One of the most frequently asked questions we get at the cinema is “what does 12A mean?”.
This used to surprise me as the 12A certificate has been around since 2002 when the 12 certificate changed to 12A (which means under 12s can get in with an adult). This was in response to a parental outcry that their pre-teen children could not see Spider Man, and 20 to 30 local authorities over-ruled the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC) decision.
Adults are usually supportive of age classification, and I am sure many would approve of making all films 18 certificate so they do not have to share the screen with groups of children. But something happens when adults become parents. It must be something to do with the level of responsibility that they have, or that they suddenly have a role that gives them absolute authority in which they can make the statement “because I said so”.
A minority of parents will come in with an 11-year-old child (or younger) to watch a 15 or 18 certificate film in the belief that because the child is accompanied by them, he or she should be allowed entry.
There is some logic to this I suppose, as surely a parent knows best? Children mature at different rates and perhaps the parent should be the voice of authority regarding what their child can watch. They do this at home after all.
However this is not the case at the cinema. The BBFC draws a line in the sand. They classify films that clearly state what audience the film is suitable for and they do this by age groups. The system is not perfect. A case could be made that this scene in the The Lion King (U)…
…is more upsetting than watching Evil Dead (18). (Which got mixed up in the Video Nasties scare of the 1980’s) Or perhaps that The Phantom Menace (U) is more psychologically damaging than Schindler’s List (15). But it’s the best and only system we have.
I understand that in a few mouse clicks you could have moved from this blog on to a site that has hardcore pornographic imagery, or perhaps real life footage of a man being beheaded. You can do that, and unsupervised children can do that. Not only that, but they can also access it on their phones.
Many under 18s have access to violent and sexual imagery and games, so why bother enforcing age classification at my cinema? Is it just because I have seen too many John Wayne movies and aspire to be a professional, or because I worry about 8-year-olds watching a 12A film in which strong language is used (the “F” word…but it will be infrequent).
Recently there has been press that children, particularly girls, are being more unruly and violent at schools. As always some finger pointing is going on targeting films and television.
I agree the media is influential. I could talk about mass audience theories, issues of censorship and copycat crimes all day. I could recount how after watching a fairly tame film like Spiderman, a horde of hyper, sugar-filled children will erupt from the screen and “play” fight all the way home. I could discuss at length who is likely to be influenced by film and who the vulnerable people are. But for me it comes down to one thing, you can’t “unsee” something. If it is not appropriate, or gives you nightmares, the damage is done. So we have to be careful, especially where young people are concerned.
We can be influenced by the media, which is why so much money is spent on advertising.
I watched this advert.
I now use Old Spice.
I also watched The Expendables, and started a mixed martial art (both positive examples though, I smell nice and I am getting fitter and more confident).
All of this is fine until my staff and I come in to conflict with customers about the age restrictions. It is at this point that the jobsworth feeling kicks in.
To help clarify our position, the following arguments will not sway us.
:- But it’s his twelfth birthday tomorrow and today is his birthday treat, and he doesn’t want to come in with his parents.
(I look forward to allowing him entry tomorrow, when he is twelve)
:- You let her in last week for a 12A on her own.
(We do make mistakes. Trying to guess a teenager’s age, especially girls, is incredibly difficult.)
:- You let his friends in yesterday and they are not 12.
(See above. Just because we are not perfect does not mean we won’t keep trying)
:- He watches far worse than that at home.
(This one scares me the most)
So in conclusion:
I am a Cinema Manager, not a parent, and you will know your child best.
I have a legal responsibility to enforce age restrictions. I also agree with them, the alternative being regular emotional maturity tests for all (would I pass?).
I recommend you double-check the films age classification before you leave the house, or before you tell your children they can watch a film at the cinema.
I applaud those parents that read film reviews and check on the films suitability beforehand. I even witnessed one parent come and watch the film on her own in order check it was okay for her daughter, who she brought the following day (a serious time commitment few can act upon).
These are media saturated times and perhaps abiding by the BBFC guidelines is old fashioned. But it’s our line in the sand, and we will not be crossing it.