May 10th, 2007

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03:25 am - on MPAA ratings...
beststephi and I were at a party the other day and I got into a discussion with people about MPAA ratings. What do they mean? Where do they come from?

I was surprised to find out how little people knew about the movie ratings. Most people seemed to think there were specific guidelines of how a movie recieved a certain rating, which I suppose is not that unreasonable an expectation, but is also completely false.

Much like the FCC's guidelines, which I also hate, the MPAA guidelines are entirely arbitrary and pretty much vary from one case to the next. They are based on a "reasonable person" principal, however the obvious problem is that what one person think is reasonable is completely different than what another person thinks.

I guess most people don't realize that a movie rating says the rational right under it. If you look next to the PG-13 or R or whatever, it will say why the film got the rating it did. My favorite of all time is Two Girls and a Guy which was "Rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexuality." I love that movie. I've seen it a dozen times at least. I must note that it has no nudity. It has no drug use. No one gets violently shot on screen. What it does have is a single scene where Heather Graham and Robert Downey Jr. have a quickee against the wall in his darkly lit bedroom. No naughty bits are exposed. It all just pantomimed thrusting, kissing and licking. They're not even in their underwear at the time. It's an unzip the pants and hike up the skirt moment In all seriousness, I have seen much more graphic sex on daytime soap operas. What it does have, that the soaps don't, is fuck noises. Not gentle loving moans and gasps. No, it angry grunts and dirty talk. You know... kinda like real sex. In fact, I'd argue it may be one of the most realistic sex scenes ever filmed. Or maybe I should say not filmed, because you never actually see much of anything. But it was given an NC-17 because Graham and Downey know how to act. Or at least, they know what good fucking sounds like.

I've found that a lot of ratings systems follow arbitrary systems like this. Flickr recently implemented a self rating system for photos that are uploaded. We are instructed to mark our photos as "Safe," "Moderate," or "Restricted." However, there's no real guidelines of what constitutes what, other than to state that Safe is safe, Restricted is stuff "you wouldn't want your mom to see." and moderate is for stuff inbetween. But what do you do if your mom is cool. My mom is very cool, and in fact reads my blog and looks at all of my pictures on flickr, and I'm pretty sure she's seen naked people before then in any case. So does that mean I can just mark everything Safe?

What about the picture I included on this post. Is it ok? Is it worksafe? Obviously its sexual. But it specifically and intentionally doesn't show any naughty bits at all. In fact, when I took this shot, I took care to not make it at all obvious where hands were or what was going on. I think the imagination takes it a lot farther. So what should the rating be on it? What about in the MPAA system? Do you think its worksafe yourself? How do you arrive at that conclusion?

Last week, Steph and I watched a great documentary called This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It explores the MPAA and filmratings, albeit from a biased, very pro-filmmaker, anti-MPAA point-of-view, but its quite good. But it poses an interesting question. How useful are the ratings anyway. If they're more or less arbitrary, and no one understands what they mean, then are they actually useful to anyone? Does anyone reading this actually pay attention to film-ratings? Do you use them to decide what to view for yourself? What about for your children? Do you read the little blurbs about why a film is rated how it is?

I'm sure I had other thoughts on this as well, but I'm actually starting to get tired, so i'm going to sleep. But I'd love to know people's feelings on this.

(43 comments | Leave a comment)

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[User Picture]From: marsinthestars Date: May 10th, 2007 - 08:41 am (Link)
Sometimes I can't tell if you really don't understand why people would object to certain things, or if you're just trying to push buttons.

While I do understand your frustration at the arbitrary ratings, I do think there's a reason a film with sex - particularly sex portrayed as sex ("good acting" as you called it) rather than as artistic and "making love" is given a higher rating.

"restricted" is nudity, violence, obviously sexual - the expressions on the faces and the positions of the bodies in your picture made me glance at it and immediately scroll down so no one would walk into this room and be embarrassed. If I have that reaction, and I'm pretty liberal when it comes to nudity and sexuality, that says pretty clearly "restricted." "Moderate" to me says less graphic but not totally clean. Doing shots, maybe. That one's tricky because I don't know if these tags are to protect you from your boss stumbling on your photos, or protect a kid from your photos. Assuming it's the latter, then moderate is not safe for under 11 where restricted is not safe for under 14, perhaps.

Safe is puppies, kittens, not swearing, all shirts on, only alcohol is wine and only in wine glasses.
[User Picture]From: jameel Date: May 10th, 2007 - 02:25 pm (Link)
Want to know something funny? My flickr account is rated safe.
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:36 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:45 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:59 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:02 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:11 pm (Link)
From: jameel Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:14 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:23 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:35 pm (Link)
well, to be fair, yes I am pushing buttons. And yes I do understand that some people have different things that they object to than I might, but that's exactly my point.

