As always, I appreciate your
comments/ writing and the copies of your columns.
them all. I have previously described
you to the FTC, to reporters
and columnists and to others as one of the more reasonable minds of our
ratings system critics. That was before
I read your most recent piece.
Do you really think our movie
rating system deserves an “F”??
To be sure, you are correct
that some material that used to produce an “R” rating
now produces a “PG-13” – ditto for material formerly appropriate
for a “PG-13” that now receives a “PG.” But what you
fail to recognize and/or acknowledge in your piece is that the rating system
is dynamic, not static. The guiding principle for the raters is to reflect what
the majority of America’s parents believe would be an appropriate
rating for any particular film. That principle necessarily suggests a dynamic
The bottom line is that parents
are much more accepting and lenient on the issue
of content today than they were 15 years ago. As
that were otherwise, but it isn’t. Your “ratings creep” may
be someone else’s “ratings evolution.” This change in attitudes
isn’t limited to movies. Look at television, songs, video games
and the Internet. My 13-year-old son is swimming in a sea of content
than the one I confronted at the same age. Our job as parents is to help
afloat by learning something about the content choices available to them.
That’s where our ratings system does a good, if not perfect, job. (Certainly
better than an “F”!) On the information side, we have made gradual
progress. The ratings explanations were finally added to advertisements, made
available on Websites, and distributed for use in theatres after years of NATO’s
pushing. The explanations are not complete, but do provide some guide about the
content that garnered the particular rating. Parents who want to know more can
and do access the myriad sites that provide additional information, some of which
you reference in your piece. That is a good thing. The ratings explanations provided
by the studios/MPAA are the starting point, not the end point, in a responsible
parent’s effort to understand the content options. But that starting point
wasn’t even available a few years ago.
Any critic can quibble with
particular examples of applied ratings that might
be challenged. You have picked some good examples
is the nature of line drawing. Any system that separates content
into categories will by definition have some product
at the margins of each
do line drawing without that effect.
I agree that the “f-word” rules are formulaic. That may be an area
where reform would be useful. But you are wrong that the MPAA is formulaic as
a general proposition. Dynamic systems are by definition not very formulaic.
In fact, the basic gravamen of your complaint is that the ratings are “creeping” – suggesting
the system is not very formulaic at all.
There is no doubt that some
moviemakers attempt to manipulate the system. We
fight them all the time, from “Fahrenheit 9/11” to “Star Wars” to “The
Passion of the Christ” to every movie in between. But isn’t it a
good thing that a system exists that forces filmmakers to make changes and edits
in their pictures if they want to achieve a desired rating? How can a system
with that much control over powerful filmmakers get an “F” in
your book? They do cut material. They do edit scenes. They are
forced to respect
the system, at least to a significant degree, in order to release
and market their
What about the enforcement side
of the system? Did you read the last FTC report?
Theatre owners received high marks for an enforcement
the best of any ratings system and got even better. You were
there at the FTC workshop last October. Do you remember when
groups to follow our lead and be as serious about their rating
system enforcement as we are?
Our enforcement necessarily
affects content. Filmmakers will edit down content
to achieve a “PG-13” because they know that most kids will be denied
tickets if the movie is rated “R.” That’s
a good thing. And the studios also received high marks for
improving the way they market films.
Yet none of that progress, even
after documented by the government, makes its way
into your indictment of the rating system.
You also return to the old refrain
that we need one standardized rating system across
all media. But that is simply not
possible. The products
distributed, marketed and sold in fundamentally different
ways. As one example, a cornerstone of our system is
the ID check
at the box
pictures. A parent or guardian must “accompany” a child under 17.
How do you adapt that element of our system to television? Or video games? You
can’t. Because they are different industries.
Despite my reaction to the atypically
1-sided nature of your piece, I will still take
the constructive criticism
again for your ever-watchful eye, and your (more often
than not) informed and reasonable critique of our ratings
has an “off” day.