Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The movie rating system (Dec. 27, 2007)

Current mood: awake

As a young child, I recall going to a half-dozen movies before there was such a thing as a rating system. Not that my parents would have taken their nine-year-old to see a movie that today might be rated "R", but in 1967 and early 1968 there was no real guideline that anyone paid attention to, just a vague warning like "suggested for mature audiences".

Along came the original four ratings -- "G", "M", "R" and "X" -- which meant roughly general (G) audiences, i.e., anyone could see it, mature audiences only (M), restricted (R) to adults and children with an adult along, and off-limits to children (X). The M rating got changed two or three times in the next few years, evolving into the PG and PG-13 ratings we use today [more detail here], with G films for a time being so squeaky "clean" that nobody went to see them.

What else happened along with the ratings was an evolution toward allowing violence but restricting sex. This affected television as well. Since I grew up in Buffalo NY, within range of several Canadian TV stations, I always found it interesting how differently the same movie was edited for broadcast in Canada vs. the U.S.A.

The main difference was in sex vs. violence. In the U.S., violence was left in but sexual scenes were cut, whereas in Canada, they were edited equally if at all. In fact, late at night, as late as 1976, it was possible to see movies on the Canadian channels showing full nudity and sexual intercourse, with no apparent editing whatsoever. Later in 1976 I went off to college, out of range of Canadian TV, and in a couple of years had essentially stopped watching TV altogether.

There have been hundreds of movies with implied sexual encounters (i.e., you know they're doing it but they don't show it), and thousands with PG and R ratings with all the preamble to sexual encounters. (Hint: What do you think kids learn from, anyway?) Yet all of them, it seems, show plenty of violence, and the same goes for TV shows.

Here's what I don't understand: Why is it OK to show people being killed onscreen, but not OK to show people being made onscreen?

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