Since 1968, the movie ratings system of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has ostensibly guided parents and guardians in determining which films contain mature content that would be considered unsuitable for young people.
Adopted in 1984 by the MPAA, the PG-13 designation sought to set apart films that included material that “may be inappropriate for children under 13.” However, over the intervening years numerous academic media analyses have suggested that movie scenes containing violence, sexual imagery, and profanity have increased in PG-13 films as well as in G and PG-rated ones. The phenomenon is commonly referred to as “ratings creep.”
Most parents and guardians of young moviegoers are likely to find the results of a new study unsettling. The research indicates that such a high degree of R-rated violence has seeped into PG-13 movies that today’s PG-13 films are actually more violent than those releases carrying the R-rating.
The original “Terminator” and “Die Hard” films, which were initially released in the 1980s, had R-rating designations, but their most recent corresponding sequels are rated PG-13; this despite the fact that the sequels include levels of violence that exceed that contained in the original movies, which spawned the franchises.
Brad Bushman of Ohio State University and Daniel Romer of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center studied 945 top-grossing films from the 1950 to 2012 time period. The subject movies were found to contain 17,695 violent scenes.
According to the study, over the last three decades movie scenes that feature gun violence had tripled in PG-13 movies. The researchers additionally found that by 2009 the level of gun violence in PG-13 movies was statistically the same as films that were rated R, and by 2012 PG-13 films surpassed R-rated fare in scenes containing gun violence.
“The MPAA website clearly says that R-rated films contain more violence. But PG-13 films now contain significantly more violence than R-rated films.” Bushman told the Los Angeles Times.
The findings of the media content study also discussed an effect occurring in young people who have been exposed to cinematic depictions of gun violence.
“The presence of guns in films also provides youth with scripts on how to use guns,” the report indicated.
Researchers noted that “children no longer need to go to movie theaters to see films” because of the availability of new technological delivery systems. They additionally pointed out that since PG-13 films are easily accessible via cable transmission or the Internet “children much younger than 13 years can easily view films that contain ample gun violence.”
The study indicated that 94 percent of films at or near the top of the box office since 1985 had one or more sequences containing violence.
It stands to reason that Hollywood studios cannot afford to have big-budget films, such as those released during the summer or holiday seasons, to have R-ratings attached to them, as this would clearly be bad for business. This helps to explain the increase in violence evidenced in movies now designated PG-13.
R-rated films are rarely as successful at the box office as PG-13 films. This past year three of the releases that garnered the highest amount of revenue have carried the PG-13 rating: “Iron Man 3,” “Fast & Furious 6,” and “Man of Steel.”
Based on his research, Bushman has recommended a ratings system resembling the European model, which employs the services of child development experts to determine how movies will be designated.
The problem with the current system is the inherent conflict of interest that exists on the part of the group that overseas the movie rating process. The MPAA is a trade organization that is financially supported and under the control of the film industry.
The above-described study lends credence to the proposition that, with its current ratings system, the MPAA may have as a higher priority the marketing objectives of movie studios as opposed to the best interests of the parents, guardians, and young children who are being negatively impacted.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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