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R Is for Restricted

What does it mean to restrict someone? It means to hold them back – to keep them from doing, seeing, or otherwise indulging in the thing they want, or at least think they want.

Admit it or not, I suspect we all like a little restriction in our lives. I know I do, and did even back when I was a kid: that time when – theoretically at least – restriction of any sort was the great enemy.

Did the film ratings board hire actual art designers to create the logo that introduced most of the pivotal films I saw back then? I have no idea, but whoever came up with it, there are few designs that – to this day – carry more instant emotional charge for me. That bright, almost sky-blue background with the bold white stripe running across the bottom somehow managed to convey everything that was interesting about movies – and life in general – in a simple visual package. The world, this design announced, is a place of infinite (and potentially dangerous) mystery; one from which we are held back by a firm (but not necessarily impassable) demarcation line.

Of course, all this worked even better if the letter enclosed in the cozy-yet-confining box down at the bottom of the screen happened to be an R. An R-rated film represents (or at least did until not too long ago) that most universally seductive of commodities: the thing you’re not really supposed to see but might just be able to see anyhow.

The language employed by the film ratings board was perfect as well. What kind of kid could manage to get into an R-rated film? A kid accompanied by a “guardian.” Not “parent.” Not “adult.” Both those words were kind of boring. But “guardian” conjured up the idea that what one was about to see was – potentially at least – really and truly dangerous. Something you needed to be guarded against. Something that might – just might – not be all that good for you.

And that, as a result, you just had to see anyhow.

By the way, I’m aware that some of the above contradicts opinions put forth in the E is for Excess entry in the ABCs, where I celebrated Jaws and the mystery of the PG-13 rating and disparaged the letter R a bit. Which is ultimately the more mystery-charged rating? I guess I’m still figuring it out…

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