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By Jesse Fox Mayshark

JUNE 21, 1999:  The latest evidence that Bill Clinton is totally out of his mind came with his po-faced declaration last week that kids sneaking into R-rated movies is a matter of national concern. I mean, really. Leaving aside the obvious jokes about our NC-17 president, I find it hard to believe that the "R" means all that much anymore. Today's kids have cable, they've got HBO, they've got the Internet; R-rated movies probably seem about as exciting to them as a stack of 30-year-old Playboys.

But I'm just old enough to remember when that "R" represented something truly forbidden, a gate to a world of adult secrets. I remember the first "R" movie I saw. I was 10, and my parents couldn't get a babysitter, so they decided to just take my sister and me along with them—to see Manhattan (1979). As you can imagine, Woody Allen's neurotic comedy went almost entirely over my head. The main things I remember are a one-liner involving a skeleton and a brief glimpse of Mariel Hemingway's breasts. I wondered if "R" movies were all like this, in black-and-white with a bunch of grown-ups sitting around talking.

That notion went by the wayside with my next "R" excursion, when I talked my dad into taking me and some friends to see Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I (1981). This was more like it—a little nudity, lots of sex gags, some dope jokes. Brooks' comic sensibility was right in line with a 12-year-old boy's. And so I was introduced to another irony—a lot of "R" movies are made for people not old enough to legally see them.

The only time I remember actually sneaking into an "R" film was when I was 15. I was on vacation with my family on the Delaware shore, and I met a kid my age who said he'd gotten into Revenge of the Nerds (1984) the day before at the theater along the boardwalk. And, he said, there were scenes where you could see everything, the holy grail of adolescent boyhood. So we went down to the matinee, and despite my probably audibly quavering voice when I asked for a ticket, the guy at the counter didn't even look at me twice before waving me through. As it turned out, the movie was pretty funny. But the most exciting thing was simply that I was somewhere I wasn't allowed to be.

And maybe that's what our morally addled commander-in-chief is up to. It's possible that by making it harder for kids to get into theaters—in effect double-daring them to try it—he'll make the prospect more appealing. Maybe teens will abandon their pornographic bomb-building websites in favor of devising new and devious ways to sneak into Saving Private Ryan. We can only hope.


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