Modern ratings and the classics

I was reading an article about a new kind of film rating that is being introduced in Sweden: one that is meant to address the problem of sexism. It is one of those things that sound like a good idea until you start thinking about them. I mean, encouraging writers to include more female characters, and to have them talk about something other than men is a great idea (sorry guys, you are not that central to our lives), but the problem is that that places a number of artificial restrictions that can be downright ridiculous under certain circumstances.

After all, if a movie has to feature at least two female characters, talking to each other about something other than men to get a passing grade, what would the rating for a classic such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) be? Well, on the positive side we can safely say that the movie got part of it right, as none of its female characters can be accused of wasting their breath talking about men. In fact, in three and a half hours (or more, depending on the version), there is not one single word that is actually uttered by a female character (come to think about it, I don’t think there are any female extras either), and the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. The reason: given the nature of the plot -and when and where the story is supposed to take place- their absence felt appropriate. That in turn brings me to the reason why a rating that is meant to police a ratio of male to female characters, and dictate how those characters are supposed to interact with each other is a bad idea: the fact that different plots call for different things, and I’d like to see writers and directors retain the right to tell their stories as they see fit without being penalized for it… even if that calls for a movie that is well north of the three hours mark, and in which women are nowhere to be seen.

6 thoughts on “Modern ratings and the classics”

  1. MS. SAAL

    First, I stumbled over your site years ago while researching POD. Your site was a breath of fresh air, devoid of the type of technical nomenclature (which I refer to in writer’s jargon as babble or gobbledygook) that confuses the heck out of me on so many other help-oriented sites. I have also recommended people to your site for your POD information for years.

    Second, regarding the Swedish law regarding movie content: “political correctness” is largely a fabrication of the rightwing element(s) in the US. Most of the famous early cases that established the concept of PC have long since been debunked as conservative manipulation of “facts.”

    This Swedish law is so absurd on the surface—so reminiscent of Orwell or Huxley—that it sounds like yet another conservative hoax concocted just to show the absurdity of “liberals” and PC . . .

    Best, thanks, and keep on keepin’ on!


    1. The truth is that I haven’t really done much research on the specifics of that particular law beyond some news articles that were second or third hand, meaning that it can be a fabrication or thoroughly misconstrued, but there is a tendency to try to make the classics fit into our standards and penalize them when they don’t that I do find disturbing. This has nothing to do with being politically correct, it has to do with the fact that there seems to be a push to sanitize the past that I find more than a little annoying.
      Another example would be some children’s books that I’ve been rereading lately, namely some Enid Blyton, that have obviously been changed to fit our own sensibilities. On the one hand I understand where the publishers are coming from, as in their original form those books would be deemed totally unacceptable by modern parents, but on the other the author is dead and the books they are selling have been significantly altered.
      I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not so much about being PC as it is about trying to rewrite the past to make it look like our own sensitivities have always been there.

      1. MS. SAAL

        I sit corrected: I am surprised that I read “law” where you plainly stated “rating.” I also assumed that you implied political correctness—when in fact it appears that I inferred it.

        Back to the Swedish movie situation: according to Huffington Post, “Some Swedish cinemas are introducing a new rating system based on the Bechdel test. In order to receive an ‘A’ rating, a film must contain a scene in which two named women have a conversation about something other than men.”

        The Washington Post verifies this with a lengthier piece on the subject, including discussing the government’s attempts to encourage gender equality in many areas of Swedish society, including the arts.

        The aforementioned “Bechdel test” was introduced in 1985 by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For.

        My apologies for my misunderstanding and my less than helpful response! Sith agus Slainte bah . . .


        1. Don’t worry, I didn’t catch it either in your reply, and as I said I hadn’t done much research on the subject either. It was just that when I heard about it, it got me thinking and I decided to write about it.

  2. MS. SAAL

    I cover a lot of ground on my website, I write about whatever is on my mind (current events gets a lot of attention). I also write about anything that I want to share with my readers.

    In the latter category is print-on-demand publishing. Ten years ago, I first began researching POD and found your site, then Books & Tales. You were sooooo much more informative than the few books that were then available.

    I would want to do an article on POD, focusing on you and your website—especially the POD section. I would like to quote liberally from your articles.

    So I request your permission to do so.

    Sith agus Slainte bah!


    1. Hi, thank you for your kind words. On the one hand I’m glad you found the site useful, on the other… well, on the other there is the fact that for the most part those articles were written more than twelve years ago, and some of the information may be seriously out of date (not to mention that they are very rough drafts that at times come across as being all but unreadable). Still if you want to quote them go ahead, I just ask that you include those caveats.

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