By Dr. Marc T. Newman
(AgapePress) - Barna Research in 2002 revealed that less than 10 percent of teens believe that there are such things as moral absolutes to guide their actions.
These teens were initiated into this "value-free" environment by their parents -- adults who believed in moral absolutes made up only 22 percent of the research sample. So perhaps it is fitting that “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and “John Tucker Must Die” were released as this summer's one-two PG-13 punch. If we are going to encourage a new generation of morally ambivalent teens, after all, we need to make sure they can attend the instruction.
The stated purpose of the "R" rating for films is to shield youngsters from material that is unsuitable for their age. Neil Postman, in The Disappearance of Childhood, notes that unrestricted access to sexuality by children and adolescents blurs the line between kids and adults, and may irreparably damage children in the process. Some may argue that what is on the screen is no different than the material these kids are exposed to on cable television -- but that begs the question: Should children be exposed to a mechanistic view of sex before they are of an age to discern its moral quality?
Adults Behaving Badly
All of the "adults" in “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” are in their 30s. The male characters are portrayed as adolescent boys in men's jobs, whose time is spent looking for girls to seduce. Matt Saunders is encouraged by his friend, Vaughn Haige, to introduce himself to a stranger, Jenny Johnson, on a subway because even though she looks like a shy librarian she is probably sexually pent up. Matt makes an effort and is turned down immediately, but since you know the title of the film, you know things will work out and they do -- just about immediately. Within two dates, Jenny is literally tearing Matt's clothes off and they are having Olympian, bed-breaking sex. Immediately Vaughn tells Matt that it is time to move on to the next one, but Matt says, "No." Not because he loves this woman that he barely knows, but because she is, in his mechanistic description -- the best roller coaster ride ever.
Later, when he recognizes Jenny's instability (and superhero alter ego) he tries to break free and lands directly in the arms of his co-worker, Hannah Lewis. He has adored Hannah from afar, but as soon as she becomes available to him he immediately has sex with her. No one in the film can seem to get beyond the second date without engaging in intercourse. All of this activity, of course, is played for laughs. And all of it takes place in a theater that any child can enter, as no actual restriction accompanies a PG-13 rated film. What young children will see in this film is a series of adult sexual encounters as people use each other. Even the vengeance angle is a poor substitute for the actual broken hearts, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases that accompany this behavior in the real world.
Like Father, Like Son
The older men in “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” appear as impotent trailblazers compared to the title character in “John Tucker Must Die”. John Tucker is the teen realization of the immorality championed by the characters of “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” “John Tucker Must Die” tries to follow in the footsteps of “Mean Girls,” but at least “Mean Girls” contained an object lesson about the way teenage girls tear each other apart. “John Tucker Must Die” is the most "morality-free" PG-13-rated film in recent memory. The teenage girls, Beth, Carrie, and Heather, initially clueless to the fact that they are all dating the same guy, eventually form a pact to destroy him - - the benchmark for which is to make him undateable. But Tucker manages to turn every humiliation into an advantage that gives him greater access to girls. Finally they decide to get Tucker to fall in love with newcomer Kate so that she can dump him.
So far, this sounds like just about every other teen comedy. But instead of pointing out the damage done when girls call other girls ugly names, this film revels in it - - turning a common term for a sexually promiscuous woman into a winking honorific. Beth blithely talks about "break-up sex" - - which apparently has taken the place of a handshake at the end of a relationship. Two girls engage in "kissing practice," which is nothing more than a cover for voyeuristic bisexuality. Tucker is caught trying to sneak into Kate's hotel room at an away game, and other than a sore ear pinched by the cheerleader's chaperone, no suspension or consequence of any kind follows. There is no moral authority evident anywhere in the film. Even Kate's mother serves as nothing more than a poster child for promiscuity. Her lame attempt to lecture Kate on her behavior lacks example.
Most films of this type will try to tack on some kind of moral at the end of the story as if to justify the immorality that precedes it. Someone needs to learn a lesson. John Tucker is a sneak and a liar, so he needs to learn to be honest. But all that happens in “John Tucker Must Die” is that John learns to be honestly immoral. He openly confesses that he is rampantly promiscuous. Rather than causing him to be shunned, however, girls go along, surprised, but willingly. The film ends with him walking away with a new girlfriend on either arm, and the girls feeling chastened for trying to stop him.
Tearing Our Hair Out is Not Enough
It is easy to become discouraged when we see a glut of this kind of "entertainment" filling our multiplexes. It is even sadder when we see the action in these films imitated on high school and college campuses throughout America. It is hard to know whether the culture drives the films or the films drive culture, but one thing is certain: the films are products created by someone.
Michael Warren, in “Seeing Through the Media,” reminds us that movies are, above all, an intentional product. Rather than getting upset about the content of our culture, Warren suggests that we talk about it, exposing the motivations that create it. He comments on young people who complain that older folks are constantly harping on them about "their culture" - - as if this culture is spontaneously generated by the young.
It might be interesting for young women to know that “John Tucker Must Die,” a film written from the girls' point of view, which gives a free pass to the young man and makes girls feel bad about wanting to get even with a guy who has been using them, was written by a man, Jeff Lowell. While his age is not revealed in his Internet Movie Database bio, his filmography indicates that he is at least in his 30s. Additionally, the film is directed by Betty Thomas, who also directed the exploitative Howard Stern's “Private Parts” and introduced Marcia Brady to lesbianism in “The Brady Bunch Movie.”
Films do not come out of thin air. They are products that are created and honed, often over years of development, shooting, and post-production. Movies are intentional, not accidental. By uncovering the people behind the curtain who are producing these films, perhaps we can begin to ask important questions like, "Why would a 30+ year-old man want to make a film that made female promiscuity seem fun, and funny, and which gives a pass to young men who abuse young women's affections?" Hmmm?
Additionally, since millions of people will see this film, over 75 percent of them female and most of those under 25 (according to studio estimates), some follow-up questions about content are due. Are the behaviors represented in these films likely to result in long-term happiness? What are the real-world results of a life of promiscuity? Does it seem odd to you that not a single female in the film appears to uphold anything remotely resembling a traditional morality, particularly Kate's mother?
So rather than throw our hands up, we need to recognize that we are in a moral battle. Don't rely on MPAA ratings to tell you what is appropriate. ScreenIt.com provides a very accurate assessment of the content of movies. Also, we need not patronize these films in order to ask questions about their content. If our pre-teen and teenage children ask to see them, we need to be prepared to explain why these films are inappropriate. Our children's friends and classmates will see movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend and John Tucker Must Die and we need to prepare our own teens to be unashamed in questioning them about the moral world view of their movie choices and exposing the creepy nature of adults using movies about teens to groom them for later sexual exploitation.