Hollywood cleans up teen movie language

Is it a bit of Harry Potter magic? While profanity is increasing on television and in music lyrics, some Brigham Young University researchers have been pleasantly surprised to discover that it has markedly decreased since the 1980s in movies aimed at teens.

The communications professors looked at top-grossing movies rated G, PG and PG-13 -- 30 from each of the past three decades -- that featured teen characters or had plots that revolved around teenagers. These included 1980s hits Back to the Future, Honey I Shrank the Kids and Karate Kid, 1990s flicks Casper, She’s All That and Clueless and 2000s movies Spider Man, Harry Potter and Remember the Titans.

They found that the trend over the last three decades shows a decrease in usage across nearly all profanity types, including sexual profanity, strong profanity and mild profanity. Researchers found the trend both within ratings groups and across ratings types.

As an example, 1985’s Weird Science had more than 80 profanities, while 2004’s Cinderella Story had only two mild instances of profanity. The 1980s movies had 1,068 profanities, the 1990s had 758 and the 2000s had only 485.

Not surprisingly

Researchers also found that males uttered the strong majority of dirty words in the movies (72 percent compared to females’ 28 percent), with teen males being the most dirty-mouthed.

They are only guessing, but they think that media watchdogs, parents and other groups may be successfully pressuring filmmakers to tone it down for this demographic. One is inclined to agree with them. Parent power can really work, starting at the home front where gentle persuasion backed by a bit of research could convince teens they deserve better than puerile crassness for their hard-earned cash.

The BYU team are now researching violence and sexual content in teen-centred movies to see how they relate to profanity. ~ BYU News, May 28


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