The BBFC has released the findings of yet another one of their studies that emphasises their moralistic superiority. Yes, somehow, the BBFC have again managed to poll the right section of society to confirm all of their biases. They don’t appear to have linked to the actual study, of course, because evidently the methodology, the sample size and demographics, and whether the subjects are reliable sources or not isn’t as important as the headline.

This time around, they’ve apparently managed to find a bunch of younger people begging them to step-in and tell them what to watch. Dubbed ‘Generation Conscious’ apparently, these people are regularly watching material that they wish they hadn’t and it’s getting a bit much for them.

Our friends at the BBFC go on to promote their new partnership with Netflix. The VoD giant will now be displaying some delightful, colourful and emojified BBFC classification certificates so as to let these younger people make “conscious decisions”. They go on to call for all VoD providers to licence their logos and have taken the liberty of launching some VoD Guidelines despite VoD not being within their scope.

I’m not against allowing viewers to make informed decisions. Adults and children have a right to know what they’re about to consume before pressing play. My issue stems from the fact that Netflix already displays content warnings on their shows along with their own text-based certificate. They warn of graphic content, sexual violence, bad language, etc. Essentially, Netflix already alerts people to all of the things that are already considered when classifying movies.

I could fully appreciate these younger people being upset if they saw something they didn’t expect to see, but if a description of the content isn’t clear enough, then what use is a fucking badge?

You see, as much as the BBFC would like to pretend otherwise, their badges are meaningless beyond a certain point. As a guideline, they might indicate an increased likelihood of graphic violence or profanity, but they are a piss-poor indication of the overall level. Beyond the 18-classification, they’re effectively useless as a guide to content. The Descent is an 18, The Evil Dead is an 18, and Cannibal Holocaust is an 18. Sure, they’re all horror movies but to imply they’re similar in content is a tad disingenuous. That’s why content descriptions are more informative than a badge.

Furthermore, the BBFC do not need to be actively rating these titles themselves. VoD providers do not need to submit their content to the BBFC. While this may avoid the issues surrounding the BBFC’s baffling subjectivity, to the layman, it implies authority where none may exist. BBFC classifications have, rightly or wrongly, been held up as some sort of standard but the classification decision still falls to Netflix or any other VoD provider that adopts this policy. Any future baffling subjectivity-related issues will be the VoD service’s problem, not the BBFC’s.

Again, it isn’t that Netflix is trying to signpost consumers towards more appropriate content that I take the issue with. It’s more that the BBFC are being allowed to celebrate this move as some sort of victory. If Netflix’s pre-existing content guidelines are being ignored, then the answer isn’t a set of colourful age markers licensed from an overbearing group of self-appointed nannies. The answer is evidently to make your content warnings more prominent and accessible. Find out why people seem to be watching stuff they shouldn’t be and fix it.

Edit: I previously said the film ‘Candyman’ held an 18-rating. While this is true for the Arrow release, the uncut version now holds a 15-rating. Thanks to Ben for the correction.

I have also edited the penultimate paragraph to better clarify my point.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to place all the (positive) responsibility onto Netflix…

    “Netflix already alerts people to all of the things that are already considered when classifying movies.”
    “My issue stems from the fact that Netflix already displays content warnings on their shows along with their own text-based certificate.”

    …given that these are and always have been provided by the BBFC. Literally the only difference now is the addition of the coloured logos.

    Minor correction – Candyman is now a 15, at least for the UK uncut version. The 18 on the current Arrow release is only retained due to the US cut version not being resubmitted for a new rating, and for the inclusion of short film The Wreckers in the bonus features.

    • I’m not really placing responsibility onto Netflix; my issue is with the BBFC.

      Netflix’s content warnings are derived from a variety of sources, in addition to BBFC guidance. In response to user input, they have amended or added new content warnings (e.g. an episode of Planet Earth). They also include content warnings requested by distributors. I’d say using a wider variety of sources than the BBFC to inform warnings allows for a more comprehensive approach. Imperfect, sure, but no worse than relying on the BBFC.

      Currently, and thankfully, the BBFC are not the regulator for VoD. That they’re using the findings of an apparently-unpublished study to laud Netflix’s choice to display their classification logos suggests that they’d really quite like that to change. They offer their voluntary ‘Watch and Rate’ service, now they’re encouraging VoD providers to be more like Netflix and adopt their logos and guidelines. Get enough VoD services on board, and why not give them the gig they clearly want?

      In their press statement, the BBFC framed their entire argument around the idea that age certificates somehow allow people to make ‘conscious decisions’. I dispute this on the basis that age certificates don’t really provide anything meaningful. We’ll take Candyman – my bad, apparently it’s a 15 (of course, I do own the Arrow version) but while tonally it’s a more serious film, even at 15 I’d say there is a significant disparity in the amount of graphic violence and gore than something like 15-rated Dog Soldiers.

      Age ratings are a generalised assumption of maturity that isn’t reflected that well in the real world. While the BBFC are content to argue that their age ratings allow people to make informed decisions, I’ve argued that content descriptions are far more valid. In the days of VHS & DVD, sure, a graphic was reasonably the most appropriate indication. Now we have much more detail on-screen before we commit to viewing, thus I don’t agree with their argument of necessity.

      I want to know why it is that they believe some colourful logos will act as more effective guidance for ‘Generation Conscious’ than the descriptions already made available? The answer to that question was left out of their press statement, and since the study seems to be unpublished, I can’t even be sure it has been asked.

      The BBFC has a history of trying to overstep its scope. When appointed Age Verification regulator, they released a press statement which seemed to suggest they had made up new rules, and they’ve previously admitted to cutting films based on reputation instead of content. They also have a knack for conducting studies which confirm the need for more BBFC involvement.

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