After watching the “Hunger Games,” I was reminded how society can get things backwards when worrying about harms to children. Despite the graphic scenes of teenagers slaughtering each other, the movie has a PG-13 rating. In contrast, movies are supposed to receive an R rating if they include sexually-oriented nudity or if they include some of the “harsher sexually-derived” expletives, especially when used in a sexual context.
This more severe treatment of nudity and profanity than of bloodshed tracks first amendment doctrine. Supreme Court justices seem more worried about the F-word and bare buttocks than about vicious violence. Just last year, the Court invoked the First Amendment to override California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. Two years ago, the Court rejected a federal statute that outlawed "crush" videos depicting the torture and killing of animals. But in the discussion at oral argument earlier this year about foul language and indecent images on television, the justices indicated a willingness to maintain some censorship of expletives and nudity by the Federal Communications Commission.
Is it really the case that children suffer greater trauma from hearing curse words and viewing sexual images than from seeing brutal murders? Is it really true that the profanity and pornography on The Sopranos were more troubling than the cold-blooded executions that were vividly depicted in the series?
Maybe there's no harm to kids from watching people being maimed, decapitated or dismembered on the big or little screen. But surely there's no greater harm from seeing a bare breast or hearing a dirty word.