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Clean vs. Family-Friendly


 

When I wrote a review of The Dark Knight for the website, I had some trouble coming up with a word to describe the movie’s resolutely sexless, bloodless content. I went with calling it “the cleanest Batman movie ever,” but as some people pointed out to me, that doesn’t make a great deal of sense. (Who describes a gritty crime thriller with a zillion murders as “clean?”) But I couldn’t call it “family-friendly” either, because this movie is not family-friendly, and in fact people are arguing over whether it’s too intense for children. “But,” it was pointed out to me, “you’re saying that it could be shown on CBS at 8 pm; doesn’t that mean you’re saying it’s family-friendly?” Not really. Few broadcast network TV shows today are really “family-friendly,” yet all of them, because of FCC regulations, have restrictions on violence, language and sex. And it’s the same with Christopher Nolan’s Batman, though the restrictions are self-imposed (even within the limits of a PG-13 rating, you can get away with more than he tries to get away with).

The Dark Knight has violence but hardly any blood — even the pilot of the Batman cartoon showed Batman with a trickle of blood down his mouth — and because Nolan has no real room for sex or sexuality, it not only doesn’t show Bruce Wayne gettin’ any like he did in Tim Burton’s movie, it doesn’t suggest that anybody would even want to have sex in this universe. It’s like a film noir that was made under the old Hollywood production code: the violent, dark story is not for family audiences, but it doesn’t have anything that the censors would actually strike out. More so, actually, since the old films noirs had more of a sex element.

I’m not asking for Nolan to make his movies any other way, you understand; I just find it interesting as an example of what’s happening in the content of movies as compared to TV. TV has severe censorship restrictions, even on most cable channels (only a select few channels, like HBO, don’t censor or bleep anything). Movies, in theory, have no censorship restrictions; they just have to be prepared to accept an R or NC-17 rating depending on how much naughty stuff they put in. TV censorship has gotten even more severe in the last few years because, in Chuck Lorre’s words, “Janet Jackson ruined everything.” And yet mainstream movies don’t actually seem to have more violence or sex, on average, than mainstream TV shows. If anything it’s the other way round. A movie like Batman Begins, where there’s no sex, almost no cursing and almost no blood, has the type of content you might have found on a TV drama about thirty years ago: no matter how intense the subject matter, it’s presented in a very chaste way. Today’s prime-time TV, on the other hand, has plenty of blood and guts; people go to bed with each other, and characters say naughty words (they just get bleeped when they do it, but PG-13 movies don’t use bleeps). If you put an episode of 24 in theatres, it would probably be PG-13, but it would be a more violent, bloody PG-13 than most “action” movies today. And Two and a Half Men probably has more sex jokes than most PG-13 comedies (though not the R-rated comedies of Apatow and co.). It’s like television, where producers are determined to slip stuff by the censors, is still a little freer than PG-13 movies where the producers are busy censoring themselves.

As for my review of The Dark Knight, I want to add that while I think the movie is flawed, it’s an entertaining film (overlong, but you knew that) and the audience seemed to love it; I was just bothered by some things in the movie, and was most interested in talking about the stuff that bothered me. But, to my disappointment, I haven’t gotten any angry e-mails yet from Batman fans accusing me of “not getting it,” whereas David Edelstein got blasted every which way.

Interestingly a lot of the angry comments on negative reviews is that most of them argue that Batman is “supposed to be dark” and the reviewer doesn’t get it. (David Ansen of Newsweek has been pilloried for merely saying that “This is Batman, not Hamlet” and he wanted it to be a little more fun.) I’m not saying they’re wrong about the movie itself — that’s a judgment call, and most reasonable people think it’s great — but they’re obviously wrong that Batman has to be dark or that any other take on the character is inauthentic. There’s nothing wrong with preferring a very dark take on the character, but fans who think that’s the only take are exactly the type of fans that the ’60s series was created to mock: fans who can’t accept that there really is something a little ridiculous about a rich kid with no powers who decides to avenge his parents by fighting crime in a bat suit.


