The Motion Picture Association of America rated the new documentary Bully R for language. But because of the perceived value (especially for school-age children) of the movie's material, an online petition was soon launched urging that the rating be changed to a PG-13. It has now received more than half a million signatures. And just four days before release, The Weinstein Company announced that it had decided to take advantage of the voluntary structure of the MPAA's rating assignments by releasing the film without any rating at all. Now there's talk about whether an edited version of the film could still be released. A spokesman for the studio said that there are currently no plans to do so, but that churches and schools are asking for it.
But there's more to the Bully controversy than just its rating. While it's being hailed as an important film about a difficult subject, questions are arising about one of the teen suicides detailed in it. Slate's Emily Bazelon writes that the facts don't completely support the film's streamlined idea that bullying equals suicide. In the case of 17-year-old Tyler Long, she points out that Bully doesn't mention that he was also diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder and Asperger's syndrome, all of which could have played a role. Nor does it document that his suicide note references a lack of support from his family. Says Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, "It is really misinformation. The filmmakers had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person's suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else—I'm appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate."
Haas also says, "I worry terribly about the contagion effect. One message of this move is: 'Bullying kills'—as if it's a normal response to kill yourself, when of course most people who are bullied don't do that. Young people who feel bullied could harken back to the movie, and it could be a powerful draw to suicide for them." [slate.com, 3/29/12; deadline.com, 4/1/12; latimes.com, 3/30/12]
The Hunger Games continues to captivate our culture's imagination, with the film staying at No. 1 in its second weekend, raking in an estimated $61.1 million to bring its 10-day cume to $251 million domestically and $364.9 million internationally. Suzanne Collins' young adult novel, on which the movie is based, was also the best-selling book in America last week, and the film's soundtrack topped Billboard's album chart.
The phenomenon also continues to stir strong opinions. Here are two about the role of parents in a violence-saturated entertainment world: "[The] real point of the whole Hunger Games debate [is] not about whether exposing kids to violence is okay; it's about being in touch with your kids, and understanding how that exposure affects them," says Dr. Claire McCarthy, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and medical communications editor at Children's Hospital Boston. "There is an awful lot of violence out there, some of it alarmingly gratuitous. Even Disney movies and cartoons have violence in them. And don't even get me started on video games. Our job as parents, then, isn't as simple as just keeping kids away from violence. … Our job as parents is to help our kids navigate this violence. We don't want them to be too upset by it, but at the same time, we don't want them to think that violence is good. We need to understand what they are ready to see or read, and then we need to talk with them again and again about it. Talking about the violence in The Hunger Games could lead to all sorts of really interesting conversations about what people are forced to do in desperate situations, about power and its abuse, about media and the glamorization of violence. But I won't be having those conversations with [my 11-year-old daughter] Natasha just yet, because she's not ready for them."
Christian youth culture expert Walt Mueller writes, "This is a film and a story that our kids are consuming like the hungry Tributes consume their valuable and little morsels of food. They will watch it, chew on it, process it, and digest it with or without us. The latter option offers us a great opportunity to talk about the bigger story—God's story—and the things that really matter." [huffingtonpost.com, 3/27/12; learningmylines.blogspot.com, 3/28/12; cpyu.org, 3/28/12; boxofficemojo.com, 4/1/12; deadline.com, 4/1/12 stats]
At Miami's Ultra Music Festival, Madonna asked the crowd, "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?" And she was quickly taken to task for being "pro-ecstasy." The connection? Molly is slang for MDMA, the active chemical ingredient in ecstasy—a drug that's frequently associated with electronic dance music and the rave scene. Influential house music producer Deadmau5 wrote on Facebook, "Very classy there Madonna … such a great message for the young music lovers at ultra." Then, in a lengthy follow-up blog post, Deadmau5 pondered the responsibilities artists have with regard to their influence in fans' lives. [huffingtonpost.com, 3/26/12; deadmau5.tublr.com, 3/26/12]
"When we first started the Twitter and Facebook stuff, they said beware of political and religious tweets. Just because it can turn off voters or whatever," says current (Season 11) American Idol contestant Colton Dixon. "But, you know, being a Christian is who I am. It is a part of me musically. It is what I want to do after the show—go into Christian music."
Meanwhile, David Archuleta, who was the runner up on American Idol's seventh season, is parting ways with his singing career to spend two years serving as a Mormon missionary in South America. He calls his decision "a very personal thing," and adds, "I hope you guys respect that and you guys have, so I appreciate that." [blog.music.aol.com, 3/29/12; nydailynews.com, 3/16/12]
About three-quarters of teens use their phones to text, according to Pew Research Center's Internet and the American Life Project, and they're doing it more than ever—sending an average of 60 missives a day. (In 2009, the average was closer to 50.) Fewer than 40% use them to actually call anybody.
But while it's become almost cliché to pick on youth for spending too much time with their smartphones and iPads and whatnot, these days it's often children chiding adults for their problematic tech habits. "You can't get my mom off that phone," sighs 7-year-old Luca Finzi. Ten-year-old brother Miles agrees. "We'll be at the dog park," he says, "and she'll just start texting someone." Aidan and Keira Mangan, 4 and 3, respectively, sometimes pretend to have potty training accidents to pull their father away from Madden NFL. "Sometimes I bargain with them," father David Mangan admits. "Just give me 10 more minutes." The trend has gotten so bad that some youth, after watching their parents' tech obsession interfere with their real-world relationships, have taken to limiting their own tech time. "Some of the kids are saying, 'I don't want this for myself,'" says Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston.
Indeed, according to teens and twentysomethings polled by the Pew Research Center, they're still undecided about whether personal tech will turn out to be a good or a bad thing in the future. According to the survey, 55% of youth believe that the year 2020 will be loaded with great connectivity and easy-to-access answers to everything. But 42% believe that it will be filled with easily distracted folks who lack the ability to think deeply about much of anything. [reuters.com, 2/29/12; boston.com, 3/8/12; msnbc.msn.com, 3/19/12]
Anticipating the green slime to come, fans cast more than 220 million votes, the most ever, for their faves at Nickelodeon's 25th annual Kids' Choice Awards, broadcast March 31. Celebrity winners included Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Taylor Lautner, Adam Sandler, Kristen Stewart, Jake Short, Jennette McCurdy, Big Time Rush, Tim Tebow and Danica Patrick. TV, movie, music and video game favorites included SpongeBob SquarePants, Victorious, Wipeout, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Puss in Boots, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" and Just Dance 3. [ew.com, 3/31/12]