Tim Winter, who is apparently the president of the grandly named “Parents Television Council” recently wrote an article for Fox News.com. In his article, Mr Winter decries the failure of the movie rating system. I almost agree with him. Almost.
I agree that you can’t base viewing decisions on something as vague as PG-13 rating. This is particularly true if you don’t understand the ratings system. In the article, he complains that “The King’s Speech” received a worse rating than “Drag Me To Hell”. Here’s the reason. Most people understand that “Drag Me To Hell” isn’t based on reality. It’s also a morality play. Bad things happen to the bad person. Ratings boards LOVE morality plays. They will put up with a lot of questionable content if there is a clear and simple moral lesson. In this case, the message is: don’t willfully hurt others to get ahead. Not to spoil the movie, but the main character does just that and the rest of the movie revolves around their punishment.
“The King’s Speech” on the other hand is based firmly in reality. It is about King George the fifth learning to overcome his stutter so that he could address his people via radio during World War Two. Because it’s a real sorry about real people, there are no easy moral lessons. During the movie the King s speech therapist has him use profanity as part of an exercise. Being real people, specifically the King of England, there is a much greater likelihood of impressionable people emulating the language. The great irony of course arises because I doubt if anyone of an impressionable age was likely to watch that particular movie. Nonetheless, that’s the thinking behind the ratings on the two movies.
He also complains about ratings creep. This is the tendency of ratings standards to become more lax over time. This is a very real phenomenon and reflects the cultural evolution within our society. Profanity, sexuality, and violence have become more prominent in society and it’s unrealistic to expect our entertainment and the standards to which it’s held not to evolve with it.
Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to teach their children about how to judge what they’re going to watch. In my case, this meant watching movies either before or with my daughter. I watched a lot of things I didn’t really want to, but it’s the commitment I made to her. It was my way of protecting her from the worst of what was out there and giving her the tools to make her own decisions instead of relying on the ratings on the box.
I guess my message is this…. Don’t let some stranger decide what’s right for your kids. Do your parenting yourself.