Film & Music

Why the MPAA Rating System is Trash

The MPAA rating system, or the Motion Pictures Association of America’s rating system, was created with the intent of informing an audience of the content in a movie without forcing said audience to actually watch it. Although its intent might be good-hearted, the rating system has evolved into a monster worthy of at least an R-rating and a heavy-handed editorial. At most, of course, it deserves a radical revision or complete abandonment.


Many moviegoers assume that the rating system is an objective standard held across oceanic and land borders, but this is not the case. Unlike many other major countries, America’s ratings are not assigned with any actual legal authority — though they are treated as such. If films are not automatically run through it (as most popular commercial films are) they can submit theirs to be rated. MPAA does not represent film audience nor the creators — rather it represents the six majors studios in Hollywood. As such, it is fundamentally flawed.  Without legal basis, the rating system is mysterious and inconsistent, with way too much room for error from a source that nobody has eyes on.


Bizarrely, there is almost no official explanations given for the rating requirements that make up the various ratings. Beyond the widely-assumed and loosely-followed guidelines (No drug-usage in PG films, no sexual scenes in G films) the lines are heavily blurred. Sometimes the short descriptions below ratings are as abstract as “historical smoking.” The documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” criticized the MPAA system’s lack of transparency when they discovered that the MPAA refused give any information as to what their reasoning was behind their ratings — they wouldn’t even tell creators which scenes to cut in order to achieve lower ratings. For a system that claims to give insight into films, the MPAA gives very little insight into anything.


What the rating system does reveal is wild inconsistencies in morality — for example, the critically acclaimed documentary “Bully” was given an R-rating for its authentic depiction of bullies at an elementary school using profanities. The director refused to diminish the real-life experiences of the children abused by “watering-down” the language used. And yet, films like “The Dark Knight” (which is undoubtedly one of the most violent and dark superhero films of all time) was given a PG-13 rating. According to the MPAA’s flawed system, children are allowed to watch torture scenes but aren’t allowed to exist in the real world and open their eyes to what effect they, or their classmates, might have when they bully other children. Nobody counts the bodies thrown aside in superhero films, but somebody is counting how many times Random Classroom Bully is yelling the f-word at an otherwise invisible and not-spoken-for victim. Additionally, the system allows for widespread viewing of intense violence, but heavily censors any sexual activity. This suggests mass-murder is much more acceptable than consensual intimacy.


The system is flawed and, up to this point, immovable. It greatly determines the commercial success and audience of films. If the system does not respond to a cry for change, then it must be deemed irrelevant and tossed aside for more individualized sources, like IMDB Parent’s Guide or Common Sense Media, which give concise summaries of content within films (such as profanities used or violence demonstrated) without determining who is the ideal viewer of such a movie — that decision should be subjective. The current system ignorantly blocks important works of art with flimsy reasoning. Mr. Hollywood, tear down this wall.


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