 

Clean vs. Family-Friendly

  1. I don’t want to make Edelstein’s week any worse than it already is, but when he says Two-Face’s coin flips are “a pale echo of Javier Bardem’s in No Country for Old Men,” he is being a great big goof. Two-Face was tossing that coin in the comics when Javier Bardem, the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy were in short pants.

  2. Yeah, it reminds me a bit of how many of the comments on Shatner’s “Rocket Man” accused him of ripping off Stewie’s version from Family Guy. Seriously.

  3. It’s like the old joke about the guy who comes out of a production of Hamlet and says, “It’s just a bunch of clichés strung together. ‘To be or not to be?’ Give me a break.”

  4. That’s twice I’ve read this from you: There’s nothing wrong with preferring a very dark take on the character, but fans who think that’s the only take are exactly the type of fans that the ’60s series was created to mock: fans who can’t accept that there really is something a little ridiculous about a rich kid with no powers who decides to avenge his parents by fighting crime in a bat suit.

    I much prefer this darker Batman. I love the Batman that the animated series brought out in the 90s. Still my favourite animated TV series. Yes I’m almost 40, and I still watch cartoons.

    There is something ridiculous about Batman, but its no more ridiculous than Spider-Man, Superman, (most especially the X-Men), and all the other super heroes but so what? I understand that, and yet I still want those characters to be presented a certain way. Using a character I enjoy to mock me, because I’m willing to subvert the “ridiculous” aspects and truly enjoy the darker characteristics as more realistic, is elitist and condescending.

    When I understand what it is I choose, and yet I’m still mocked for it, that’s not funny or insightful.

  5. I much prefer this darker Batman. I love the Batman that the animated series brought out in the 90s. Still my favourite animated TV series. Yes I’m almost 40, and I still watch cartoons.

    Catelli, I love the Batman cartoon too — it’s my favourite Batman show of all time — and not only should we be watching cartoons when we’re almost 40, we should be watching them for the rest of our lives. As Eric Cartman said, “Cartoons kick ass.”

    I understand that, and yet I still want those characters to be presented a certain way. Using a character I enjoy to mock me, because I’m willing to subvert the “ridiculous” aspects and truly enjoy the darker characteristics as more realistic, is elitist and condescending.

    I don’t think it’s condescending. It’s just a way of seeing the humour that’s inherent in the superhero concept. It’s the same kind of humour that’s inherent in James Bond, or Die Hard, or any franchise where one man does impossible things and survives, over and over. Even The Dark Knight has one scene that makes fun of the silliness of the concept, when Morgan Freeman tells the lawyer how ridiculous it is to believe that a billionaire is secretly a vigilante who beats criminals up every night.

    Anyway, my point is not that Batman can’t or shouldn’t be serious, just that fans who get mad at the very thought that Batman isn’t Hamlet — or insist that the only “authentic” Batman is the dark version — should lighten up a bit. But that doesn’t mean they should stop liking what they like. I like many of the same things they do.

    (And I think Batman is sillier than the other superheroes you mention because they all have super powers, and therefore it’s a fantasy. Batman doesn’t have powers, and in the recent movies especially, lives in a fairly “realistic” world. Yet he wears that crazy suit.)

  6. Well the only authentic Batman to me is the darker one. Anything else just doesn’t appeal to me.

    Though I’ll willingly debate the silliest hero concept over a pitcher of beer and wings anytime.

    (My nomination? Wonder Woman)

  7. What’s inherently silly about Wonder Woman? I mean, as compared to other superheroes, obviously. A rich guy dressing up like a bat is sillier than a woman who comes from a semi-mythical land, because if a rich guy dressed up like a bat and fought crime in the real world, everyone would think he was an idiot. Also, the Green Lantern is a much sillier superhero than either of those two, because he has that stupid rhyme he says. He doesn’t even have to say it! He just made it up one day, and thought, “that’s awesome. I’m gonna say that every time I recharge my ring!” what an idiot.

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