Taking offense

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The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has apparently come to its heterosexual senses, downgrading Brokeback Mountain from an L rating specifiying a “limited” adult audience to an O, for “morally offensive.” This is, as I understand it, way cooler than an NC17, but still not as awesome as the “condemned” rating that used to be handed out.

Some people take this stuff very seriously. (For context, some other 2005 films rated O by the Conference: Land of the Dead, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wedding Crashers, and The 40 Year-Old Virgin.)

I know that the USCCB doesn’t have nearly the influence of the old Legion of Decency, and I guess it’s not a bad idea for a religious body to try to give believers guidance related to a film’s moral implications. (Certainly the original decision not to slap the film with the most disapproving rating possible seems like a remarkably sensible decision on the Conference’s part.) What starts to seem condescending to me is the notion that one set of adults should be deciding, based on some presumed wisdom that’s rarely in evidence, what the rest of them should be permitted to read or view. I’m not sure whether it’s still considered a sin within the Church for a Catholic to go see a movie that’s been rated “morally offensive.” But it becomes clear that the shrill peanut-gallery objections to Brokeback‘s original rating are rooted in a desire to control others’ thoughts by discouraging them from accessing artistic works (or, in their words, “homosexual propaganda”) that might challenge their dogma.

Folks, if God gave us brains, you pay Him tribute by keeping them fully engaged, and operating them with confidence in your own moral judgment. And Brokeback Mountain is a stunner.

2 Replies to “Taking offense”

  1. What starts to seem condescending to me is the notion that one set of adults should be deciding, based on some presumed wisdom that’s rarely in evidence, what the rest of them should be *permitted* to read or view. (emphasis on “permitted” in original)

    Where, and please be precise, is the USCCB saying THAT?

    If you mean “should read or view” or “should be permitted to read or view with a clear conscience,” then potentially fair enough. But then you couldn’t have meant that, because either of those constructions would be “giv[ing] believers guidance related to a film’s moral implications,” which you said is “not a bad idea for a religious body.”

    And why the characterizing phrase “one set of adults”? We presumably don’t want children to be doing the not-bad-idea of spiritual advising. And in the specific case of the USCCB (or priests generally), they are not *merely* adults.

    I’m not sure whether it’s still considered a sin within the Church for a Catholic to go see a movie that’s been rated “morally offensive.”

    It’s not. My confessor, who has told me he thinks THE END OF THE AFFAIR offensive, knows I think it and EYES WIDE SHUT to be two of the best films of recent years. I’ve never in my life confessed to watching a legitimate movie.

    Now one could certainly consume even a legitimate movie in a number of sinful ways. But that doesn’t in itself have anything to do with the USCCB ratings.

  2. Hey, Victor. I didn’t know what the USCCB’s stated intentions were. When I tried to Google it, I learned that Catholics used to be asked to promise not to see movies with the old “Condemned” rating — but also found some queries at an online forum or two along the lines of “is it a sin to see a movie that’s been rated MO,” which I thought was a reasonable and interesting question.

    I did, however, try to be fair to the USCCB. My eyebrow was meant to be raised more in the direction of the online reactionaries who seemed to think that a) it was prima facie crazy for the USCCB to give Brokeback Mountain any rating other than morally offensive and b) that while they (one set of adults) obviously had the good sense and intact moral compass that allowed them to see that it was an immoral film, or piece of gay propaganda, or whatever, it was others (less morally sophisticated viewers, a category that presumably originally included the USCCB) who obviously wouldn’t be able to properly read its content.

    If I telegraphed some archness with regard to the USCCB itself, it’s more or less tied into the notion that, while I think I understand why the ratings are important to some viewers, I feel such a whole wide world removed from a group that would characterize Land of the Dead as “morally offensive”. But my final comments on Brokeback were meant as a complaint against the screeching opposition to the film that came from bloggers and others, and not to the actual USCCB review, which seemed far more reasonable to me. If it sounded like I was just taking gratuitous potshots against the Board, that’s not exactly what I intended.

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