Monday, June 15, 2009

The MPAA - Part of the Problem?

If you were born any time before the 1980s you've probably noticed that contemporary movies have lost something. Call it heart, soul, or just plain competence in filmmaking in general but I, for one, don't think the blame is all on the shoulders of directors or even the studio executives who, let's be honest, are just looking to make a quick buck. Part of the blame has to be laid squarely at the feet of those who claim to be the threshold guardians watching out for us, or rather our children. I, of course, am referring to the MPAA.

Ratings on movies are something we all take for granted. In the United States movie ratings are applied by the mysterious organization known as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) cum MPA (Motion Picture Association). Very little is known about this organization. They are shrouded in mystery. Ask the average person what the MPAA is and what it does they will instantly offer a vague answer about ratings, an answer that may assume quite a lot, yet virtually nothing is known of who does what or how; much less what guiding standards are employed.

If you go to the MPAA website you will find the following: "The movie ratings system is a voluntary system operated by the MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). The ratings are given by a board of parents who comprise the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). CARA?s Board members view each film and, after a group discussion, vote on its rating. The ratings are intended to provide parents with advance information so they can decide for themselves which films are appropriate for viewing by their own children. The Board uses the same criteria as any parent making a judgment ? theme, language, violence, nudity, sex and drug use are among content areas considered in the decision-making process."

CARA? NATO? Voluntary?

The ratings are hardly voluntary. We all know that. It's one of those "facts" we've picked up in life. If ever you doubt the validity of the above statement ask yourself when (if ever) was the last time you saw a movie, in a movie theater, that didn't have a rating. There's also something foul about claiming the ratings system exists as an aide for parents. That's just nonsense. People have brains. Can they not judge for themselves what is suitable for their own offspring? Has our society become so infantile that we need to be coddled?

More to the point if the purpose of the MPAA rating system really was to signify what is "appropriate for viewing by their [parents] own children" then why is the rating system not limited to a single certificate, perhaps something like CS (Child Safe)? The statement makes no sense, and with good reason, the ratings are not about child safety. The MPAA and it's ratings are about content control. The ratings are broken down into categories that correlate to the major market demographics. In a word the MPAA ratings are about money, in two words they're about making money. Or, to phrase a sentence: The MPAA ratings system is about aiding studios in better marketing movies to target demographics.

The MPAA, according to information on their site, claims: "A motion picture is evaluated in its entirety. The raters who view the entire completed motion picture will determine the most important factors that parents consider when deciding whether to allow their children to view that motion picture"

Again with the children. Have you ever noticed that when politicians or corporations want people to accept something that would otherwise stir heated debate and controversy they fall back to the bulwark of "but it's for the children". But is it really?


If ever you doubt this simply ask yourself when the last time you heard about the MPAA refusing a movie certification was. Certainly we can all agree that torture porn movies like HOSTEL or SAW are most certainly not acceptable viewing for children of any age. Yet such movies not only received a certificate, thus stamping them with the approval of the MPAA as movies okay to watch, but they received an R-rating. R ratings do not exclude all those not yet of age, this means the MPAA says these movies are okay for older teens. Really? Some would argue that violence begets violence. Over the years politicians and certain activist groups have been quick to blame violence in movies and video games for an increase in real world violence. All this while expressions of love and sexuality, that singular sacrament of transcendent human expression performed in praise and exultation of life, are deemed offensive. So how strange it is to find that an group claiming to be the self-anointed guardians of. .

Actually just what is the MPAA really about? They claim that their "raters attempt, as much as possible, to mirror the views of a contemporary cross-section of parents in the country," but many critics of the organization find this hard to believe. A quick read through the information on the MPAA site reveals they have carefully avoided using words like "morals" or "ethics" when discussing what they do. It's always some vague neutral wording like "views" or "factors" never a discussion or mention of specific ideology.

Worse, the MPAA doesn't even have any set content standards. They claim: "Thus, you may notice, for example, that as the concerns of parents about teen drug use or sexual activity increase, motion pictures which contain elements of illicit drug abuse or strong sexual content will be assigned a higher rating, reflecting the views of American parents." This is, one assumes, supposed to make the system more flexible and thus more easy to adapt to the times and shifting mores. Yet the mores of whom? Christians? Muslims? Mormons? Atheists? Wiccans? Aliens from Zeta Riticuli? Trolls? Elves?

Such statements proliferate on the MPAA web site and they are very disingenuous. Worse the ratings themselves, despite the long winded synopsis you will find on the MPAA site, are vague and nebulous to the point of meaninglessness.

If what is "R" today would have been "PG" ten or twenty years ago then the rating system is not just flawed it's meaningless. Every community has its own standards. If the MPAA doesn't have the backbone to put a codified set of standards into use then how can any parent truly use these amorphous and ever changing ratings as a guide? If what was "PG" ten years ago would be branded "R" today because the MPAA suddenly decided actors smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or wearing skirts that are too short are not acceptable then they have failed epically.

What, then, is the MPAA's true agenda?

While the MPAA's true agenda may not be as blatant as the message of an self-hating moron holding up a neon colored sign proclaiming "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself" their continued rubber stamping of movies filled with a panorama of amoral violence in which humanity is debased, murder is carried out with wonton glee, morals are shat upon, and audiences get to see blood spatter across the screen as naïve innocents are tortured and their flesh eviscerated in grotesqueries of carnival sideshow malice speak volumes of the MPAA's true character; or lack thereof. So long as the MPAA refuses to set standards they are, at best, corporate shills. At worst they're feeding the cycle of anti-humanism and anti-intellectualism in their push to turn audiences into obedient consumers of mediocrity.

Of course I could be totally wrong. Then again if we can't call out and blame the self-anointed guardians of what is supposed to be acceptable in movies for their downward spiral then who should be blamed? The President? Little Green Men from Mars? Hugh Hefner?

#End of Line

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

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