The Rating System

Posted: Thursday, April 8, 2010
by Jeremy Doyle

The Question.

A couple of weeks ago Julie and Jessica threw out a simple question (on the King is a Fink facebook fan page) that really intrigued me.  It was a question that has many implications and the answers are completely subjective.  It effects everyone that watches movies.  Their question: PG-13?  That was it, a simple rating with a question mark.  My answer at that time was, "I have a lot to say about it.  Maybe I should make it a blog post."  Welcome to that post.

Now at this point I could go into a whole description of the rating process and the history of ratings, but that information is already out there, so I'll just point you in that direction if you want to read more about it:

There is also a tremendous documentary that I would highly recommend that goes pretty in depth as well.  Its title is "This Film Not Yet Rated".  Not only does it cover ratings, it also goes into some piracy issues which are very interesting.

For the sake of this post, I'm just going to list the current ratings and their definition.

G - General Audiences
All ages admitted
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may not be suitable for children
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian
NC-17 - No One 17 and Under Admitted

Here is my take on the ratings system:

 It sucks.  It's good intentioned, but it doesn't work.  Much like the television and video game rating systems, the MPAA is a self-governed committee.  They are putting ratings on films as a way to self-police, and there is no standard for giving a film a rating.

Now as we watch films we can start to guess at the formula.   Generally, in my observation, if you have male full-frontal nudity, you are going to get an "R" rating.  On the contrary, if you have female frontal nudity, (by female frontal nudity I mean breasts and / or vagina) it's going to depend on the length of the shot.  Take, for instance, one of the first PG-13 movies, "The Woman in Red", which has a scene of a woman's dress being blown up.  Guess what?  No underwear.  What?  Why is that? How come the double standard?

If you use the "F" word more than twice, you'll pretty much be guaranteed a "R".  I guess other profanities are less vile, as they don't earn an "R".  Seriously?  Why?  This is language most people hear everyday.

Language is such an objective, culture-based thing.  I don't use "profane" language much myself for the simple fact that I don't find it polite.  But it doesn't take much looking around to see that even politeness changes. "Pissed off" is something that I regularly say.  It's common language now days.  However, I'm thinking it wasn't that long ago that that phrase seemed pretty vulgar.

Most people are either familiar with or have heard of The Ten Commandments.  At one point in time this was a moral code.  Are they relevant for today?  Not according to the ratings system.  There is not a single one of them that, if broken in a film, would give it more than a PG rating.  So where do we derive our moral code from?  How is that translated into our films?  What is the compass the ratings board uses to judge things?

Clearly, in my opinion, the ratings system is broken. 

Back to the original question...

PG-13?  Yes, I believe there needs to be something between PG and R.  A couple years ago a change was made that was much needed and has improved an imperfect, broken system.  Underneath the rating is a box that lists the potentially objectionable content that was used to determine the film's rating.  For me, especially now as a parent, this is helpful.  I know what my child is being exposed to.  Don't get me wrong, I will still see the majority of movies before my children do in their formative years, but it could (and should) be a big help to lazy parents.  The short of it is, you can't un-see something.  Whether it be in real life or at the movies, it will be filed in your memory.  And, as parents, it's important to pay attention to what's going into our kids' heads.

In the end, I believe that the ratings system a broken system, but it's something that needs to be in place.  

This is a big, big topicI didn't even get into violence or how ratings effect box office ticket sales.  Feel free to add your comments. 
  • What are your thoughts about the rating system? 
  • Can you think of an alternative?
  • And I'll ask again: PG-13? 
BTW Tilt, if rated at this point, would be  "PG-13" "R" for Language, Violence, Some Drug Use. Of course, the script's only 2/3's done, so maybe that will change and we can still hit "NC-17"...


  1. Anonymous April 8, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    Love this post, Jeremy.

    When I was 9, my mom took my sister and me to see Gremlins, the movie that inspired the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating. It was way too violent for little kids (as my mother discovered just after my 7 year old sister ran screaming from the theater.)

    Don't worry - I was a "big kid," so I got to stay. My mom just asked the kind-looking man sitting next to me (stranger danger, anyone?) to keep an eye on me. Yikes.

    Anyhoo...I got to stay for the whole thing, including the scene where Phoebe Cates (SPOILER ALERT! Phil, look away!) explained how she found out there was no Santa Claus. Merry Christmas, little Julie!

    To be fair, I don't think my mom thought the movie was going to be so scary (or that it was going to ruin the holidays.) She was just looking for a safe, non-R rated movie that we could enjoy as a family. And she didn't have the fancy internet to help her make her choice. She did her best with what she had. Except for the "leaving me in a dark room with a strange man" part.

    The thing my mom got RIGHT was that she talked about the movie with us afterward, which is sort of the point of the whole thing, right? The ratings system (perfect or not) is supposed to be a GUIDE to help parents decide what their kids can see, not a SUBSTITUTE for research, judgment, and discussion.

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