How should we deal with movie ratings?

Photo by Ilya Sedykh used under Creative Commons
Photo by Ilya Sedykh used under Creative Commons

Rachel Whatley, Staff Writer

   You are waiting in line at the movies to get a ticket, and you happen to glance up at the movie display. There are combinations of little letters and numbers right next to the titles: PG, R, PG-13. You scan across the movie you are about to see. One or two small letters, with or without a number, yet they have so much meaning. Maybe you just now noticed what the rating was; maybe you have checked it more than once before diving in. Either way, how efficient is this system anyway?

   I see myself as the one who not only checks the rating once or twice but also wants to know why. G? It is probably fine. Most G movies are geared toward very young kids, and there are reasons for that. It is usually extremely clean, or maybe it is a documentary. Most PG movies are viewable, in my opinion, but there are still a few things that can crop up. We all have pre-conceived notions of what a rating entails, what it is supposed to mean. Generally.

   PG-13 is a little trickier for me because it can have that rating for any number of reasons. Sex? Violence? Language? A combination? And how much of each? These are the kinds of things I have to dig deeper for, the things a simple “PG-13” may not tell me. On the preview, it may give a reason for the rating, but it is not clear on quantity. For me, I would much rather see a PG-13 movie rated for violence and not sensual content. Then again, it goes back to what the violence is for and how much of it there is. Gratuitous, non-stop, start-to-finish, and/or gory violence is not my style, but it varies from person to person.

   Some people might dismiss a movie just because of its rating or content, even though it may actually have a good message. I know a family who used to eschew most movies, especially PG-13 and higher. Yes, there are some things that are not appropriate for anyone at any age, and even if the film were to have a good message, it should be avoided. However, more meaningful movies are usually not that extreme.

   For example, more conservative types may think that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is heavy on the violence, but it is filled with messages of good vs. evil, friendship, standing up for what is right and persevering in the face of adversity. A better example is The Hunger Games. Some people may shy away from its darkness, recurring violence and PG-13 rating, but its “triumph in the face of adversity” theme and strong heroine shine through.

   The MPAA rating system is good for general information, and we know what each socially constructed category means. TV ratings are a bit more descriptive about what the show entails, but still, it does not say how much of each. Maybe a rating system could have a 1 to 10 scale in each category of objectionable content. That would be very helpful and more specific in determining how much of each instead of saying “brief language” or “fantasy action violence.”

   But if that were the case, that begs the question: who died and made the rating systems king? Who would they be to say that Skyfall, for example, earned a 6 in violence? Someone else may disagree, saying that the people giving the rating were too lenient, and give it an 8 instead. Who decides how strict they should be? What earned a high number in the 90s might not seem so high today.

   Just like our standard, 21st century MPAA ratings, this pipe-dream method is relative and each person may take it differently. Each of us have different guidelines, it seems. So maybe I should just stick to my inquisitive ways and dig deeper for myself, and I encourage you to do so too. After all, I do not need an “all-knowing” organization to be the deciding factor in my entertainment experiences.