I want to complain about people who complain about films

Both the easily offended and the responsibly annoyed communities have lost their vim

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ – spot the Illuminati symbology

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ – spot the Illuminati symbology

 

I want to complain about the people complaining to the Irish Film Classification Office. In the good old days, a square centimetre of bare ankle would trigger a fusillade of outrage from the Valley of the Squinting Windows. Ireland led the world in sanctimonious outrage.

Information received by this paper under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that there were just 14 complaints to IFCO last year. That office has reason to be content with the result. I get that number for making just one sarcastic remark about Hermione Granger.

But it does suggest that the prudes, the religiously devout and (let’s be fair) the responsibly annoyed have lost some of their traditional vim. There’s always some reason to be unreasonable.

The two films that got the public most riled were a dire comedy called Daddy’s Home and the, to my mind, undervalued Jason Bourne. A few people felt the violence in that last film was too severe to allow a 12A certificate (meaning children under that age should be accompanied).

There was a sense of polite disagreement to the exchanges

Ger Connolly, the Director of Film Classification, admitted that the “general concerns” were well founded, but defended the decision to stick with a 12A. There was a sense of polite disagreement to the exchanges.

The mild fury over Daddy’s Home – in which Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell fight for the affection of two children – played to familiar complainant rhythms. The film received a 12A cert, and IFCO’s content advice noted that visitors could expect “frequent moderate language and sex references”.

One correspondent lost count of the number of times he heard “sh*t” or “bullsh*t”. He has no serious case about the number of uses; “Frequent” could cover every second word.

Everyone applies his or her own sliding scale to determine what constitutes “moderate” bad language, but those words are surely at the less troublesome end of most modern gauges. If not then where are we to place the deadly C-word and the Oedipal noun beloved of gangsta rappers?

The reply went on to note scenes depicting infertility treatment (so?), off-camera penis comparisons and a bunch of other stuff that would trouble few stereotypical maiden aunts.

Nothing here is unusual for the type of 12A comedy that stars people like Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell. What did for Daddy’s Home was its title and the concomitant suspicion that it might qualify as a “family film”.

More than a decade ago, John Kelleher, Connolly’s predecessor, faced outrage for granting a (since defunct) 15PG certificate to the deliciously profane Bad Santa. That was just one cert short of an 18, but – ignoring the office’s advice and trusting in the word “Santa” – parents approached the film expecting something to compare with Miracle on 34th Street.

Few of the correspondents argued that children were upset or disturbed

Kelleher was patient when addressing the issue on The Late Late Show. Many viewers sighed and, imagining the complainants in their living room, mouthed the words: “Read the [strong language]ing IFCO advice, you dolts.”

Almost all the complaints concerned the exhibition of supposedly unsuitable material to children. Since classification has much to do with age restrictions, this is to be expected. But few of the correspondents argued that children were upset or disturbed.

One is left confused as to what horror is expected to befall young folk who hear Mark Wahlberg say “bullsh*t”. There is no evidence to suggest “bad language” turns potential Albert Schweitzers into actual Ronnie Biggses.

But the swearing and sexual references do seem to cause weird levels of embarrassment for the adults. Daddy’s Home proved “an extremely stressful 2 hours” for one citizen. (I found it pretty stressful myself, but not for the same reason.)

Odder still, another writer objected to other people’s children attending a screening of Tom McCarthy’s excellent Spotlight. The film had been awarded a 15A.

I asked my children if they thought the material was suitable and they agreed that it was not

As enforcement is not the job of IFCO, the complaint is already misdirected. Even if it were the office’s business, why bother complaining about young people attending a serious film that deals responsibly with clerical sexual abuse? You guessed it. Because it’s “unsuitable” apparently.

A particularly nauseating strain of these whinges argues that Mr and Mrs Busybody’s children support their parents’ complaints. “I asked my children if they thought the material was suitable and they agreed that it was not,” such letters run.

Oh, you little crawler. You bow-tied, sailor-suited Fauntleroy. Have some guts (if you actually exist). Most kids don’t mind bad language. They only object to sexual content if they’re forced to watch it with their squirming, uptight parents.

This sort of toadying can go on for decades. Some years ago, in a complaint about my favourable review of the still-hilarious Ted, a correspondent noted that her daughter and boyfriend, who also disliked the picture, were “trendy and up-to-the-minute people”. Yeah, there’s nothing trendier than somebody still described as “trendy”. (Incidentally, that email also implied The Irish Times had lied about the film’s quality to attract advertising from the distributor. But that’s another story.)

Your overlords are asking for you to beam back to the mothership, gentlefolk

The good news for connoisseurs of outrage is that IFCO did receive a few properly deranged complaints along with the familiar whinges about Wahlbergian synonyms for ordure.

I can think of dozens of good reasons to dislike Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but its embrace of “Illuminati symbology” would not be among them. “Even in the name V and VS is a reference to the Sign of Typhon,” the email helpfully explained.

Somebody else objected to the “genocidal cannibalism” in the harmless kids’ movie Trolls. Your overlords are asking for you to beam back to the mothership, gentlefolk.

There are other sorts of moaners. The most common whinge directed at contemporary film critics comes from superhero fans who feel that if you haven’t read HawkBoy number 345 – “I, A Killer of Sparrows!” – then you are in no position to review the resulting film.

This nation now classifies films very similarly to our neighbours across the Irish Sea

I spent much of February, 2016 replying with a shrugged “no, why would I?” to outraged fans who wondered if I’d read the comic on which Deadpool was based. “The laziest, most under researched review I have read in many a year,” one fan, who admitted to not having yet seen the overrated film version, tweeted at me from a great height. (Most journalists will confirm that “lazy” works as a catchall criticism of any piece the correspondent doesn’t like.)

Meanwhile, cinema owners find themselves in a generational battle over volume levels. A recent letter to this newspaper complained that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was just too “deafening”. This view was at odds with a critical consensus arguing for the sound design as a wonder of the age.

For every “trendy and up-to-the-minute” person who savours the aural overload, there is some old bore (my sort of age) who yearns to be bashing from below with a broom while he tries to watch Rumpole of the Bailey in peace.

Where was I? To return to the beginning, the news for IFCO from these reports is good. Few people seem unhappy with its work. Whittle out the barmy stuff, and IFCO could count their complaints on two hands.

Once shamefully at home to censorship, this nation now classifies films very similarly to our neighbours across the Irish Sea. The banning of movies for public exhibition is almost unheard of. The restrictive 18 certificate is wielded with commendable restraint.

In other words, viewers are being trusted to make up their own minds. One of the 14 compainants even implied that a particular IFCO certificate – the 15A for Suicide Squad – was too harsh. We offer you a half salute. I’m all for more liberal certification, but the fewer people who see Suicide Squad the happier the world will be.