Culture Clips: For Halloween, Some Scary Screens

scary screen

Halloween is a big deal in the United States. The average American will spend $185.50 for the hallo-day, including $76 on candy.

But we’ve got another major day to commemorate this week as well (without so many bite-size candy bars, presumably): On Nov. 1, the MPAA ratings system will turn 50. And to mark the occasion, the Motion Picture Association of America told us just how its ratings have shaken out over the last five decades. The big takeaway? America’s theaters have hosted a lot of R-rated movies.

Of the 29,791 films rated by the MPAA since 1968, more than 17,000 of them—57%—have been rated R. That’s obviously by far the most common rating, even though your average PG and PG-13 film earns about twice what the average R-rated film does. The PG rating (which includes the short-lived M and GP ratings, too) lands as America’s next-most popular, with 5,578 films in that category—less than a third the number of R-rated flicks.

In today’s more crass movie culture, it’s easy to forget that even PG—about as family-friendly a rating as you can get these days and still have some semblance of drama—stands for “parental guidance suggested.” Take Smallfoot, a fairly sweet, innocuous movie that our intrepid reviewer Bob Hoose said had some potentially “anti-faith” messages nuzzled inside. He’s not alone in pointing that out. Stand To Reason’s Alan Shlemon says the flick “mocks religious belief, and, in my opinion, it’s clearly targeted at Christianity.”

Of course, if the creators of the new faith-based company Kingdom have their way (presumably), Hollywood may have a new family-friendly player in town. Jon and Andy Erwin want their studio to be the next “Christian Pixar” or “Christian Marvel.”

But movies aren’t as buzzy as they used to be—not compared to the rapidly growing and changing world of television. The small(er) screen sure doesn’t look like it used to, what with viewers checking out of traditional broadcast television models and turning to on-demand streaming services. NBC’s the latest network to try and adapt, announcing a 24-hour streaming news service to cater to cord cutters. (Not that watching news for 24 hours is necessarily a good thing: ABC News is now offering tips on how to cope with today’s anxious headlines.)

And that’s not the only change we’re seeing on television. A new study by the activist group GLAAD finds record numbers of LGBTQ characters on TV today—which coincides with Nielsen’s own announcement that it has begun tracking viewership in same-sex households. (Gay and lesbian couples, the service tells us, particularly loved CBS’s Murphy Brown reboot and the NBC sci-fi mystery Manifest.) Meanwhile, television  actors and actresses continue to make, well, a lot more money than I do. Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara banked $42.5 million between June 1, 2017, and June 1, 2018, topping the list of highest-paid TV stars. Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory was the highest-earning male, banking $26.5 million. Indeed, five stars on that geek-oriented sitcom topped $20 million: Big bang indeed.

We all know that television can get pretty salacious these days. HBO, a premium cable channel often called out for its reliance on sex scenes, has just hired an “intimacy coordinator” to help navigate such scenes. (We think that he or she will be kept plenty busy.) But shows need not have graphic nudity to cause a stir. Big Mouth, an animated Netflix series ostensibly meant for adults, unveiled an episode trumpeting Planned Parenthood—an episode that, predictably, earned scathing condemnation from pro-life organizations. Just as predictably, the blowback earned its own blowback from more progressive media watchers. (sample headline from The Daily Beast: “Critics Praise ‘Big Mouth’ Planned Parenthood Episode. Conservatives Freak Out.”)

But TV’s controversies aside, a lot of families—particularly those headed by younger parents—are looking at television as the family’s good screen, because it fosters time together—and is thus considered preferable to the more-isolating smartphone screen experience. A recent study found that nearly two-thirds of Millennial parents said they’d “rather my kid watch TV than be online,” and 62% say they’re “very worried about the time my child spends on their own device.”

Oh, and by the way, teens themselves often agree that excessive smartphone use can be unhealthy. Another study found that six out of every 10 teens thought friends were “addicted” to their phones. And 41% admitted to feeling “overwhelmed” by all the notifications they receive.But that doesn’t mean teens are putting down the phones of their own volition. They’re using them, a lot. They favor Instagram over Snapchat these days. And teens, as well as lots of other people, seem to be setting aside their Twitter accounts.

Even as the social-media landscape has been a boon to some celebrities, others are sending out a cautionary note. Jamie Lee Curtis, star of Halloween, says that Michael Myers doesn’t scare her nearly as much as social media. She told Time:

I’m terrified by social media–the obsession with our curated lives. I don’t proselytize, because I cop to it too! How quickly you can hit the little booster button that brightens you up. The idea that we can no longer look at our unvarnished selves at all. A selfie is by nature self-loving, but it’s become self-loathing.

To wrap this Halloween episode of Culture Clips up, let’s return to a time when screens weren’t the cause of anxiety and panic. No, 80 years ago, it was all about radio—specifically Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast. The first half of the episode (based on H.G. Wells’ famous book) took the form of breaking news bulletins, which millions of listeners believed in those more innocent days. And some of them reportedly went a little crazy (though there’s some debate about that).

If you want to listen in to the whole episode that caused such a kerfuffle, click here. But remember: It’s only a radio broadcast.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Tim Page More than 1 year ago
I feel like that article  saying that 'I Can Only Imagine' making more than 'Manchester By the Sea' being an accomplishment is a stretch. 
I haven't seen it, but I've heard nothing but good things about 'I Can Only Imagine' (I've also heard I'll cry so that's probably the main reason I haven't seen it,) but 'Manchester' was probably the bleakest film I saw that year and I literally couldn't think of anyone i'd recommend it to. 'I Can Only Imagine' seemed pretty uplifting and like something a family could get together and watch.  
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
If Kingdom wants to produce some romantic comedies without cohabitation involved (that aren't preachy, just clean) I know my mother would be very grateful. She misses the romcoms of the 90s... now most of the ones Hollywood makes are PG-13 or R.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The group aims to be the Christian Pixar or Marvel."

Ok, you've got me interested.....

"That means that they're just gonna be focusing on the same boring, bland, safe, inoffensive, unchallenging, stock Christian dramas we always get."

Oh, never mind then.....

Wake me when something interesting happens in the Christian film circle!

[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The fact that they go out of there way to say that they have 100% creative control and that people won't be offended by their stuff doesn't give me very high hopes for anything groundbreaking or creative. I'm not saying that they should go full edge-lord (Generational Sins tried that, and look how badly that film turned out.) But what I am saying is that it doesn't like they'll produce any Christian film that is outside of the normal wheelhouse of feel-good, mainstream, "faith-affirming" dramas we usually get from the Christian film industry. (See anything the Kendrick Bros or PureFlix pump out.) I hope I'm wrong and that this is the shot in the arm the stagnating Christian film industry needs, but I'm not holding my breath. I hope that makes sense to you. :)

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeah, poor choice of words. What I meant to say is thatI don't want their movies to be edgy or controversial, I just want something new and interesting in the Christian film industry. Something like a fantasy epic or Sci-Fi movie. Or, going off the the Marvel and Pixar comparison, a superhero film or animated flick. Something that breaks the mold and is a bit more risky genre and budget wise than the usual low-budget Christian dramas we get. But judging from their statements, it seems that they want to just make more of the same type of Christian dramas because that's what sells. And that doesn't fill me with very much hope that we'll be getting something interesting from them anytime soon. If that makes sense.