Election Season Compels Ever Greater Rating Vigilance
by G. Kendrick Macdowell
NATO General Counsel &
Director of Government Affairs
We’ll always know him affectionately
as The Terminator, but in his more modest role as governor
of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation
in October that criminalizes the sale of so-called “ultra-violent” video
games to minors (defined in the California law as anyone
under 18 years old). Thus did The Governator bow to a species
of political pressure that will always afflict our collective
entertainment industry: scary nonsense about harming our
In fact, the choice in California (as in
Michigan and Illinois before it, which likewise enacted “violent video
game” laws this year) was stark: A society favoring
private tools to help parents parent versus a society favoring
intrusive criminal laws to liberate parents from parenting.
All three states with video game laws — Michigan,
Illinois, and California — have been or will be subject
to suit on First Amendment grounds. Indeed, reports from
the ground indicate that some state legislators actually
predicted that the bills would be found unconstitutional,
but voted for the measures anyway. Such is the power of
misperception: Thinking to get “family values” votes,
politicians will vote for legislation they believe is unconstitutional,
and thereby flout the most durable and robustly American
family value of keeping the government out of parenting.
|Despite the “family values” political
pressure – ostensibly based on the will of the
American people – the actual American people
appear much wiser in their assessment of accountability
than many of their elected representatives.
Interestingly, despite the “family values” political
pressure — ostensibly based on the will of the American
people — the actual American people appear much wiser
in their assessment of accountability than many of their
Exhibit A: A study released in April by the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press found that the American
people, by 48 percent to 41 percent, were more worried
about the government imposing undue restrictions than about
the industry producing material deemed harmful to society.
Exhibit B: An Associated Press-Ipsos
poll on public attitudes about rudeness released in October
found that Americans
overwhelmingly blamed parents for failing to teach their
children appropriate manners. Fully 69 percent said “parents
not teaching good manners to their children” deserves “a
great deal of blame” — far surpassing the blame
assigned to celebrities behaving rudely, movies and TV
shows showing rude behavior, and people leading busier
lives and not taking time for politeness.
In other words, Americans understand
that the buck stops at home — and are much less inclined than the politicians
who “represent” them to pass the buck and play
the blame game. In a representative democracy, it would
seem that elected representatives would catch up and honor
this authentic and honorable expression of American opinion.
Alas, it will get worse before it gets better.
Enter an election year, when ‘tis the season to be hollow.
Expect to see, at state and federal levels, craven politicians
of both parties falling over themselves promising to get
tough on those sinister teen retailers selling “violent” and “sexual” content
Despite the inordinate focus on video games
(with credit where credit is due: Grand Theft Auto, its “Hot Coffee
mod”), the peril to our own industry is real. Indeed,
in Michigan, an earlier version of the legislation expressly
included movies and essentially codified the MPAA/NATO
ratings system into Michigan criminal law — a disaster
narrowly averted in the Michigan House, after overwhelming
bipartisan support for the earlier version in the Michigan
Senate, by the excellent ground work of NATO of Michigan.
Expect to see more Michigan-type battles.
Our movie rating system is an integral part
of our culture. For that we may be thankful during the
battles to come.
We routinely turn away legal business on the basis of a
voluntary and very successful partnership with America’s
We cannot, however, credit ourselves to
the point of complacency. We must remain vigilant. Most
importantly, we must take
special care to ensure enforcement of, and adequate training
with respect to, the rating system at the box office.
As we stressed at our annual board meeting
in Chicago, a few additional steps concerning theatre websites
easy and should be implemented by every theatre with