How Ratings Can Be Improved
As seen on the sites mentioned above, the information is out there. Everything a parent needs to make an informed decision is available … if you know where to look. But, even with smart phones that can pull up websites, the information isn’t as accessible as would be ideal.
When Harvey Weinstein announced that the movie Bully would forego an MPAA rating (before the minor edits led to the PG-13 rating) he said the movie would carry a Common Sense rating. The rating would be “Pause 13+,” denoted by a yellow 13. In Common Sense parlance, the 13 denotes that the movie is appropriate for kids 13 and older, but the yellow color tells parents that some material may not be right for some kids. This is great, but again it requires more information-finding by parents.
“Bully is an example that shows that the MPAA rating system is inadequate when it comes to looking at movie content through the lens of larger issues,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, one of the best ratings alternatives available. “Context is incredibly important when looking at entertainment products and stories. Common Sense Media ratings provide a deeper dive into the content to allow parent and educators to make much more fully informed decisions.”
What if you’ve arrived at the theater and the movie you want to see is sold out? How can you tell just from looking at a poster if the content is appropriate for your kids? One possible solution is featured below. Since the nutrition label is something most of us are familiar with, it’s not a huge leap in educating people how to read it. Additionally, a rating should operate similarly to food’s ingredients; it should tell you the elements that make up the movie. There could be a recommended age, indications of the amount of most common mature content, along with an “ingredient list” of items parents (and moviegoers) may want to be made aware of.
Creating a label like this would easily fit on a movie poster and the information for a label like this would be easy for raters to compile. It wouldn’t be a difficult change; the question is will we see it? Steyer is optimistic. “When we first started out [in 2003] we talked to the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) about it. At the time, we didn’t have the scale and the MPAA was violently opposed to it. But the world is changing and it may happen.”
Kirby Dick is less enthusiastic. “Even if there was another rating system, you can’t have it run by the people who make the films. It has to be an outside agency because these are corporations and their mission is to make as much money as possible. They are obligated to their shareholders to rate their films in such a way that they can make the most money possible.”
Does the plight of Bully represent a tipping point? Will we see real change from the MPAA? We live in a world where we routinely condense complex information into 140 characters or less. Why should it be any more difficult to provide parents with enough information to make an informed decision about the content of movies? In a innovative data-driven society, refusing to change could make the MPAA’s ratings as irrelevant as the Hays Code and the PCA. For parents, the message to the MPAA is simple: Give us the information; let us make our own decisions.
Note: The MPAA did not respond to requests for interviews for this piece.