Netflix’s NEVER HAVE I EVER Proves That Rating Systems Cannot Be Trusted
By Jessilyn Lancaster, Managing Editor
By now, we know that the TV ratings system is broken, and an increasing amount of violence, language and sexuality have seeped into programs supposedly aimed at children and teenagers. Today’s youth are assaulted with a barrage of gratuitous content that their young minds do not yet have the ability to process. What’s more, some of the content in programs rated as TV-14 can be excessive, even for adults.
Take Netflix’s NEVER HAVE I EVER as an example. The new streaming series is loosely based on the life of actress/writer Mindy Kaling (THE OFFICE, THE MINDY PROJECT). While much of her content is not appropriate for children, few adults would find the humor offensive or excessive. While I previously considered content rated TV-14 to be appropriate for myself and my husband, NEVER HAVE I EVER left us appalled.
I was aware that Kaling was raised as a Hindu, and expected some references to the false religion in the pilot episode. I was not prepared for an extended prayer to the idolatrous Indian gods in the first act. I was also aware that Kaling has made some sexual jokes and innuendos in her previous work. I was taken aback to hear a teenaged girl reference male body parts, teachers discussing female body parts, and for a sophomore in high school to point-blank ask someone to have sex with her. The dialogue, too, was insulting, with at least one F-bomb (and multiple references to said word) in the 30-minute pilot.
NEVER HAVE I EVER is the No. 2 most popular option available on Netflix right now. It’s marketed itself as a coming of age story of a first-generation Indian girl learning about herself and the world. It has some of today’s comedy greats behind the program. A TV-14 rating is applied broadly across content, but my husband and I both found the show–which, based on our love of similar shows like THE OFFICE or PARKS AND RECREATION, should have appealed to us—to be excessive. We could not trust this rating to deliver us appropriate content to consume.
MOVIEGUIDE® and the Christian Film & Television Commission® have been talking about this problem for years. Other media outlets have even picked up on it.
For example, on Feb. 18, 1996, THE NEW YORK TIMES Arts & Leisure cover article talked about “The Ratings Games at the Cineplex” and how R-rated movies attracted children as young as 10-years-old, and how easily they were admitted into their local movie theater. In fact, many research studies have shown that it is children who go to R-rated movies (80 percent of the audience for R-rated movies are youths, with 60 percent under 17-years-old, while more mature moviegoers prefer PG and G fare like CINDERELLA, FROZEN and MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN). Quite often, the entertainment industry actually uses the R rating to attract susceptible teenagers.
The next day after THE NEW YORK TIMES revealed this dirty little secret, it ran an editorial (Feb. 19, 1996) calling for the networks to rate television programs for the V-chip. Buried in the editorial was the admission that the ratings “might encourage more adventurous programs from producers freed from the need to please the tastes of the broadest possible audience.”
Of course, this is exactly what happened (as PTC’s new study has proven), and it is children, not adults, who are attracted to more “adventurous” fare overflowing with perverse obscenity, sex and ultra-violence.
… Thus, the answer to the negative effects of media sex and violence is not ratings but objective standards – a proactive code of ethics that will guide television producers and others in the entertainment industry. All other professions hold to a code of ethics; so should the entertainment industry.
Pollution, even mind pollution, is best controlled at its source. Rating the water supply toxic is not the solution. Cleaning it up is. The same is true of the movie and television industries.
This means that we cannot trust the ratings system for ourselves as we consume content, much less for our families and children. We also must be vigilant to research programs for ourselves and not trust Netflix or similar streaming platforms to recommends movies or series.
Let us practice discernment in entertainment. Each of us must be media-wise and consider how the content we consume affects our spirituality. For more about how to be media-wise, click here.
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