MPAA Ratings System
Back around 1968 I wrote my first essay about the new movie rating system. Now, so many
decades later the MPAA system is changed but still around. The MPAA (Motion Picture
Association of America) has provided a voluntary guideline system helping parents
determine which films are appropriate for their children.
The introduction of the PG-13 rating is largely due to Steven Spielberg. 1984 two of his films, Gemlins (which he produced) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom received a rating of PG. Parents where outraged at some of the scenes and complained. Spielberg went to Jack Valenti and stated the problem, the rating system grouped everyone from infant to late teens in one category, PG. Spielberg suggested a middle ground, the PG-13 rating. Not only did this resolve the problem but it ultimately became the rating of choice for many films. The PG rating tended to turn off teen audiences that felt the film would be too bland. Seizing the opportunity the studios now often strive for the PG-13 over the PG rating. In fact, most of the highest grossing films including Titanic and Spider-Man received this rating.
On July 1, 1984 the PG category was split into PG and PG-13.
The latter category was for more intense subject matter intended for older teens.
As it turns out while the new rating was created for Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins due to some very intense scenes
but there were two films that beat it to the punch and actually receive the
rating. Red Dawn was the first film released as a PG-13 while The Flamingo Kid
was the first to actually receive the new rating but sat on the shelf for five
months allowing Red Dawn to be released first. The first PG-13, Red Dawn,
was released on August 10th of 1984. There was a lot of talk
at the time that Gremlins and Temple of Doom should have received the more
restrictive R rating if not for the reputation of Steven Spielberg for family
films and his influence in the film industry.
Guidelines similar to those used for film have now been employed for rating television shows. Often, they are used in conjunction with the V-Chip or cable box lock out features to permit a parent to restrict which shows their children can watch on their own. The ratings are as follows:
TVY: "All Children."
This program is designed to be appropriate for all children. Whether animated or live-action, the themes and elements in this program are specifically designed for a very young audience, including children from ages 2 - 6. This program is not expected to frighten younger children.
TVY7: "Directed to Older Children"
This program is designed for children age 7 and above.It may be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality. Themes and elements in this program may include mild fantasy violence or comedic violence, or may frighten children under the age of 7. Therefore, parents may wish to consider the suitability of this program for their very young children. Note: For those programs where fantasy violence may be more intense or more combative than other programs in this category, such programs will be designated TV-Y7-FV.
TVG: "General Audiences"
Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages. Although this rating does not signify a program designed specifically for children, most parents may let younger children watch this program unattended. It contains little or no violence, no strong language and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
TVPG: "Parental Guidance Suggested"
This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children. Many parents may want to watch it with their younger children. The theme itself may call for parental guidance and/or the program contains one or more of the following: moderate violence (V), some sexual situations (S), infrequent coarse language (L), or some suggestive dialogue (D).
TV14: "Parents Strongly Cautioned"
This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program contains one or more of the following: intense violence (V), intense sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or intensely suggestive dialogue (D).
TVMA: "Mature Audiences Only"
This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This program contains one or more of the following: graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), or crude indecent language (L).
It used to be if a director wanted his film released he or she pretty much had to follow the recommendations of the MPAA. Now, with the advent of DVD for the distribution of films many directors are offering different versions of the film of disc. One notable example is director Todd Solondz with his film Storytelling. The MPAA objected to one particular scene that depicted a sexual act between a student and her teacher. In the theaters there was a red box digitally imposed over the couple. The DVD provides the unrated version of the film which previously had only been available in Europe. Such unrated versions are becoming increasingly popular with DVD releases. One caveat is that many major retail chains will not carry such unrated versions resulting in the studios creating separate rated and unrated discs.
One final note about unrated DVDs. This only means the version of the film has not been submitted to the MPAA for rating. Often an unrated DVD contains only a few minutes of extra material and often if it was submitted for a rating it would receive the same one as the theatrical release. Basically, this is a marketing ploy on the part of the studios. Unlike when a movie is released in a theater where NC-17 or unrated translates into a lack of distribution and advertising, with the DVD market people flock to purchase such a disk. Even though many brick and mortar stores will not carry an unrated disk the popularity of online retailers ensure the success of these releases.
In January 2007 the MPAA announced several changes to their rating and appeal system. Speaking from Park City Utah, Jack Velenti's successor, Dan Glickman denied the changes were promoted by the documentary 'This Film not yet Rated' by Kirby Dick, but many in the industry have noted the proposed changes were announced just before the DVD release of the documentary. In his film Dick focused on the secretive nature of the MPAA's process and indicted them for what he considered misleading statements to the public and numerous cases of having double standards in their ratings. Among the changes announced are:
Glickman used the United States constitution as an example stating that like that document the MPAA is fundamentally sound but may require some minor adjustments to keep up with the times. Dick has said that these changes are mostly cosmetic in nature and much of the secrecy will remain.