Perspectives: Repercussions of movie ratings; systems, studies and skew

OPINION – Audiences everywhere are lining up with buttery popcorn in hand to view Hollywood’s best blockbusters of the summer. For many, the field of choice is narrowed by the ratings. By extension, the ratings relate to profits and must be a calculated consideration for film producers. Do we really think that the raters and the rating system are independent, consistent and immune to manipulation?

The surprising poser comes in the disparate ratios in (a) the number of films produced to (b) profit, in each of the rating categories. The family-friendlies (G, PG and PG-13) were shown to be significantly more profitable than the R-rated movies – yet the number of R-rated films produced was significantly greater than the others.

If R-rated films are declining in number, as one study shows, is the content that used to drive an R-rating really toned down as PG-13s increase or are the ratings being influenced to accommodate the same content at a more family friendly rating?

After seeing the recently released movie, “Rock of Ages,” I left the theater scratching my head in disbelief and wondering how this movie received a rating of PG-13. “Rock of Ages” was fraught with enough sexual innuendo and behavior to make Larry Flynt blush; I found it hard to believe this film was rated in the same category as the family-oriented film, “The Blind Side.”

What if you were at the grocery store and could not discern what was in the box based on its label, would you still buy the product? Good, accurate labels help us discern what is right for us so that we may purchase our desired product. Who is responsible for labeling or rating our films so that we may accurately assess whether or not they are appropriate to watch?

The Motion Picture Association of America established a Classification and Rating Administration and a Classification and Rating Appeals Board; these and the National Association of Theatre Owners, Inc. are part of a voluntary film rating system that seeks to provide information to parents to aid them in determining the suitability of individual motion pictures for viewing by their children.  The five movie ratings, G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17, are based on content including mature themes, language, depictions of violence, nudity, sensuality, depictions of sexual activity, adult activities (i.e. activities that adults, but not minors, may engage in legally), and drug use.

Critics say the system benefits the six largest movie corporations that back the MPAA. These members include Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios LLC and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.  Most large theater chains will not show movies that are unrated, so filmmakers need to obtain an MPAA rating for their films to be shown to the masses and increase their profit.

Are these six filmmaking corporations in control of the ratings system for their own movies and for all other filmmakers as well?  It seems they are, at least indirectly, and it seems a little biased.

In 1922, former Postmaster General William Hays created The Production Code or the Hays Code to forestall government interference in filmmaking and determine if films were appropriate or not. The Hays Code became the MPAA and a universal ratings system was devised in 1968; a so-called alternative to federal regulation of film content yet, ironically, it is still run by former members of our government. Among the past CEO’s of the MPAA are: former U.S. Chamber of Commerce President, Eric Johnston; former Special Assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Jack Valenti; and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman.

Former United States senator, Chris Dodd, is the current chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the MPAA. Dodd was recently accused of using his position at the MPAA to threaten lawmakers to pass the internet copyright bills, SOPA and CISPA.  SOPA and CISPA may safeguard copyright infringement, but they will do so at the expense of our freedom and flow of information on the internet. Dodd’s comments prompted consumer groups to sign a petition urging President Barack Obama’s administration to investigate Dodd “after he publicly admitted to bribing politicians to pass legislation.” The White House declined to investigate. Is it essential to the MPAA that only former government officials take the helm of this organization?

Even though the government does not enforce the ratings, the MPAA may use ties to politicians to its advantage. Billions of dollars are at stake. Not only should we question those that run the MPAA and their motives, but the ratings themselves.

The ratings system will not rate the morality or immorality of a film; only the content. A drug reference or harsh use of a vulgar word will label a film PG-13, regardless of the message or how the reference was used.

Brigham Young University conducted a study in 2010 and found that over half the movies produced are rated R, but found that if the filmmakers changed the content a little to satisfy the milder ratings in the rating system, they can increase their profit. PG-13 and PG-rated movies were the most profitable, according to BYU’s study.  The study also stated that profanity far outweighed sex, violence and adult themes in determining a film’s rating.  Reportedly, the movie Sneakers with Robert Redford was a great family film but the filmmaker intentionally added profanity to avoid the G rating – the BYU study concluded that only 3 percent of audiences view G-rated films.

In a more current study, The Dove Foundations’ 2012 Film Profitability Study, found that 38 percent of all productions included in its study were R-rated, the first time in all its studies since 1999 that R-rated films were outranked in number produced – this time by the PG-13 category.  The Dove study, like the BYU study, showed that R-rated films reaped significantly lower profits; specifically, R-rated films averaged only $12.7 million profit per film; PG-13 averaged $59.7 million; PG averaged $65.5 million; and G-rated films averaged $108.5 million profit. Overall the lowest two ratings, PG and G-rated films, represented the lowest number of produced films overall, yet they generated the highest profits. Since profits in main reflect audience, the Dove Study seems to differ from the BYU study conclusion on low audience for G-rated films.

According to the Dove study summary,  “Of the top 1000 movies by distribution between 2005 to 2009, Hollywood released 11 times more R-rated movies than G. And yet, the average G-rated film produced 81⁄2 times more profit than its R-rated counterpart.”

“The King’s Speech” was an excellent film of triumph over adversity; yet, because of the use of a vulgar word that stayed true to its storyline and accurate portrayal of King George VI, it was rated R. This film carried the same rating as very violent or sexually explicit films such as Eyes Wide Shut, which portrayed an explicit orgy scene.

Is the MPAA concerned with preserving the liberal messages of Hollywood?

While the ratings system does not rate immorality messages within a film, is there an agenda behind the ratings?  If PG or even G-rated movies make the most profit, why is Hollywood not clamoring to make them? As the boundaries become more and more unclear in the ratings system, are we titillated by shock value? Does our response determine how far filmmakers can go to interpret the ratings guidelines and push the limits? Or is there deeper motive involved?

Websites such as commonsensemedia.org and www.kidsinmind.com do a fantastic job of disclosing the content of films for parents benefit. The MPAA is incapable of assessing the individual reactions people have to specific content. The ratings system cannot and should not be trusted when choosing a movie; it is only a suggestion. Before we allow our children to only view G, PG or PG-13-rated films, and trust in those ratings across the board, it may be wise to investigate the type of film they are watching. If we rely solely on the ratings to judge a movie, we may miss gems like “The King’s Speech.”

We have the ability to lend our support to moviemakers who care about morals and ideals.  We vote through the box office, of course, but we can also make our requests known to the theatre owners directly – for example, to the Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres which recently cornered the Southern Utah theatre market in its acquisition of the theretofore Westates theatres (contact information for film screening input is included in the story linked).

The Westates Movie Festival is another great example of supporting accomplished, local talent each year. Venues like this can support and promote smaller filmmakers bringing their best efforts forward.   The movies we choose to support and pay for can and will have an impact on this industry; possibly influencing good changes to our ratings system.

St. George News Editor Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.

Kate Dalley is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are hers and not representative of St. George News.

Email: kated@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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1 Comment

  • Murat July 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Kate Dalley asks, “Or is there deeper motive involved?” If there is more profit in PG and PG-13 movies, and Hollywood is purely a profit-driven machine, then why don’t we see more movies with these ratings and much fewer of the R variety?

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