Rate the MPAA: Are Movie Ratings Useful? Accurate? Fair?

Remember the big brouhaha over the scary violence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? You may thank Steven Spielberg for the subsequent implementation of the PG-13 film rating—first applied to the here-come-the-Commies action flick Red Dawn, which was promptly assigned the dubiously impressive status of being the most violent film of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records.

So…how exactly does the most violent film of all time not earn an R rating?

The last major adjustment to the MPAA’s oft-discussed, oft-derided ratings system (no, rejiggering the layout of the ratings box this past year doesn’t count) was the addition of the NC-17, a replacement for the never-trademarked X. Intended to spare films with more serious, adult content the stigma of being “pornographic” and therefore marginalized from mainstream appreciation, the practical impact of the new rating has been to…

…assign movies with more serious, adult content the stigma of being pornographic, and therefore marginalize them from mainstream appreciation. Well, how ’bout that.

A long time ago, in What’s Taboo in the Movies Today?, I invoked the memorable Jack Nicholson quote: If you hack off a woman’s breast with an axe, it’s a PG; if you kiss it, it’s an R. This seems as true today as ever. Are these separate issues? Is it possible to “fix” the MPAA ratings system without an overhaul of our own values and priorities? Is it working just fine for you? Would you agree with Irv that it’s desirable (or even possible) to repopulate the MPAA board with more “objective” members? Who gets to be in charge of that? To what extent should politicians be involved, if at all?

 And if you’re still hungry to explore ratings-related writings, click on over to share your thoughts about seeing your first R-rated movie. And then see which X-rated film I’m actually recommending you watch.