Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The 'Trickle Up' Theory of Culture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The 'Trickle Up' Theory of Culture

Article excerpt

For the under-17 crowd this summer, one of the hottest - and thus coolest - status symbols could be a ticket stub bearing the title "South Park." It serves as proof that the holder gained admission to the crudest, most profane studio movie to find its way into mainstream theaters. Any day now, in fact, clever entrepreneurs may well capitalize on the film's appeal to young viewers by marketing T- shirts emblazoned with the boast, "I've seen 'South Park.'"

A new pledge by theater owners to check IDs makes the R-rated "South Park" the first test of theaters' ability to enforce the code. It poses equal challenges to parents whose children want to see this animated musical starring third-graders who swear like sailors after watching an R-rated movie. They delight in obsessing over bodily functions and shocking adults with their newfound vocabulary.

Late on a steamy afternoon last Saturday, a handful of children, accompanied by parents, were among the crowd filling an Illinois theater showing the film. Toward the back, a little girl in pink shorts, probably no more than seven years old, sat with her mother. Nearby, two elementary-school-age brothers in matching blue-striped shirts were also accompanied by their mother. Off to the right, a baby girl, probably not quite a year old, cried periodically, signaling to patrons that even the tiniest moviegoers are apparently not too young to attend. A parent in the audience can only wonder: What are these parents thinking of, exposing young children to a film that barely escaped an NC-17 rating? "South Park" is seductive, winning over critics and audiences with its humor, creativity, musical numbers, and satirical edge. Like cartoon parents in the movie whose "potty-mouthed" children ridicule them for trying to create "a smut-free environment," real-life parents who object to such entertainment are sometimes viewed as hopeless fuddy-duddies and humorless prudes. "Aw, Mom (or Dad)," the prevailing attitude goes, "lighten up." When the lights came on in the Illinois theater, a father and son hurried out. Asked if his son, who is eight, enjoyed the movie, the father, clearly embarrassed, said, "It was a mistake." With a helpless, what-am-I-supposed-to-do? shrug he explained, "He wanted to see it." Then, as if to rationalize the experience, he added, "He and I have an understanding that we don't talk like this." Yet "talking like this" has become increasingly routine. Like gratuitous violence in mass entertainment, gratuitous profanity continues to creep into movies and TV. Until a decade or so ago, mainstream newspapers and magazines refused to print the "f" word. …

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