Exception to the Rule

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally don’t watch R-rated movies, a practice that has its origin in President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1986 General Conference talk “To The ‘Youth of a Noble Birthright’” when he counseled the young men, holders of the Aaronic priesthood, to live clean, moral lives free from the influence of vulgar, degrading, and obscene media, including music and movies, and rich in wholesome activities and uplifting media.

I’ve adopted the standard of not watching movies with an “R” rating, as I’m sure many Church members have. However, I’ve further expanded this in my own life to include, or rather exclude, music with an “Explicit” warning, video games with an “M” rating, TV shows with an “MA” rating, and Amazon Prime’s “TV-16” rating (or “16+” or whatever it is).

I recently had an experience I wanted to share with you about the slippery road of making exceptions to our standards.

There was a movie on Netflix that I really wanted to watch, which was rated TV-MA. I rationalized to myself that since it wasn’t actually rated R, I could make an exception for this one movie, just this one time, and it wouldn’t be a big deal, right?

So I watched the movie and… well, to be honest, it wasn’t that great. It was pretty predicable, actually, and I wouldn’t have missed anything by skipping it – the preview and the film’s description told me everything I needed to know and the film itself contained no surprises.

However, “just this one time” quickly led to two more TV-MA movies (a feature length film and a stand-up comedy show), within the next couple of weeks, because I had watched that one movie and the world kept turning, right?

Yikes.

If I’m going to make an exception to my TV- and movie-watching standards, where does the exception-making stop? Is a second inappropriate movie just as “harmless” as one? Where do I draw the line?


An article on the LDS Living website about this very subject cautions against using a worldly rating system to help us in evaluating media.

I briefly paused in writing this blog post to research the rating history of the film Top Gun, which coincidentally debuted in 1986, the same year as President Benson’s talk. I could swear that it had originally been rated PG-13 (making it the first PG-13 movie my mom ever let me watch), but according to Wikipedia, IMDB, and several other sources I looked at, it’s rated PG.

I can’t find any sources to back up my memory that it was ever rated PG-13. The film is described by one of the sources I looked at as being “pretty racy” for the 1980s (True!).

The content of Top Gun hasn’t changed, even if the rating may have. I would still be embarrassed and ashamed to be observed watching that movie if the Savior dropped by my house unexpectedly one afternoon.

Does the rating matter? Are all PG-13 movies allowed? How do we know?

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have a regular curfew. Now, now, lest you think that I had the most permissive parents in the country, I first have to tell you that my curfew changed depending on what I was doing and what time I expected to finish the activity. A 10:00pm curfew for a dance that ended at 11:00pm wouldn’t have been any fun, but a 10:00pm curfew wouldn’t be appropriate for an afternoon at the bowling alley, either. So my curfew would have been something like 11:30pm for the dance and maybe 6:00pm for bowling (depending on how many games I planned to play).

A blanket curfew of 10:00pm didn’t serve my  best interests in the same way that assuming that all PG-13 movies are “allowed” serves my best interests, now. I think I should adopt a more introspective set of guidelines when determining whether I ought to watch a movie or not.

A good set of guiding questions can be found in the article “So, Can I Watch It or Not?” from the December 2014 New Era.

  1. How will this affect me?
  2. Does it invite the Spirit?
  3. Is it uplifting?
  4. Does it make evil look normal? (Or humorous or exciting?)
  5. Is it vulgar or violent?