How MPAA Ratings Work – Written September 24, 2000

In the United States of America, there is a rating system for motion pictures that is becoming increasingly out of date. The Motion Picture Association of America (M.P.A.A.) rates every movie that is in the United States with one of six ratings: “G,” “PG,” “PG-13,” “R,” “NC-17,” and “X.” To learn what these ratings mean, see the chart in the back. Since the rating system was conceived, the M.P.A.A. has changed once, in 1983. The current rating system is terribly out of date and should be changed.

The basic concept behind how films are rated is fairly simple. Every time a “controversial” topic comes up (e.g. guns, blood, sex, drugs), the M.P.A.A. counts the amount of time the topics take up, taking into account the severity of the topic (a lot of nudity is worse than a lot of blood), and then it issues a rating. After the rating is issued, the M.P.A.A. sends the rating to the director, who can then edit it to get a different rating. Stanley Kubrick had to do this many times for films such as “A Clockwork Orange” and “Full Metal Jacket.” Bother were “NC-17,” but were edited by Kubrick to fit the “R” rating.

There are few problems with the “G” and “PG” ratings. This is due to the fairly non-violent content, mild language, and lack of “adult” situations. “PG-13” and “R” are the main concerns for reform. First of all, the “PG-13” rating did not exist until George Lucas made “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” in 1983, because it had too much controversial material to be a “PG” film, but George Lucas and the M.P.A.A. decided that it was nowhere near an “R.” Until that point, if a film was not “PG,” it was automatically “R.” That was the last reform in film ratings. Now is the time for another readjustment, because movies are expanding, covering more topics, and more controversy. For instance, the “R” is extremely broad. Hypothetically, one could watch an “R” rated film and see 3 people killed, or the word “f*ck” being said 100 times. It is hard to decipher what each “R” film contains.

Ten years ago, any movie with the word “f*ck” was not allowed to have that “PG-13” rating: it immediately was an “R” rated film. Any nudity was considered unacceptable, and the film was re-rated as an “R.” Today, many “PG-13” movies have harsh language and sometimes contain nudity. The current rating system should be removed and replaced with a new, consumer-friendly, detailed system.

In the U.S., video games also have ratings. They are rated on a scale of one to five depending on content, much like the movie scale of “G” to “R.” I suggest that the M.P.A.A. do the same with films, only on a more detailed scale. Each topic, whether it is violence, sex, drugs, language, etc. should have it’s own scale. That way it warns not only parents, but also everyone, concerning the content.

The current rating system is geared directly towards parents. The M.P.A.A. rates each film to help parents decide what films they wish to have their children view. If this new system were in place, it would help everyone decide what he or she wants to view. For instance, a viewer could be offended by violence. If the new ratings were in place, the viewer would have the ability to look at what is currently an “R” rated film and see what the content is, and then decide if the viewer wishes to view it.

The movie industry is one of the few industries that make someone purchase a product before they actually see it. For instance, when buying a sweater at a department store, it is possible to can see the brand, fabric, color, texture, how warm it is, etc. In the movie industry, however, it is much different. Instead of a “brand,” a movie has a director, writer, or producer. Unfortunately, as far as content of movie or, to keep with the parallel, the fabric/texture/feel goes, it is hard to tell. One must purchase the rights to see the movie, and then decide whether or not they like it. This new rating system would allow for people to know, at least more so, what they are buying. For example, Steven Spielburg once made a movie called “Jurassic Park.” It was an action movie about a theme park of dinosaurs that escape. He also directed a movie called “The Color Purple.” This film was a drama about the plight of a black woman in the south. Both films were rated “PG-13.” Now, keep in mind that these are two movies that could not be confused for each other, but they do have the same director, and they both have the same rating. Jurassic Park had dinosaurs eating people and each other, with mild language. “The Color Purple” had harsher language and less violence. It is easy to see that the rating did not tell much about the film.

If this new rating system was created, it would be possible to limit ages for each film. For example, if a film had no drugs, sex, or violence, but had harsh language, it could be possible to let in everyone while still letting people know what the film had in it. The rating for the language would let the parents know that with the high language content, they may not want their child to view the film.

The age-limits should be abolished. For some reason, a sixteen-year-old can drive an automobile, but can not sit in a theater and hear harsh language without adult supervision. Parents should be able to look at the new rating and decide whether their children should be permitted to view the movie. Many teens have seen things that could rival many NC-17 movies, and it doesn’t make sense to not allow them to view the same actions that they participate in.

If someone wants to use drugs, have sex, or kill people, that person will. The movies may give a viewer ideas of how to do it, but overall, they will do it no matter what. Before movies were created, people still used drugs, killed people, and had sex. All people need to do is talk to each other, listen to each other (that’s a big one), and acquire some morals. Many parents should stop pointing fingers and deal with their lack of parental skills. If they don’t, the movie industry in the United States of America will eventually be abolished.

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