Editorial: “DTRS: Don’t Trust Rating Systems”

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    Not all movie ratings are created equal. “Brokeback Mountain” – a movie about two homosexual sheepherders – received an R rating in the U.S. because parents here are extremely concerned about sexual content in movies. But in Scandinavian countries – where there is more concern about violent movie content – the movie was considered suitable for children as young as 11.

    Thirty-eight years have passed since the inception of the Motion Picture Association of America’s voluntary rating system. It’s an ever-evolving system, but one thing will remain consistent: the system will never completely satisfy everyone’s preferences.

    According to the MPAA Web site, 10 to 13 volunteer parents sit on the rating board and rate movies. Throughout its history, critics call the MPAA rating system process opaque and secretive. The more vocal critics of this process say the board is stacked to favor big studios while holding down smaller independent film directors. Others say the MPAA system is deceptive because some members of the board are parents of adult-aged children, which tends to skew their verdicts on movie rating. As a result, movie ratings can sometimes be capricious and arbitrary.

    Dan Glickman, MPAA’s chairman and chief executive officer, understands critics’ concerns. He announced Monday at Sundance MPAA is working to promote more transparency and accountability on the rating board. This won’t fix all the system’s kinks. People have always disagreed about the appropriateness of any particular movie’s rating.

    Personal and societal values shape a person’s attitudes toward movies’ content. In 1997, many people were surprised to see explicit nudity in “Titanic” – a PG-13 movie. Recently, movie trailers for “Click” gave some BYU students the impression it was a wholesome family movie, but they were surprised to see Adam Sandler behaving like…well, Adam Sandler. It’s difficult to judge a movie by its rating alone.

    We are counseled to prudently select the media that reflects our values. But relying solely on the rating system isn’t enough. The Internet provides many Web sites like screenit.com or rottentmatoes.com that go into greater detail about particular movies’ content. In addition, any good movie critic worth his salt will provide some explanation of why a movie received its rating. We are better able to select media this way than simply going off a broad, arbitrary rating.

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