Ratings creep

My 12-year-old son’s number one criteria for evaluating a movie is its rating: the higher the rating, the more likely he is to want to watch the movie. An R-rated movie must naturally better than PG-13, PG-13 is better than PG, and so on. He’s “accidentally” been allowed to see a few R-rated movies, but generally he is limited to PG-13. He’s convinced this limitation is some sort of oppression, and he comes up with some impressive rhetorical strategies to combat it.

Terminator was made, like, fifty years ago, and an R back then was like a PG-13 now,” he’ll say.

“R is R, we’ll respond. You’re not going to see it.”

Enter the New York Times, with an article we’re probably going to have to censor, too:

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that a decade of “ratings creep” has allowed more violent and sexually explicit content into films, suggesting that movie raters have grown more lenient in their standards.

The study criticized the ratings system, which is run by the Motion Picture Association of America, for confusing and murky descriptions of movie content and called for a standardized universal rating system that would be used across all entertainment media.

According to the study, our son is right: PG-13 movies now have some content that was limited to R films even 10 years back. It does seem reasonable. You can see quite a bit in PG-13 movies these days. Does that mean our son should be allowed to see all the R-rated hits of the ’80’s? Heck, no! He probably shouldn’t even be watching most of today’s PG-13s. No one needs to be exposed to that much sex and violence. Plus, most of those movies are junk, anyway.

I expect many parents use the ratings system the way we do. It’s not so much about seeing a breast here, a curse word there. It’s about cutting down the list of junky movies and limit the scope of debate about what films to see. Are all R-rated movies awful? Of course not, but there are plenty of acceptable movies in the PG-13-and-below range to keep him occupied until he’s old enough to view the graphic violence in many R-rated films with a better sense of perspective. Heck, if he only watched films from the pre-ratings ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, he’d probably be a better person for it.

On the other hand, Terminator wasn’t actually a bad movie. Maybe….

Nah, better not open that can of worms. That’d be the rhetorical equivalent of letting Kill Bill, The Punisher, and all that other tripe into our lives. There’ll be plenty of time for that after he turns … say … 27!

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