Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Jason comments on the MPAA changing its rating policies

Interesting article on IMDb today about the MPAA changing its rating policy. What I found most interesting is that (unless IMDb is misquoting him) the head of the MPAA actually credited the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" with influencing their decision. I would normally expect them to say that this is something they've been considering for a while, and they reached this decision independently (like McDonald's coincidentally ending the super-size option after the film "Super Size Me" came out). Especially since the grievances aired in the movie have been around for a while. Was the MPAA so isolated that they didn't know there were complaints until this movie came out? More likely, Jack Valenti was just stubborn (his fight with Trey Parker and Matt Stone over "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" is pretty legendary). Seems like this Dan Glickman guy (former Congressman from Kansas and Secretary of Agriculture under Clinton) is more reasonable.

As for the actually changes, I've no strong opinion. I like the idea of a filmmaker being able to cite scenes from other movies in the appeal process. And it sounds like he might break the R rating into essentially soft-R and hard-R. That'll be interesting to see if that happens and how it shakes out (the last big shakeup, introducing the PG-13 rating, is widely seen as causing more movies that would've been made PG previously to add a little "spice" to make them PG-13, and it had very little effect on R movies).

More importantly, this would all be academic if the rating system weren't such a gatekeeper to distribution. Technically the ratings hold no legal weight and are designed to be just a guide for parents. And if you consider it from the point of view of the government telling them "regulate your own content to protect children or we'll do it for you", the system isn't that bad. Problem is, there are a lot of compelling movies that are NC-17 or unrated, and unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you'll never get to see them (at least not on the big screen). So I accept the idea that a rating system is probably needed, even useful. I welcome tweaks to the rating system, but overall it'll still be subjective. And there will be many movies I want to see that are not appropriate for children. So I don't see the issue as a rating problem as much as a distribution problem.

Any ideas out there about how to fix the distribution system so compelling, provocative, mature movies can be seen by whoever wants to see them? Just saying that theaters need to be brave and show these movies unrated (which is completely legal) is unreasonable. They still need to make money, so it's an economic issue.


baceman007 said...

Although it's nice to see the MPAA do something like this I never agreed with the ratings system to begin with. I actually think that parents should watch any film before allowing their children to see it. I remember watching Optimus Prime die. It was a huge shock to me as a child. The movie had a PG rating and should have been ok for me to watch. Surprisingly enough the big reason they almost went PG-13 was because of the 2 curse words in the movie and not so much because of the violence. It's kind of funny how when people show sex in a movie it gets an awful rating, but when you can have a movie like Alien Vs. Predator where people are literally having their faces melted off and it gets a PG-13 rating you have to wonder what the rating system is really good for. My point is that we don't take violence seriously in the rating system anyway. This is good if you have a government looking to desensitize people to killing so they can go and protect your oil, etc., I know that was a leap, but honestly what's worse to show on screen people having sex or people blasting holes into each other and melting each others faces off? Again it depends on your personal opinion and agenda. Another important point is that every child, person, is different. Since every child is different the parents can be the only real judge of what the child should or should not see. I mean remember Bambi with the G rating. Bambi's mother dying was very disturbing for many children. It kept me from hunting as a kid and probably did the same for many others. Walt Disney gave his opinion on hunting to impressionable youth who were actually willing to believe that deer were intelligent life or anything, but huge rats on long legs. Anyway, my dad and uncles all hunted or still hunt. The meat is good and it keeps the population down. After seeing a car that one of the mindless animals ran into from it's over populated, virtually predator free, suburban home I have to say that I'm kind of pissed about Bambi and the effect it's had on hunting and the perfectly legit control of these animals especially since we've driven out their natural predators. The point I'm getting to is that this was a G movie that I was probably too young to see from a content standpoint. It was also a brainwashing flick to drive home Disney animal personification to a very impressionable audience made up of many kids that were too young to start hunting. The overall point is that my parents should have seen it before I did and made the determination. Walt had a right to give us his opinion on hunting, but my family had a right to give me theirs. The problem was that I was too young to get both sides at the same time and the G rating gave my parents a false sense of security about the movies' content. As far as adults go they can always leave a theater if they don't like the content of a movie. As far as it being an economic issue... When the rating system is so ineffective anyway I would say that it may actually keep people from seeing movies they may actually enjoy, in some cases, or assuring that they will see movies with offensive content in them by giving them a false sense of security. I'm a big guy on personal responsibility. I think that a synopsis of a movie and parental involvement is the key, and always has been, the ratings system is kind of a crutch for parents who don't want to review a movie before their kids see it. For the adults that want to know what content is in a movie they can read a synopsis which will give them way more information than a letter rating system before they go to see a movie, but this would involve people to cast aside some laziness which is not going to happen, so I guess it would cost already struggling theaters a lot of money. Anyway, money isn't everything and it's time to do away with this system and go back to the only system that works for everyone which is personal responsibility. Makers have a right to make any films they wish, we have a right to see or not see them, especially if we call ourselves a free society. The truth is that being free is a lot of work that involves personal responsibility. The rating system is just an example of a crutch to try and save people time on a determination they should be making for themselves. They can say that the rating system is voluntary, but let's be honest, with few exceptions, what theater is going to show an unrated film and take the legal chances on that. As long as there is a rating system it will control major theaters and audiences that attend movies at them. It might as well be a law. My overall point is that the way to deal with it is to do away with it.

puppymeat said...

Another excellent comment, baceman. Mostly I'm excited that the MPAA is open to reform, but I'll withhold final judgement until I see what those reforms really are (I'm thinking just as a first swag more than a new rating they just need more transparency in the process so a filmmaker can know what they have to cut to get their R down to a PG-13).

And I'm all for parental responsibility, but I also know that parents are very busy and don't often have time or money to watch the same movie twice. It's important to get the relevant information to parents, but I wouldn't want a spoiler like Bambi's mother being killed to show up in any review I'd read, so there's a fine line. But I do know that parents talk to other parents about what movies are appropriate. Maybe this is where the interwebs can provide a solution. A quick googling of "movie reviews for parents" revealed a number of sites, but at least the top ones (like or are based on a fairly strict recitation of the exact number of objectionable scenes, and I find stuff like "178 incidents of the F-word" pretty fucking laughable. More to the point, the sane parents with whom I've discussed movies don't think in those terms. So how about a newsgroup for parents to talk about movies? Spoilers are specifically allowed, and that's known up front. It'd have to be moderated so it wouldn't devolve into a "you're a horrible parent if you let your kid see this" vs. "you're an uptight bitch if you don't let your kid see this" flame war. Come to think of it, that probably already exists, I just don't care enough to find it.

puppymeat said...

Oh, and as for the economics of distributing unrated films. I overcome that by living in an area with tons of wonderful art-house cinemas and film festivals all the freakin' time (as regular readers will totally find out)! What do people do if they don't have an art house theater or a film festival in town?

I actually pondered suggesting a law that every multiplex with more than 10 screens must set aside 1 out of every 10 screens for unrated movies, even though that goes against all my libertarian instincts. It just pisses me off when I know there are all these great movies dying for distribution when the latest Star Wars fiasco is playing on 4 fucking screens at once.