To start with your definitions of the Flickr terms, your assumption seems very conservative. A fine way for you to feel, but won't accurately match up with the fickr community at large. It's not defined whether the terms are to protect workplaces or kids. You'd rate that picture Restricted but, its rated Safe. On Flickr that is probably correct. A picture with blatant female toplessness, then that would make moderate. A blatant penis would make restricted. If safe were relegated to puppies, kittins, etc, Flickr would be a VERY different place than it currently is.

Of course many people would make the assumptions that you made and be offended by my pic, or perhaps even ones even more tame. That's the flaw in the system. I find it really interesting that you refer to wine in your descriptions. That's a value judgement of your own that I don't think most people consider at all.

MPAA ratings are worse because they are auspiciously from the same source, but in practice are very inconsistent. The MPAA kind of rates things based on how they "feel" or how they think people feel. A kiss can occur in a G rated movie, a homosexual kiss can not. Sex is treated VERY inconsistently. Homosexual sex is entirely demonized, and in fact, sex between hetero couples who aren't white is judged more harshly than that of caucassian couples. It leads to a very confusing world where Two Girls and a Guy (which seriously, is a lot tamer visually than anything you might see on daytime TV or Gray's Anatomy) is judged NC-17, while the movie Wild Things with MUCH more explicit sex (inlcuding a drunken threeway), nudity, and violence got an R. Another favorite of mine 100 Girls is a movie about sex. It's light on the nudity, but has some, and has sex scenes. It scored a PG-13. As did all 5 American Pie movies, despite nudity, sex, and masturbation with pastries, underaged drinking, ingestation of bodily fluids and drug use while But I'm a Cheerleader was given an NC-17 because of a girl masturbating OVER her clothes. (That scene was later re-editted and that allowed the film to get an R, but the movie is still much tamer than any of the American Pie movies... you know, except for the fact that all the characters are *gasp* GAY)

The TV ratings system is a little better, since they have more published guidelines of how something becomes TV-Y, TV-14 or TV-MA, and there are more ratings to choose from, but its still not great. I'm much more fond of the Content Advisory System that the cable movie networks adopted in 1994. It doesn't have a simple rating since those don't make sense. Instead there's a full list of terms, and any movie is identified with which things it contains:
  • V (Violence): for programs containing intense violence
  • MV (Mild Violence): for programs containing mild dramatic or comedic violence
  • AC (Adult Content): for programs containing highly suggestive dialogue
  • AL (Adult Language): for programs containing coarse language
  • GL (Graphic Language): for programs containing intense foul language
  • BN (Brief Nudity): for programs containing scenes of nudity usually lasting two minutes or less
  • N (Nudity): for programs containing scenes of full-frontal nudity shown for long durations
  • SSC (Strong Sexual Content): for programs that contain a few or several scenes featuring sometimes graphic sexual acts
  • RP (Rape): for programs that contain intense depiction of rape

