Have you ever sat down to a movie that was PG-13 and wondered how it isn’t rated R? Or even a PG movie that seems as if it should be PG-13 at the least? Are the movie ratings as meaningful as they are made out to be?
On the weekend many people enjoy escaping real life for a couple of hours with a dramatic, suspenseful, or funny movie. Movies are one of the most popular outings for friends and families in America. It can be extremely limiting to those going out to enjoy an afternoon/evening of movie watching when at least half of the movies portray scenes of terrible violence, uncomfortable sexual scenes, or a barrage of vulgar speech. After checking the movies that were out this weekend, there were: 7 R ratings, 8 PG-13 ratings, and a single PG movie. Not bad, huh? This is a better set of options than only a couple weeks ago where there were only two PG-13 movies and the rest were R.
How movies are rated has changed much over the years. Originally there was G, PG, R, and X. PG encompassed a large amount of the movies that the general crowd would go and see. When the PG-13 rating was released (beginning with ‘Red Dawn’) in 1984 a stereotype began that PG was merely for children which increased the number of PG-13 movies produced.
About the time that PG-13 originated, rated X became NC-17. Directors jumped on the chance to start lowering ratings. Things that had previously been X were made NC-17, and things that were R were made PG-13, so that these movies had an even better chance to pull in a larger crowd. Movies that had once been considered inappropriate for certain audiences were now targeted for the larger general audience. “[Filmmaker] Kirby Dick says that the ratings board is deliberately opaque, refusing to identify its members or their criteria. Dick found one strict rule for language — a formula for the number of allowable f-words — but no standards on sex and violence. “They want to make sure that they can get their films to be PG-13,” Dick says. “The vaguer the categories are the more they are able to fudge the ratings and push their films into the PG-13 category.”
Movies have what Malcolm Gladwell (author of “The Tipping Point”) would describe as the “stickiness factor”. This is the factor that makes the movie memorable, so that it stays in your mind. This can be used to influence us for good or bad. “The information and entertainment provided through these media can increase your ability to learn, communicate, and become a force for good in the world. However, some information and entertainment can lead you away from righteous living” (as stated in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet).
So how is that movies are not receiving their ‘rightful’ rating?
Dick feels it wouldn’t be difficult to provide parents with better ratings, if the industry wanted to. “They should really break it out by category — sex, violence, profanity, drug use, mature content — and very precisely, but quickly, list what’s in each of those categories so parents can decide.”
The ratings system plays into Hollywood politics, Dick charges, since the major studios are in the position of rating their own films and their competitors’. “That puts them in the position to rate their films less harshly, and allow them make more money.”
It has come to a point where individuals must police themselves rather than trust the rating given. My own family uses kidsinmind.com as our source of information. We even invested in a Clearplay DVD system that filters out language and scenes based on the settings selected by the user so that we could watch a show such as Transformers, which is targeted for kids, but still has inappropriate content in it, comfortably in our own home.
What are your standards when it comes to choosing the movies you watch? Do we settle for Hollywood’s idea of standards and what they want to make accessible?