Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Movie Ratings: Useful or Useless?

Tuesday, in my theater appreciation class, we discussed censorship and the pros and cons that go with it. Our professor gave several ideas behind censorship and it's purpose; morality, welfare of children, cultural standards of appropriateness, etc. The censorship that we discussed was focused on the arts; film, theater, visual, etc. The discussion that followed was interesting to say the least.

It would seem in our discussion that we found a few double standards. Female nudity is fine, but we are shocked by male nudity. Why is this? Harsh language is confined to the "f" bomb and the "c" word, while "hell" and "damn" are just fine for daytime television and "sh**" is ok after a certain time in the evening. What makes the nighttime acceptable for bad language rather than the daytime? Well, children may be watching during the day. Movies automatically go to an "R" rating if the "f" word is used, but not if there is partial nudity.

So, who decides what movie gets what rating? According to The Classification and Rating Administration, parents, men and women just like you and I, give the movies their ratings. They watch the movies and then give them ratings based on educated estimate as to how the average American parent will react.

The Classification and Rating Administration went into effect November 1st, 1968. It was becoming obvious that the old rules of what was acceptable under "The Hays Code of Production" were not working anymore. Under these rules, actors could appear to be sleeping in the same bed together. One actor must have a floor on the floor at all times. The first major reason for discussion of a new rating system was because of a movie called "Whose afraid of Virginia Wolfe." For the first time the word "screw" was used in a movie. A meeting was called between Jack Valenti, MPAA's general counsel, Louis Nizer, Jack Warner, the legendary chieftain of Warner Bros., and his top aide, Ben Kalmenson. A three hour meeting ensued and it was agreed upon that the word "screw" would be deleted from the movie. The next issue was one concerning nudity. The film, "The Blow-up" was denied The Production Code Administration denied it's seal of approval because of partial nudity. In April 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional power of states and cities to prevent the exposure of children to books and films that could not be denied to adults.

So there is your history lesson for the day.

One of the most interesting parts of movie ratings in today's society is that standards and the idea of what is acceptable is constantly changing. Kids know more earlier, people seems numb to violence and seem to have turned a deaf ear to harsh language. Because of this, it seems that the ratings are not as effective as they once were. Because what was once deemed "unacceptable" by the movie gods is now "acceptable" it is almost as if ratings don't matter at all.

This begs the question "Who are the movie gods?" Not the rating board. Who is it that decides what is now acceptable in society and therefore appropriate for the silver screen? Is the The Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) responsible?

Comments? Ideas? Suggestions? All are welcome, just keep it civil.

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