For as long as the entertainment industry has existed, it has been under severe scrutiny when it comes to the societal impacts of media. Books, photos, films, comics and video games have all been put in the hot seat when it comes to the depiction of violence, sex, language and other questionable content.
It’s a debate that will continue to rage for years to come, but there comes a time when you realize that many of the activists and advocates that rail against violent content only comprise a small minority of the population.
It was recently discussed at a panel at the South by Southwest Film Festival whether or not the Motion Picture Association of America, the organization in charge of the film ratings system, was softer on violence than it was on other questionable content regarding sex, language and drug use. According to Joan Graves, chairman of the MPAA Classification and Ratings administration, a lot of it has to do with how the content is depicted, the demographics of certain regions in the US and ultimately, what parents are the most concerned with.
Ratings are generated by screening the film to a group of parents. After viewing the film, they discuss what they saw and then give the rating, ranging from G for general audiences to NC-17 for adults over the age of 17. It’s a different independent group of parents from across the U.S. with each film being reviewed in an attempt to keep the ratings fair.
In addition to gathering parents to rate the films, they also hold focus groups to gauge what parents are the most worried about at the time. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, certain films would have been rated PG-13 even if they were violent action flicks. However, opinions tend to change when certain events occur, such as school shootings like the ones at Columbine
and Virginia Tech. Suddenly, those films shoot up to an R rating.
So why has the MPAA been seemingly lax on violence? The prevailing theory is that parents are aware that their children will eventually have sex and may eventually use foul language imitating films they’ve seen. They aren’t as concerned about violence because they don’t feel that their children are going to be violent as a result of watching those films.
This leads you to wonder, despite the rallies and protests in the past, whether or not we as a society have either become soft on violent content, or are merely placing more faith in our children. Have we learned to see past the shouting, propaganda and manipulated statistics to realize that it’s ultimately the responsibility of the parents and not the government when it comes to what children view in the media?
I think that most people have trusted in these parental responsibilities the whole time, particularly after having kids of their own. Most people aren’t as dumb or as irresponsible as the activists would have you believe.
In the end, the only thing that organizations like the MPAA can do to “protect today’s youth” is to simply do what they’ve always done: assign the ratings and let the free market decide what is viewed and what isn’t, because they are there to serve the parents who take responsibility for what their children view.