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By now (especially since I’ve inexplicably had this post sitting in drafts for a week), you’ve probably heard about Blue Valentine receiving an NC-17 and The King’s Speech receiving an R from the ratings board, along with all the indignation and trotting out of 14-year-old daughters to proclaim who should and shouldn’t see what.  Comparisons to Saw 3D abound, and much shame has been heaped on the MPAA.  But honestly?  I think the ratings board has been unfairly bearing the brunt of the anger.

The problem is with the system.  I haven’t yet seen the aforementioned movies, so I’ll refrain from commenting on them and instead focus on the problem in general.  The discussion seems to focus around three main areas of questionable content: language, sexuality, and violence.  And specifically comparisons between the three groups.  So people want to know why characters dropping a few f-bombs is the same as characters being brutally tortured or why sex without showing skin is more adult than murders without blood.

But how could any person or organization be expected to make these kind of comparisons for the entire country?  People like to talk about about the coasts have been desensitized to language and sexuality where the middle areas of the country are more OK with the violence, that, of course, is a gross exaggeration.  In nearly any given population you have families who let their kids watch anything, and parents who forbid television in the house.  And somehow the MPAA ratings board is supposed to come up with a single rating that is going to make everyone happy?

There’s no simple fix here, but assuming the system has to stay basically the same, I’m on board with instituting a PG-15 rating.  That would make R a harder rating, as Dan Glickman first proposed a few years back.  That’s ostensibly what NC-17 was supposed to be anyway, but we’ve seen that there’s really no incentive to ever release an NC-17 movie in theaters.   Ideally, this would allow a movie like The King’s Speech to move to PG-15 and Blue Valentine to the new R.

For me, though, even if the framework has to stay the same, I’d like to see ratings for all three elements (language/sexuality/violence).  Which isn’t too big a leap, I don’t think, since the MPAA’s rating already come with a blurb about why they received the rating.  So again, I haven’t seen the movie, but maybe The King’s Speech becomes something like PG-15/PG-13/PG.  If you need to have a single rating, fine, take the max of the three ratings.  Perhaps having three ratings would make things marginally more complicated, but I think everyone could understand it.  And this way, there’s a little bit more of a bright line for parents to use when restricting the viewing of adult-themed movies.  Because we have to respect that different people find different things not OK for children to watch.  And I think that comparing violence to sexuality to language is silly because there is no obvious comparison.  So let’s agree on a goal of letting as many people have access to a movie as possible and more finely-tune the system so parents can better choose exactly what types of movies they don’t want their kids to see.

November 2010
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