The latest self-serving study by the BBFC is another exercise in manipulation and nudge-policy towards having everything we see under their control.
The British Board of Film Classification would love nothing more than to have absolute control over everything that you are allowed to see. It’s not just about the money, though of course the money helps keep them in their very expensive Soho Square offices and ensures that while officially a non-profit organisation, everyone involved does very well out of it. It’s more about the power – the belief (and I think that they genuinely do believe it) that they know better than everyone else, including other global censorship boards, what is suitable for viewing, and by whom.
Unfortunately for the BBFC, streaming services, television broadcasters and other online video outlets have not all chosen to use the BBFC to vet their content. Some apply their own versions of the BBFC ratings (declaring films to be suitable only for over 12s, over 15s or over 18s), some just issue generic content warnings and some do nothing at all. The very worst offenders actually use the rating systems of other countries, applying the standards of Johnny Foreigner to good old Blighty.
To counter this, the BBFC have engaged in a fairly relentless war to win over public opinion and, more importantly, pressure the assorted miscreant platforms into compliance or, better yet, the government into making BBFC ratings obligatory. This week, the latest salvo in this war came as the BBFC announced the predictable results of a new bit of research in which concerned parents agree wholly with everything the BBFC say.
Some 4102 adults – of which 875 were parents – were shown a series of film clips and asked which of two ratings they agreed with. Although they were not told which rating was which, the choice was between a BBFC rating and a Dutch rating from the national NICAM regulator. The viewers then had to choose which rating they agreed with, and for what reason. All sounds reasonable. The films, should you care to ponder the results, were Blue Valentine, Reinventing Marvin, To The Bone, T2 Trainspotting and O.J. Made in America.
But there’s a problem with showing clips out of context, that the BBFC will acknowledge under different circumstances. A minute or two of a film, shorn of context, might seem a lot more shocking than it would within the movie as a whole – we have no idea what the clip means, how it represents a story, what the message might be. It’s a meaningless exercise. Survey participants were also warned that the clips “contain depictions of sex, sexual violence, eating disorders and drug misuse, as well as graphic bloody images of murder victims which some people may find disturbing’, which seems less a trigger warning and more a way of alerting viewers to the content that they are supposed to find problematic. Of course, if the clips are foreshadowed as being upsetting – with participants asked if they are happy to continue or wish to drop out – then it is likely that they will go for a higher age rating when given the choice. That’s just human nature. Had there been no warning (and the fact that it was a study from the BBFC surely should’ve been warning enough), things may have been different. This is ‘nudge’ policy at its most insidious – setting people up to give you the answers that you want. Between 74% and 94% of participants not only agreed with the BBFC rating (always, you might care to note, the higher rating), they also correctly identified why – from a list of issues such as sex, sexual violence, drug abuse etc – those ratings were given. Well, fancy that.
In a series of not at all leading questions following the clip viewing, people were asked if they trusted the BBFC ratings over some foreign system from countries with ‘different sensibilities’ – well, you can imagine the response there. Similarly, the BBFC ratings of U, PG, 12, 15 and 18 were much preferred to the Dutch ratings of All, 6, 9, 12, 14, 16 and 18 – though surely if parents want absolute guidance about age suitability, the Dutch ratings are actually much more thorough. Some 54% felt concerned about these feckless foreign standards being applied to Britain, while others felt angry (21%), nervous (16%) and confused (15%). What percentage of Britons feel angry, nervous or confused about anything a bit foreign is open to debate of course, but I suspect it’s not that much different. In any case, asking people to choose between good old British censorship and some unknown and morally bankrupt European version that they know nothing about is always going to be a foregone conclusion.
People in Britain are certainly familiar with BBFC ratings. But they changed them all in the early 1980s, when the old A, AA and X were replaced, and they’ve tinkered with them ever since – the addition of the 12, the reworking of that into the 12A and such. People can probably cope with different systems, just as they seem to with video game ratings. What’s more, the ratings of individual films have been changed – up or down the age rating – so often by the BBFC that the idea of consistency is a bit of a joke anyway.
Finally – no one in this survey seems to have been asked if they thought films should be cut or banned from viewing, even for adults – but make no mistake, that’s what will happen if the BBFC gets its grubby little paws on everything from Netflix to iPlayer to Talking Pictures TV.
Every BBFC study reaches the exact conclusions that the BBFC wants it to and this is no different. But it’s meaningless propaganda, aimed at manipulating people into believing that only the film censors stand between us and total anarchy. The increase in platforms should be signalling the end of the line for the Board, not allowing them to consolidate their power even further.
Feel free to look at the survey results here.
Help support The Reprobate: