Welcome back! In this installment we give film-makers a break and go after a different group that gives them shit: the MPAA.
Everyone knows how the rating system works for movies. From G to NC-17 a letter/number combination lets you know what you’re getting into as a potential audience member. If it’s G you should be a kid, with a kid, or high. PG is gonna be a little more rough but no one’s gonna curse or show their boobs so you’re probably good to drop off your 11 year old while you shop for shoes. PG-13 means some people are going to die or talk about sex but there’s not going to be any blood or cum, someone’ll probably say “fuck” but only a couple of times. R is for adults, unless you’re one of those assholes that brings your loud-ass kids to R-rated movies so they can ask dumb questions and kick the back of my seat. NC-17 is pretty much porn, you should probably just watch some porn.
But why? Why, in this day and age where information is widely available instantly and any trailer or review for any movie is at your fingertips, do we need a standardized rating system dictated by a small group of people? The problems with the MPAA are multifarious, and we’ll go over them, but I’d argue we don’t need a rating system in the first place. Web 2.0 has rendered the MPAA rating system, which was already problematic, obsolete.
If you’ve seen the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated most of the next couple of paragraphs will be a rehash of the talking points of that film, if not you should check it out. Either way, unless you think I’m funny or interesting or something go ahead and skip ahead.
In order to receive a rating a film-maker submits their movie to the MPAA and a group of people watch it. They then assign the film a rating based on its content, the intent being to give parents a heads up on what may or may not be appropriate for their kids to watch. The film-makers can appeal the rating or resubmit an edited version to try and get a different rating. At first glance it all seems well and good; they’ve got an objective system in place to help protect the fragile minds of America’s youth. Look deeper though, and what you find is actually a highly subjective system with heavy prejudices that borders on censorship.
As soon as a film receives an R rating it immediately reduces its potential sales. If the film wants to present itself as “mature” that’s all well and good but if it’s looking to appeal to middle-schoolers and teenagers an R rating is pretty much a death knell. This being the case, studios with a film in this situation will make its directors/producers bend over backward to edit such a film and get its rating reduced. That’s a lot of power for a dozen-ish people to hold. Most times there will be a particular scene that the MPAA finds inappropriate and they will let their opinions on it be known. If that doesn’t sound like censorship to you I would recommend you purchase a dictionary or perhaps some smarts. An NC-17 rating is even worse. Any movie, other than an art house film, that receives an NC-17 rating has essentially committed financial suicide. Studios will do a lot to shed such a rating, and the MPAA knows this.
And if you’re thinking that the ratings board wields this power with a fair and even hand I imagine your favorite film either involves cars moving quickly and a large number of explosions or is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, you also probably stopped reading a while ago so I don’t even know why I let you sidetrack my article. Anyhow, the ratings board seems to think it’s far worse for children to view sexual situations than violent ones. Some film-makers even accuse them of being particularly harsh if a scene involves female sexual pleasure. As far as violence goes it gets a pass as long as it doesn’t portray the actual consequences of a violent act. So if a guy gets shot and he flips off of a roof: PG-13 but if you show that same dude as a screaming, crying, bloody mess on the ground: R, maybe even NC-17. Seems sort of backward when you think about it, no?
In 1968 when the modern ratings system was born it might have been a good idea and Jack Valenti, then president of the MPAA, may have had his heart in the right place. Or maybe not. Either way it is now a completely obsolete system. Where 1968′s parents may have had limited access to information about a new movie release 2012′s have more than they can handle. In 1968 the only ways to learn about an upcoming film were newspapers, word of mouth and a limited number of television stations and even on those you had to catch the particular program at the particular time it aired (imagine that). Now you can access pretty much every single review written about a movie, every trailer released to promote it, all the press releases from the studio and its affiliates, interviews with the cast and crew and promotional behind-the-scenes specials. If you can’t assess if your kids should watch a movie or not given all that junk maybe having kids isn’t your thing. Yeah, I know it’s easier to just look at some letters and “know” if a movie’s appropriate but hopefully you now know what we’re giving up for our silly laziness.