New MPAA ‘Check the Box’ Ratings

The American MPAA has announced a modest expansion of their ratings program, in order to provide more information about why a film has received a particular rating. This is a reaction to the NRA suggestion that violence in movies causes violent events such as the Sandy Hook school shootings, and more general desire for improvements in the ratings system.

Reaction has been mixed, with some critics pointing out the limited effectiveness of ratings, and The Atlantic claiming more information will make it easier for children to find inappropriate content. I don’t think the latter is a concern. Despite recent improvements to the MPAA ratings website, that organization still provides less information about the ratings and content than almost any other ratings agency. As for the suggestion that there is no relation between media violence and violent behaviour, there is ample evidence to the contrary. 

The relationship between media violence and violent behaviour exists, but it is complex and not well understood. Despite this, as I have pointed out before, contemporary censorship is based almost entirely on the simple explicitness of images, not the ideas behind them. The idea of killing a person to solve a problem is seen as less problematic than how explicit the killing is. In some jurisdictions, including Ontario, historical accuracy can result in violence getting a lower rating than it would otherwise receive. If we are truly concerned about the rating and moderating the effects of film violence, we need to look beyond issues such as “visible tissue damage” and consider instead “was this a good approach to problem solving?” We also need to acknowledge that children are not the only viewers affected by film violence. Meanwhile, more information doesn’t hurt.

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.

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