The difference between the American and Canadian ratings for the movie Bully is a strong indicator of what sets the two countries and cultures apart.
In the U.S. countless young people are bullied every year for a variety of reasons. Not all of them have to do with sexual orientation, but sometimes it is the challenged student or the “geeky” student. Often itis worst in the exact communities which pride themselves in having conservative and Christian values. An epidemic of teenage suicides in the past years, some in the same counties, have spotlighted the tragic nature of this problem. And yet, when an acclaimed documentary is released on the subject, the U.S. Motion Picture Association slaps an R rating on it, effectively limiting the number of young people who might be able to see it in theatres and restricting its eventual use in educational settings. This in a setting where The Hunger Games, a movie about children who kill each other, receives a PG-13 rating. (Don’t get me wrong. I loved The Hunger Games, as you can see in my previous review.)
What does it say about a culture that objects to foul language (depicted in a good cause and with purposeful intent), but condones and in fact glorifies the slaughter of teens in an arena? It tells you something important about the conservative mind set which is driving this R rating. It tells you about a fear at having to look at the consequences of moral bankruptcy. It tells you that there is no real passion, or even will, to solve this problem. It tells you the power of denial based in a combination of ignorance and guilt. It tells you something about blind, shallow conservatism which only sees the surface of foul language in the film, but not the deeper message and implications.
Canadian provinces have mostly chosen to label Bullies with a PG-13 rating as well, allowing teens to see the movie unaccompanied and giving it a much better chance of reaching and educational market eventually. Oddly the Canadian culture which has so demonstrated a greater desire to address the bullying issue, has suffered far fewer teen suicides due to bullying than has the U.S. Those that we’ve seen have resulted in social outrage and sincere attempts to address the situation. And yet, as a former teacher, I’m well aware that bullying is still an issue in schools. I think that it doesn’t reach the same degree of seriousness in Canadian schools because it is a smaller proportion of bullies and a larger proportion of supportive kids in most situations. I think that Canadian culture is more skewed towards multicultural and pluralistic tolerance and support. That’s not to say that we don’t have our problems. There is still bullying of gat teenagers in high school, but there are also more support structures. There is still prejudice against certain ethnic groups, but it is less intense than south of the border and exists in a general atmosphere of multicultural coexistence which tends to take the edge off it. Finally, we have much less of the religious fanaticism and its extreme, uncompromising, conservative views to deal with in Canada.
Hopefully it will stay that way. Decisions like rating Bully PG-13 and so standing in solidarity with its message is a good move to help preserve those differences in Canadian culture. Viva la difference!
The irony is that, even with this more tolerant rating, few teenagers will see this film unless it is brought into the classrooms. The only place it’s playing in Toronto is at the Varsity theatre, relegating it to the art house scene and guaranteeing it a limited audience. I’ll do a review after making the trek and checking it out this week or next.