the now unrated documentary can be shown in public schools is by parents signing permission slips. But don't count on that happening on a wide-scale basis. It's a pity because "Bully" is precisely the kind of film that engages students and forces them to rethink how to relate to one another.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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