While movies are mainly consumed form entertainment purposes, they can also inform, educate, and affect decisions that people make in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, while movies are made to reflect the reality in the society, they also influence how people view the same reality. The content displayed in films or movies is very instrumental in shaping how people view the society and everything around them. It is on this basis that it is considered necessary to regulate movie content to ensure that people can only access the appropriate content at any particular time. The movie rating system was established to protect certain audiences from being exposed to content that can affect their development. It was set up to make filmmakers accountable for their content as well as ensuring the public has access to the information that can help them make the right choices regarding what they need to watch at any particular time.
The movie rating system has evolved over the years since its inception in the early 20th century. While the focus of the rating system initially revolved around deter mining what filmmakers could release to the audiences, it evolved to give the audiences more power to determine what they need to watch. The rating system in place today targets giving parents and adults more information about the specific films to help them decide whether to watch the films or allow their children to view it. Thus, the rating system is considered a tool for recommending the most appropriate content for children and minors who cannot make the right choice on their own. Parents can view the recommendations and reviews by the Classification & Ratings Administration (CARA) and use the classifications of the film as a basis for determining whether the content of the film is appropriate for their children.
The rating system is informed by the need to maintain a certain moral code within film producers and the entire Hollywood industry. It is considered immoral to expose children or minors to content that may only be appropriate to adult audiences. This may be content such as sexual content, extreme violence, obscene language, and consumption of drugs among others. Such content can affect the mental growth and development of minors since they do not have the capacity to make decisions based on what they see in the films. Therefore, the rating system is seen as a necessary platform for enabling the society to play its moral role of protecting minors from immoral content that can harm their personal development and mental growth.
Where the System Came From
The origins of the movie rating system go back several years during the initial stages of the development of the movie industry in the US. The first film production studio in the US was set up in New Jersey by Thomas Edison, where he shot his movie The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, also known as Fred Ott's Sneeze, which was released in 1894. It is also in the same studio that William K.L. Dickson, an employee of Edison, produced his film Carmencita, which features a female Spanish dancer. The film was considered inappropriate for some audiences since kit showed the ladys legs and undergarments as she twirled. This is considered the first instance of censorship and monitoring content of films in the US.
The biggest move towards censorship and regulation of film content came in 1897 when Encoh Rector filmed and produced a movie of the fight between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in Nevada. This was considered the boxing match of the century and was watched live by thousands of spectators. However, at the time, prizefighting was an illegal sport in all other states in the country apart from Nevada. Nonetheless, showing prizefighting movies was not yet covered in law and was a grey area that Encoh Rector wanted to explore by showing his documentary of the fight to residents in other states. However, as a result of his exploits, seven states including New York, which as a huge market for the film industry, enacted laws imposing fines on all those who showed the film in their theaters. This became the first instance where regulations were enacted to monitor content of a movie and prohibiting the audience from watching content that was considered inappropriate.
In the early 1900s, Chicago had emerged as the biggest city for producing movies with more than 115 nickelodeons in the city. Consequently, the city also became the first in the US to censor and regulate movies. The city enacted censorship rules in 1907, which gave the chief of police significant powers on whether to issues or deny issuing permits for exhibiting movies or motion pictures in the city. He allowed the exhibition of the films based on his personal tastes and standards. The Supreme Court upheld the right of the city to regulate the film industry. The city also created separate pink permits to identify movies with adult content, which were inappropriate for children and minors.
New York City also implemented harsh measures in 1909 to monitor the film industry by closing down 550 movie theaters due to showcasing of immoral and reprehensible content, according to the city mayor. The Supreme Court decision of 1915 in Mutual v. Ohio Industrial Commission allowed for the film industry to be censored and monitored.
Therefore, since the film industry was getting a backlash form authorities in Washington and in other states, the film producers in Hollywood came together to form The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) in 1922, headed by William Hays. Hays helped develop the Motion Picture Production Code in 1930 as the first code for monitoring and classifying content of films produced by members of the MPPDA. The MPPDA became very influential after it started working with the Legacy of Decency, a religious organization created by the Catholic Church Bishops and supported by other Christian Churches. Hays Code was later replaced by a voluntary movie rating system developed by Jack Valenti who headed the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The ratings were given as
G (General Audiences),
M (for Mature Audiences),
R (Restricted- under 17 admitted if accompanied), and
X (not admitted if under 17).
This is the rating system that is currently in use albeit for a few changes and improvements that have been enacted over the years. For example, the "M" rating was later changed to "PG" (Parental Guidance) while the X rating was later replaced by an NC-17 rating for films where those under 17 were not to be admitted.
What Are The Major Complaints About The System?
Despite the rating system being considered an effective and necessary way for regulating and monitoring the content of films, certain issues, complaints, and concerns have arisen from different stakeholders in the industry. For example, the system has been accused of putting more emphasis on language and sex while ignoring extreme violence, which is equally bad for minors. Movies that contain violence are allowed for children while those with obscene language and sexual content are rated as adult content. Critics argue that violence is equally negative for children and prioritizing sexual content and language over violence does not make the rating effective. The rating system has also been accused of putting tougher standards for independent film producers while being lenient for major studios. There is also the question of transparency, where the organization is accused of not publicizing the rating standards.
Hollywood has defended itself against these criticisms by becoming more open and working with CARA to ensure the views of many stakeholders are taken into account in the rating system.
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