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Protecting Our Children

The Movie Ratings Creep is Real

By JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton

We have a problem. What parents think the moving ratings mean and how the industry determines ratings are often two different things. Parents might think when they hear that some material in a PG-13 movie may be “inappropriate for children under 13” that it is only slightly edgier than a PG. Not likely. A PG-13 leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language or other contents. It is only a slight difference from an R.

Researcher Kimberly Thompson participated in a study by a division of the Harvard School of Public Health in which thousands of films released between 1992 and 2003 were scrutinized. Thompson reported a change in content across all ratings categories.

“Ratings creep has occurred over the last decade,” Thompson reported. “Today's movies contain significantly more violence, sex and profanity on average than movies of the same rating a decade ago.”

The PG-13 rating is the rating category suffering the most significant decline, according to Bob Smithouser, of Focus on the Family's Plugged In Magazine.

“Where once it was understood that more than one use of the f-word, or its use in a sexual context, automatically branded a film R, it is not so anymore,” Smithouser said.

Washington Post writer Liza Munda compares the Rating Board to the Supreme Court, noting, “The PG-13 rating is built entirely on precedent.” She goes on to say that the board feels its way along, trying to figure out what the American public will find acceptable. The directors study each new film to see what it's possible to get away with.”

Why is there an emphasis on PG-13 movies? As a marketing tool, it guarantees a broader appeal and higher profits. R-rated films often return to the edit bay for slight trimmings so they can be classified PG-13. And does the movie industry have a conscience? Responding to the Federal Trade Commission's crackdown on marketing R-rated films to children, the movie industry wants to attract 12-16-year-olds to films rated PG-13.

Economic pressure is forcing Hollywood to make fewer R-rated movies and more fare that can attract audiences of all ages, says World Magazine's Gene Edward Veith. He says that “filmmakers are manipulating the rating system to keep the raunch factor high. . . . The ratings board is clearly under the control of the studios it is supposed to regulate, changing its standards to maximize the studio's profits.”

Smithouser said, “Consequently, edgy PG-13s are slipping by like an underage bar-hopper with a fake ID. Quality films that might've scored big with families are sacrificing wholesomeness for credibility in the eyes of 14-year-old boys. A gratuitous word. A flash of nudity. A few lurid innuendoes. Brief drug use. Too often these days, good stories are being pushed beyond the reach of discerning families.”

Directors believe that PG is a turn-off to adolescents.

It is sad when parents trust the movie ratings rather than gathering content information about the movies they allow their children to see. The Screenit website is an excellent aid for parents because it addresses specific movies and their respective ratings.

As Smithouser concludes, “Sure, the PG-13 may be a boon at the box office, but it has become a bane to families, doing more to seduce children than inform discerning adults.”

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