Morality and Disclaimers

This is a topic that could apply to either movies or television. Disclaimers range in purpose. Sometimes they exist in order to lessen chances of physical discomfort in the audience (and thus potential lawsuits), as with seizure warnings for flashing lights (i.e. a scene in Incredibles 2) or motion sickness warnings with 3D or IMAX films. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was flagged for its graphic depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion. However, disclaimers have extended their reach beyond the physical realm into the psychological.

For instance, the ratings system that differentiates between what is appropriate for certain age groups can sometimes be misleading. Often in preface to cast and crew interviews, there is a text that states “the views and opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not represent those of [insert company name here].” When the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why first premiered, there was controversy it would romanticize and therefore increase the likelihood of suicide in tweens and teens. When Joker was released, there was a fear that burgeoning mass shooters would be emboldened by the film’s protagonist into taking the law into their own hands. Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was banned because of its depictions of hedonistic violence.

Just recently, the classic Gone with the Wind was briefly removed from HBO Max and then reinstated with disclaimers for fear of its depictions of the antebellum South. Disclaimers step in as “gatekeepers” of sorts, where films or T.V. shows must pass a certain purity “litmus test” to gauge not only their potential offensiveness to audiences but their ability to corrupt their audience’s minds. In what ways does this “moral panic” manifest itself in the form of media disclaimers? The threat of exploring or even simply acknowledging so-called “dangerous ideas” is oft-treaded territory, such as with George Orwell’s notions of ”groupthink.” How does the struggle to protect an unsuspecting audience devolve into a form of thought control? In what ways have such disclaimers proved beneficial?

  • So would some of these cases (like 13 Reasons Why) deal directly with the idea of having trigger warnings? Also, I feel that the controversy surrounding Joker was completely overblown. Much of the controversy/discourse occurred before the film had even been released, where many were reacting to trailers, rumors, and pre-release descriptions. Once the film was released, I think the reality of what the film was about/what content was in the film, it was vastly less controversial than what many reported it to be. – Sean Gadus 3 years ago
  • That's such a great point, Sean! Thank you. Yes, I think people often jump to hasty conclusions when it comes to trailers or pre-release speculations, which can be quite misleading by nature. Trailers and press rumors are designed to build hype in advertising, alert audiences to genre specifics, and entice audiences with just enough information to get them interested. The final film released in its entirety can often be a bit different from how its originally portrayed. – aprosaicpintofpisces 3 years ago
  • Oooooh, juicy topic indeed! There's a lot you could get into here. Just the question of what's offensive and what isn't, and the dangers of groupthink, could net you a whole article alone. But there are so many other factors. For instance, you could talk about disclaimers meant to protect people with epilepsy and similar conditions, vs. ableism and people who claim the disclaimers ruin the 3-D experience (jerks). You could discuss the fact that Christians will willingly watch Christ brutally flogged, or watch a war movie because "that's how it was," but still frown on violence in other genre films (oh, what I could say...) – Stephanie M. 3 years ago
  • I agree, Stephanie. The whole notion of "trigger warnings" and what is considered offensive is quite prevalent now. Even more recently, HBO Max has flagged Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles just as it did with Gone with the Wind, despite the fact that Blazing Saddles is considered an overtly satirical comedy. – aprosaicpintofpisces 3 years ago
  • Good topic. – Diani 2 years ago

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