At the multiplex I stood behind a man who was buying tickets for himself and a nine-year-old to see Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The ticket taker pointed to the warning notice posted in the box office window and asked if he’d read it. This notice didn’t just warn parents that the film contained inappropriate language and situations for children, but also warned that they would be removed from the theater if the child did not remain in the seat immediately next to their parents and behave.
My husband was appalled. “I can’t believe anyone would bring a child to that kind of movie.”
Sadly, I can. There are a lot of irresponsible parents out there. But in their defense, one of the primary characters is a child.
But this got me thinking about the artists who made that film. Did they consider Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa to be a piece of art or a commercial cash cow? And are they responsible for the effect it might have on children?
And what about my own work? Am I responsible for the thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that a piece of art might generate?
This argument has been ongoing for decades.
We live in a country where freedom of speech seems to be an invitation to let it all hang out in the name of Art. Crimes have been committed copying those written in a book or viewed on television and film. The artist may not have had a direct influence on the person who committed the crime, but his art certainly generated an idea and planted a seed that grew into an action.
Art is a form of expression created in many voices. Some of those are highly inappropriate for children who need responsible parental guidance until they come of age. Parents can freely choose entertainment with adult content while keeping children at a safe distance. That’s their job, not the artist’s. Yet I try to be conscious of the kind of work I create. I don’t wish to offend anyone, yet I am well aware that I might. Language, sex, religion, and politics can be land mines.
As much as I don’t believe in censorship, I do believe that, as an artist, I serve the work first, then take the audience into account. After that I have to respect my own integrity. I want to be proud of the product I put my name on, even though it might not align with everyone’s sensibilities. If I use colorful language in a piece where that is appropriate to the characters and situations, I am being true to the work. But some readers might be offended. I can’t please everyone. No one can.
I don’t write with everyone in mind. I write for a specific audience, as did the writers of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. And I’d like to believe they did not intend for their target audience to bring young children. Perhaps they didn’t care. But this was the first time I had seen such a prominently displayed notice of warning on a box office window.