A Father Looks at the Flicks


The other night when I announced to my family that I was taking my adorable wife to see a certain GP (rated general admittance with parental guidance) movie, my thirteen-year-old daughter firmly stated, “Oh, Daddy, I don’t think you’d better take Mother to that show. It has some bad things you shouldn’t see.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’ve seen it, of course, and I just don’t think it’s the kind of show you ought to go to.”

“When did you see it?” I thundered.

Well, it seems that a neighbor had taken her daughter and mine to the GP-rated show.

After my family had given me my allotted time for stern words on the subject of permissive neighbors (my own children think I’m a strict neanderthal), my wife sweetly pointed out that I ought to be grateful that a thirteen-year-old girl would be concerned enough to warn me about a movie she’s seen that isn’t fit for her forty-eight-year-old father and his ageless wife.

That really set me off. If children are going to be that strict with their parents, how will we ever learn about life? Fortunately, in this age of tyrannical youth, my children still permit me to discuss such matters at family night, so the following Monday after our regular discussion I conducted a survey to find out just what my children think about today’s movies.

Billy, nearly ten, said that from what he’s seen, “Kids could make better movies than grown-ups.” He also thought that a boy nearly ten ought to be able to see any movie his parents can see.

Kristin, age thirteen, agreed with Bill, but conceded that “if parents are dirty-minded, I guess it’s all right if they go to a dirty movie, but I don’t want to go and I wouldn’t want you to. I’d be embarrassed for you.”

Dick, nearly eighteen, vigorously disagreed with his younger brother and sister. He feels that some movies are all right for grown-ups (people nearly eighteen) but not for children thirteen or younger. He feels that he has been unaffected by the raw scenes in movies he’s seen, and that as long as a movie makes him laugh, he doesn’t mind if it’s a bit racy. He feels that his personal standards are secure in the gospel, and this is why he is of the opinion that it’s all right for him to see a picture that he wouldn’t want his little brother or sister to see.

Elizabeth, nearly twenty, heatedly responded: “I don’t think young, impressionable kids ought to see movies with rough language or dirty sequences.” And then she said wistfully, “We Mormons can’t isolate ourselves from the world, but there are certainly a lot of tasteless movies being made.” She informed us that she judges a movie by how she feels when she comes out of the theater after the show. “As we walked out of a family musical, all of us in the group were happily singing and we felt good, but after seeing another movie (rated GP, by the way), I felt depressed and low. I won’t go to a movie any more if it’s vulgar.”

Then we discussed a recent war movie that I had seen and enjoyed, but that was loaded with rough language. Elizabeth too had seen the movie but was repelled by the gory war sequences as much as by the language. Dick, on the other hand, didn’t mind either.

Now I didn’t take my nine-year-old son to see that war movie because I didn’t think he was yet mature enough to overlook the rough aspects and appreciate the rest. I did take my seventeen-year-old son because I wanted him to see how horrible World War II had been, and I wanted him to gain some insights about some of the men on whom both sides depended.

Yet I must confess I’m inconsistent (aren’t you lucky that your parents are not?). I recently directed a musical that had been made into a movie, and I let my then fifteen-year-old daughter see the stage version but not the film version because it contained one very raw scene. To this day she needles me about that because “all my friends got to see the movie.” She reminded me of her frustration again when the movie was released for television.

Why wouldn’t I let her go?

I suppose, like all parents, I wanted to play it safe. I love my children too much to play roulette with their eternal happiness. Because I’m in theater, I’m acutely aware of how human beings are mimetic creatures. All of us have a vital urge to imitate. That is one of the chief ways we learn. Through our ability to imitate, remember, and synthesize, we cannot help but be affected by images and symbols we see and hear. Why else would billions be spent for television advertising if the images we see do not affect our behavior? To me it is sophistry for television officials to claim that a viewer’s behavior is not affected by programming content but that advertising content does affect behavior.

Research on the effects of the mass communication media is not conclusive enough for me as a parent to abandon my own judgment on what is desirable for my children to experience. I choose to use my common sense, small though that may be, to try to guide my children to a happy, fulfilled life, and I want them to have healthy, normal relationships with other people, using the gospel as the standard.

As a parent, I have the obligation to guide my children to avoid anything I think is harmful to them until they are old enough to make intelligent decisions on their own, including how best to spend their time, and I realize that my own example is one of the chief patterns for their behavior.

If more of us tried to follow Paul’s advice to seek after good, virtuous, and praiseworthy things, including movies, there’d be more good things to see. It’s worth a try.

Meantime, in spite of occasional frustrations, I’m glad to have in this permissive age a strict thirteen-year-old daughter to regulate my own movie going. Other parents should be so lucky!

[illustration] Illustrated by Nina McNaughtan

Presently the bishop of a University of Utah student ward, Brother Engar is chairman of the Department of Theater at the University of Utah and is a widely recognized student of theater arts.