from an expert in the field:
Joan Graves is senior vice president and chairwoman of the Classification
and Rating Administration ( www.filmratings.com) at the Motion Picture Association of America ( www.mpaa.org).
THE CURRENT voluntary
film rating system, created
in 1968, replaced the earlier
moral censorship guidelines
known as the Hays Code
with a revolutionary new
system focused on parents. The system was born
out of the simple notion that the movie industry
wouldn’t approve or disapprove what audiences
should see, but instead would focus on educating
parents so they could make their own informed
moviegoing decisions for their families.
Consequently, the ratings board of the Motion
Picture Association of America does not exist to
regulate the content of films, but exists to provide
parents the tools they need to help them determine what their children watch.
The ratings board, composed entirely of parents, is charged with rating a film the way they
feel a majority of American parents would rate a
film. This is no easy task; the United States is a
large, diverse country where opinions and social
standards vary from region to region, from coast
The ratings board reviews a film exactly as a
parent would see it in a theater and then assigns
it a rating—G, PG, PG- 13, R or NC- 17—
accompanied by something called a descriptor box.
The descriptor box accompanies the rating in all
materials promoting the film and gives parents
details about why the film received the rating it
did—for example, language, crude humor, violence or sexual situations, to name just a few of
the many options.
Of course, moviemaking today is dramatically
different than it was even 20 years ago. Violence,
sexuality and suspense can all be depicted on-screen in ways that weren’t even conceivable a few
decades ago. That’s why the system is built to evolve
over time, because its purpose is to reflect the standards of American parents, not set them. (The evolution of social standards goes both ways, by the
way. Drug content is treated much more stringently
now than it was in the 1970s, when parents said
they felt less concerned about its depiction.)
In order to do our job, we members of the
ratings board are constantly engaged in dialogue
with parents to get feedback from them on
whether they feel the ratings are conveying the
information they need. What we overwhelmingly
hear from parents is that they feel they are getting
accurate information about film content. That
doesn’t mean they love the content of every film
they see; it simply means they feel we are providing them with the information they need to
choose the movies they want their kids to see. C
from an expert in the field:
Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council ( www.
parentstv.org), a nonpartisan education organization advocating
A RATING SYSTEM must
be accurate, consistent,
transparent and publicly
accountable. The current
system is none of those.
New evidence shows
that both TV and movie ratings are inaccurate and inconsistently applied,
rendering some of the worst content imaginable
as “acceptable” for children.
Parents Television Council research found that
some of the most violent TV-14-rated shows (
content unsuitable for children under 14) on broadcast
TV have levels and types of violence similar to
TV-MA-rated (content designed to be viewed by
adults that may be unsuitable for children under
17) cable TV shows. Content such as child molestation, rape, mutilation, dismemberment, graphic
killings, violent abductions, physical torture, cannibalism, burning flesh and suicide all showed up
as types of violence in the study, yet broadcast TV
programs containing these types of violence were
rated as appropriate for 14-year-old children.
Movies aren’t much better. The Annenberg
Public Policy Center and Ohio State University
found that PG-13-rated films (parents strongly cau-
tioned that some content may be inappropriate for
children under 13) contain as much violence as
R-rated films (restricted, so children under 17
require an accompanying parent or adult guardian).
And another Annenberg Public Policy Center study
also found that there was more sex and violence in
movies rated PG- 13 than those with an R rating.
People often don’t realize that each TV network determines the ratings for its own shows.
The industry is financially rewarded to rate content inaccurately for younger audiences, as most
sponsors won’t buy advertisements on TV-MA
programs. And PG- 13 movies are routinely more
profitable than R-rated films.
It’s time for wholesale reform of the entire ratings system, and those whom the ratings are
intended to serve—parents and families—must be
given a seat at the table. Criteria must be more
objective and more transparent. And both the
Motion Picture Association of America and the
TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board must
implement a public process to consider appeals by
citizens who disagree with rating decisions.
Until this rating system reform occurs, the
entertainment industry is deceiving families by
labeling adult-themed TV programs and movies
as appropriate for children, giving lie to their
repeated assertions that they are committed to giving parents the information they need to make
informed viewing decisions for their families. C
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