Friday, February 3, 2017

Revisitations: Restricted Viewing

[From June 29, 2013. I still think this is an excellent idea.] 

Restricted Viewing

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a powerful and much-maligned organization that practices "voluntary" censorship on movies made and released in the United States. Of course, it continually denies that it is involved in censorship and claims only that it is performing a service to moviegoers - particularly those with children. It provides guidance to parents about a movie's content that is supposed to help them choose which ones are suitable for exposure to their children. A rating caveat is assigned to every movie, from G for "General" audiences, "all ages admitted", to NC-17 for "no one 17 and under admitted".

Nowadays, movie producers tolerate such blatant censorship for liability reasons: if a parent tries to bring legal action against them because the content of a movie was unsuitable for a child, a producer can always use the MPAA rating caveat in his defense. The sheer paucity of films designed for adults cries out for a revamp of this necklace of skeletons that hangs around the industry's neck.

Over the years, as violence and sexuality have grown increasingly graphic in their representation in movies, the MPAA has reserved its hardest ratings, "R" and "NC-17" for movies that are - supposedly - off limits to under-17-year-olds. While the majority of movies manage to land a PG or a PG-13 rating, even when, in some cases, they are extremely violent, many adults - moviegoers and critics - have sought out movie material that is suitable for grown-ups, that don't cater to a juvenile audience or to a juvenile mentality or morality. Since most Hollywood products have the combined intelligence quotient of a flea, this has often been a lonely hunt for grown-up moviegoers.

Since the majority of the blockbuster movies in release are derived from comic books or their euphemistic equivalent, "graphic novels," movie producers have tried to tailor them to teenage audiences (even when so many comic book fans are old enough to have teenaged children of their own), and have to persuade the MPAA to refrain from applying a rating stronger than a PG-13. As anyone who watched the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado unfold on TV (I was able to do it from the opposite side of the earth), The Dark Knight Rises, which was having a midnight showing that night, was rated PG-13. It was so violent that, when James Holmes entered the theater - filled with children and teenagers - firing his weapons, most audience members believed it was a stunt staged for the special screening.

Since I am not a parent and I don't have to worry about finding anything but stupidity objectionable, the ratings are pointless to me. If they are going to persist, however, why not have one that cuts both ways, that serves families with children that need protection from sexuality and violence as well as adults who want protection from infantilism? I would like the MPAA to do me a small favor. If a movie is tailored to appeal to children, like the Harry Potters and Hobbits that stink up the multiplexes, they could put some teeth in the rating system by restricting the audience to people under 17. No adults should be admitted without the accompaniment of a child. If nothing else, such a rating system would remind some people that they're too old to bother with such childish things any more. And it might even give them an appetite for more "adult" fare at the movies. Wishful thinking, I know.

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