16 April 2009

Not what it themes.

At Farringdon Station, there is a poster for the forthcoming movie Good, starring Viggo Mortensen and based upon the C.P. Taylor play of the same name. From what I can gather, it seems to be about one man's gradual slide into complicity with the Nazi regime. But I noticed that alongside its BBFC classification of "15" is a helpful clarification: 'Contains scenes of violence and Holocaust themes'.

I have noticed these disclaimers elsewhere, and previously thought them merely silly - warning me about a children's film that "contains scenes of mild peril" - but I think there is something sinister about the warning in this case. The movie poster itself (above) I think gives a fairly clear indication of the historical era in which the movie is set, courtesy of an enormous swastika.

So would anyone really need the Holocaust clarification, on the off-chance they thought they were going to watch a sequel to Hello Dolly? Why would you need to be warned off going to see a film for fear it exposes you to 'Holocaust themes'? At best it is part of the invidious tendency to sanitise all aspects of life and eliminate any risk of upsetting anyone. At worst it could be seen as pandering to Holocaust-deniers, preventing their fragile minds from a nasty cinematic experience.

And it seems not just to be a one-off. Recently a British movie with a largely disabled cast, called Special People, received a classification of 12A and the patronising rejoinder: "disability theme". For goodness sake, save our children from the risk of witnessing a disability theme, no doubt aimed at all those parents who complained when the BBC employed an amputee to present children's TV.

If we accept the honest intentions of the BBFC to inform rather than patronise or offend, we realise the real problem is describing something that is apparently upsetting, without the description causing upset itself. Hence the use of the mysterious noun "theme", which ends up either creating confusion or mirth.

The other effect it has is - instead of clarifying things - to actually increase the opacity of the material being presented. For example, the Australian TV comedy Summer Heights High carried the following consumer advice - "contains moderate references to sex and disability". Does that mean whispered jokes about people getting their jollies in wheelchairs, or is it two separate topics that are referred to "moderately"?

However, I think there are occasions when it is appropriate, if only the expression of the warning were more clearly stated. For example, if The English Patient had carried the disclaimer: "Warning: this film will make you feel like you wasted three hours of your life", I might have saved myself some money.

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