Is crude Ted really a family film?

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted features drug use, sexual banter and profanity-fueled humor. ‘I loved that teddy bear. He could’ve said anything and it wouldn’t have bothered me,’ said one mother.
Nanjing Night Net

LOS ANGELES: When I was with a group of parents last week, watching our kids play in a 14-and-under baseball tournament, I asked them how many of the boys – aged 13 and 14 – had gone to see the movie Ted (rated MA15+ in Australia). The answer: just about all of ’em. But here’s what I found really surprising: nearly all of them went with their mothers.

Put simply: despite its rampant drug use, crude sexual banter and profanity-fueled humour, Ted has become a family movie.

I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly shocked. When my wife and I saw Ted, we sat next to a dad with his son. When I asked the boy how old he was, he said 11.

This isn’t the first time a lot of parents have taken their kids to a raunchy comedy. The Hangover series also had considerable multi-generational appeal, though judging from anecdotal evidence, it was more of a father and son experience – bachelor parties gone bad isn’t exactly a mum-friendly genre.

But Ted has crashed the cultural zeitgeist in a big way. At first, I figured this might simply be a chattering-class phenomena. It wouldn’t exactly be a news flash that parents in West LA have different values than parents in Kansas City or Cleveland. But judging from the number of kids in the theatres across the US, Ted may be breaking records in terms of drawing pre-teens and early teens into the multiplexes.

Because it’s an R-rated movie in the US, children under 17 seeing Ted have to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. According to CinemaScore, a research group that interviews opening-night moviegoers around the US, the number of under-18 moviegoers for R-rated comedies tends to run somewhere between 10 percent to 13 percent.

According to CinemaScore figures, 10 percent of the opening-night audience for Horrible Bosses and Bridesmaids was under 18. For Hangover 2 and Knocked Up, it was 13 percent.

For Ted, it was a whopping 18 percent. And those are just opening-night figures. If the survey included Saturday night and Sunday afternoon moviegoers, the percentage would surely be considerably higher.

But what made Ted such a family-friendly film? After talking to a bunch of mums as well as some Hollywood marketing executives, I think I can sketch out a few plausible theories.

First off, the film benefited in a big way from we might call the Seth MacFarlane Factor. MacFarlane, who co-wrote and directed the film, has built up a huge reservoir of goodwill with parents and kids, thanks to his popular Family Guy TV series. Even though the show’s comedy is sarcastic and occasionally crass, it’s hardly outrageously offensive material. So when parents saw MacFarlane’s name plastered all over Universal Pictures’ ads for Ted, they assumed that the film’s comedy wouldn’t be as nasty or insulting as Project X or Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy, two recent R-rated comedies (both rated MA15+ in Australia).

And of course, Ted has, at its centre, a teddy bear. I suspect many moms were subconsciously drawn to the film because of the bear. Even though the bear actually has a mouth like a sewer, it was a reassuring icon from their kids’ childhoods. As one mum told me: “I loved that teddy bear. He could’ve said anything and it wouldn’t have bothered me. If they’d been selling stuffed Ted bears at the concession counter, I would’ve bought one.”

Movie marketers view it pretty much the same way. “You could say that parents were tricked, in the best possible way, by the combination of the furriness of the bear and acceptability of Seth MacFarlane,” said one studio marketing chief. Because of the bear, Ted had a very different image with parents than a stoner comedy featuring Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill.

“Most R-rated comedies with lots of drugs and bad behaviour come off as emulatable or aspirational, which for mums, is a huge drawback,” he said. “But somehow it’s OK to see scenes where Mark Wahlberg gets stoned with a teddy bear. It comes off as far more of a harmless fantasy than if Wahlberg was getting stoned with Owen Wilson.”

Ted also benefited from its online buzz factor. When Universal first put up the film’s trailer this year, the blogosphere and Twitter were filled with positive word-of-mouth. By the time the movie opened, fans were tweeting about the packed theaters and sharing great moments from the film.

The positive buzz created what movie marketers call a collective sense of momentum for the film. “Everyone is so inter-connected now that when you have a hit, it feeds off of its own frenzy,” said one marketing expert. “When the kids are all tweeting, ‘It’s so cool’ and ‘I’m at this theatre – why aren’t you here too?’ it creates an enormous peer pressure that parents find hard to resist.”

Or as one mum told me: “It just gets to the breaking point where you go, ‘Am I going to be the only parent who says no?'”

Speaking from personal experience – I have one of those 14-year-old boys too – it isn’t easy to say no. So far, I’ve been holding firm. I let my son see 21 Jump Street and American Reunion, but I’m drawing a line in the sand with Ted. The foul language and sexual innuendo didn’t bother me, but the massive amount of casual drug use – even if it involved a guy and a bear – came off as a bit too easy to emulate for me.

But how firm is that line in the sand? Ask any parent. When a movie is as irresistible as Ted, it creates a big cultural wave, certainly a wave big enough to wash away a lot of parental lines in the sand.


This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.