So a movie like American Pie will be listed as "AL, N, AC." Whereas Two Girls and a Guy would be "SSC" (it doesn't even really have foul language in it) and But I'm a Cheerleader would get an "AL, AC" The drawback to this being of course that you have read more than one or two letters. Sometimes as many as 10 letters! Instead, the films are simply given an R, and parents are meant to blindy trust that, even though most don't realize how incredibly inconsistent it really is.
From: beststephi Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:27 pm (Link)
From: beststephi Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:29 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:34 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:32 pm (Link)
From: marsinthestars Date: May 14th, 2007 - 12:19 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 14th, 2007 - 01:43 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: akiramich Date: May 10th, 2007 - 03:12 pm (Link)
In my younger days, when I still attended the Catholic Church, I would always check the Pittsburgh Catholic to see which films were rated Morally Offensive, and make a point to see those...
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:40 pm (Link)
See, I actually have no problem with the Catholic Church doing that at all. And I think its a fine thing that they do. If you subscribe to all of the Catholic Dogma and morality, then having them give you a guideline is a fine thing. They're more or less consistent with their own stated values. Passion of the Christ, good... Last Temptation of Christ bad. But, the Catholic Church isn't looked at as a legal body governing content objectively by the general populace. It's looked at as a moral body judging content subjectively. To that end, I'd put reading that list up on the same pedestal as checking Ebert or Mr. Cranky.
From: akiramich Date: May 10th, 2007 - 04:51 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:10 pm (Link)
From: akiramich Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:26 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 10th, 2007 - 05:36 pm (Link)
From: akiramich Date: May 10th, 2007 - 06:47 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 01:57 am (Link)
From: akiramich Date: May 11th, 2007 - 12:57 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 01:31 pm (Link)
From: akiramich Date: May 11th, 2007 - 01:55 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 03:52 pm (Link)
From: ludimagist Date: May 12th, 2007 - 05:04 am (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 14th, 2007 - 05:28 am (Link)
[User Picture]From: arilinn Date: May 10th, 2007 - 06:26 pm (Link)
very nice picture. Rawr! It should be rated mandatory viewing :)
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 01:57 am (Link)
Thank you. :-)
[User Picture]From: random_vamp Date: May 10th, 2007 - 06:49 pm (Link)
I've been intending to watch "This Film is Not Yet Rated" for a while now, but it has yet to appear on Blockbuster online, which amuses me at the same time it annoys me.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 02:39 am (Link)
it isn't and it won't be. Funny thing about Blockbuster is that they are basically slaves to the MPAA. They won't carry NC-17 rated films. Initially the film was turned over to the MPAA and the MPAA rated it NC-17 "for some graphic sexual content." (there are clips of other movies when they are discussing why movies get rated NC-17). Of course, its probably more likely that they gave it an NC-17 out of spite because a large part of the documentary is not only saying how stupid the MPAA is, but stalking its members. He appealed the rating and lost, was told it could be reedited and rerated, so instead he editted in footage about being given the NC-17 rating and losing the appeal, surrendered his rating and released it unrated. As such, it doesn't fit Blockbuster's corporate standards and practices and will never be offered there. I've heard that it is available in some random Blockbuster stores that don't care as much as corporate does, but the website is run by corporate, so it won't be there.
[User Picture]From: ouchfest Date: May 10th, 2007 - 11:50 pm (Link)
My favorite movie sex scene is in Enemy at the Gates (WWII Russian sniper versus German sniper). It was full of gritty realism to the point of hilarity. Rated R, no naughty bits that I remember, but there was also lots of violence.
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 02:47 am (Link)
never saw it.
From: ludimagist Date: May 16th, 2007 - 04:48 am (Link)
[User Picture]From: dgr Date: May 14th, 2007 - 07:41 pm (Link)
I totally agree about Enemy at the Gates. I told someone that at a party once, and you would not believe the awkward silence that ensued. You could just see the "OMG, this guy is a psycho" crawling around in peoples' heads. No naughty bits, very little skin. Very little noise. Mostly facial expressions and subtle movements. A clothed sex scene performed well is much more evocative than a silicone starlet sprayed with water and shot under glowing light. Though it doesn't really contribute to this discussion, because I'm fairly sure the R rating came from people getting shot in the head.

In the case of Two Girls and a Guy, the sex scene was clothed, but it was still erotic in a way that many sex scenes featuring nudity are not. In that sense, a more restrictive rating was justified. (Though I agree that this case shouldn't cross the boundary into an NC-17 rating.) I don't think the MPAA should base ratings based on formula; the difference between seeing someone unclothed and seeing them in a micro-bikini is not relevant, except inasmuch as culture has already been conditioned to see them as vastly different.

My only complaint about the MPAA rating system is how corruptible it is. I think a jury of randomly selected peers (as many as is practical, perhaps 500?) would be better than a fixed jury. The only criterion which should affect the rating is, "How suitable is this movie for children?"

There will be less consistency in how things are rated, but I believe that is actually a good thing. It decreases the chance that a particular bias will influence the rating.
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2007 - 03:34 pm (Link)
[User Picture]From: mamarayne Date: May 11th, 2007 - 02:23 pm (Link)

Saving us from Cigarettes too!

Evidently, the MPAA was already concerned about and took into consideration underage smoking in movies, but now apparently they're going to issue ratings based upon adult smoking too. Wow, I'm so glad these people I don't know, didn't approve and couldn't care less about are making all these decisions for me, my children and my grandchildren!
[User Picture]From: chrismaverick Date: May 11th, 2007 - 03:53 pm (Link)

Re: Saving us from Cigarettes too!

well, that's one of the things I don't like about them. I was hoping more parents would comment. I wonder how many people simply trust the MPAA ratings as to what's appropriate for their children.
From: wooble Date: May 14th, 2007 - 05:47 pm (Link)
From: chrismaverick Date: May 15th, 2007 - 03:39 pm (Link)

Re: Saving us from Cigarettes too!


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