Saturday, February 26, 2005

'Ratings creep' concerns observers of Hollywood

PG-13 means "parental guidance suggested" but there is no attempt to keep kids out of the movie, even if no adult is buying the ticket. This article looks at the Oscar nominees to see if PG-13 fits most parents' idea of what is appropriate for middle-schoolers and younger kids.


'Ratings creep' concerns observers of Hollywood
MPAA system's looser standards of what kids should be allowed to see give parents new worry.



Clint Eastwood (from left), Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank appear in the gritty boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby." -- Photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures


By Martin F. Kohn
Knight Ridder Newspapers
February 26, 2005


In one, a man injects heroin frequently and cheats on his wife repeatedly.

In another, a man seriously considers killing somebody, and then does.

In the third, a mentally ill man locks himself in a room where he collects his own urine in jars.

If you're going to see any of these Academy Award-nominated films, why not bring along your favorite 13-year-old? The Motion Picture Association of America says it's OK.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn't, depending on how mature the teenager is. But the MPAA has given its PG-13 rating to "Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator," the three films described -- sketchily -- above. All three are in the hunt for Oscar's Best Picture award Sunday night.

They also are cited by some Hollywood observers and critics as examples of what is called ratings creep, the belief that over the years more questionable, affecting and offensive material has made its way into movies available to kids just reaching their teens.

Leah Rosenbaum, executive vice president of a nonprofit group in Southfield, Mich., and the mother of a 13-year-old girl, says she often has to negotiate with her daughter over what the girl will see. Rating or no, anything with excessive violence is out -- meaning, at the least, "Million Dollar Baby" is nonnegotiable. They haven't seen any of the movies.

Ratings alone don't provide enough information. "I read the reviews every Friday," Rosenbaum says. The other Best Picture nominees, "Sideways" and "Finding Neverland," are rated R and PG, respectively, so there's not much doubt about where they fit. PG warns parents that while it shouldn't shock most children, a movie may have some material unsuitable for kids; R means if you're under 17 you need a parent or guardian with you, The rationale is that the adult shows by participating that the teenager is ready for, say, the cursing, nudity and sex in "Sideways."

PG-13 is more vague. The MPAA says it means that "Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children."

Last summer, Harvard University released a study confirming what many filmgoers suspected, that movies today contain "significantly more violence, sex and profanity on average" than movies of the same rating 10 years ago. Many of today's PG-13 films might have earned an R in 1994, the study says.

Maybe the kids of today are better suited to the material, more mature. Maybe not, say critics.

"I wish there was a rating of PG-50, or PG-25," says Nell Minow, movie critic for the Web site Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org), which evaluates movies, TV, games, music, books and Internet offerings from a parental point of view. She's exaggerating, but until there is a more specific system, Common Sense Media uses its own. A heading with age recommendation and colors -- green indicates "good stuff," yellow "pause," red means "turn it off" -- accompanies each review.

"Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" all received yellow tags from Common Sense Media, indicating that parents should proceed with caution. "Ray" and "Million Dollar Baby" were suggested for ages 14 and older, "The Aviator" for ages 15 and up. "Son of the Mask," rated PG, received a red tag ("Strong language for a PG," says Common Sense Media) and an age suggestion of 9 and up.

"All of the ratings have ratcheted down," Minow says. "I think our culture has ratcheted down. My sense of things is that the PG-13 for movies is about comparable to what you see on television. If you look at an episode of 'CSI,' 'Desperate Housewives' or various reality shows, there's not that much difference."

Minow says she believes ratings creep reflects changes in society. "When the ratings got started, the idea that we would be talking about the DNA content of Monica Lewinsky's dress on TV would be unthinkable." Jim Judy, who operates the Web site Screen It (www.screenit.com), says teens are exposed to increasing amounts of sex and violence from movies, TV, video games, music videos and the Internet.

Judy's Web site reviews movies, videos and music, listing instances of potentially objectionable language, violence, frightening scenes, bad behavior, sexual situations, drug and alcohol use and disrespectful attitudes. About "Million Dollar Baby," Screen It cites racial epithets, derogatory comments about women and one F-word, three S-words, four slang terms for breasts, 22 "hells" and nine "damns."

Screen It also makes note of comments that take God's name in vain and remarks that demean gay people. Judy says the site is intended to help parents make viewing choices based on their beliefs and opinions.

With the only choice being between PG-13 and R, Judy says it makes sense that "Ray," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator" are rated PG-13. However, "There's no doubt that some of the various elements in those three films . . . will raise eyebrows for some parents."

Although many movie ads carry only the basic rating, some include the MPAA's longer version. "Ray" got its PG-13 for "drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements"; "Million Dollar Baby" for "violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language"; "The Aviator" for "thematic elements, sexual content, nudity and a crash sequence." The same information is available on the association's Web site, www.mpaa.org.

"I think all these films were rated correctly," says Jack Valenti, the former MPAA president who created the system and still supervises it. Parents should use ratings as a beginning, he says. "Read the reviews, look on the Internet, talk to neighbors."

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Pete Maughan said...

Nell,

Can you call me? I'd love to talk!

I represent Clearplay.com which I'm assuming you may have heard of?


-Pete
(801) 735-2775
petemaughan.com