Thinking about Movie (et al) Ratings

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Summary: In America, we have G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, and "un-". In other countries, they have very similar ratings, usually making a split around 7-8 and another around 12-14. Some have simpler. Some have more complex. The thing that gets me, though, is that all assume that a total rating is best: that all the various evils and vile behaviors of a movie can be best summed into one. I am wondering, partially, about splitting that up.

Monday, 26 April 2010

(18:33:28 CDT)

Thinking about Movie (et al) Ratings

Most national movie ratings, at least to the point that I can trust this Wikipedia entry, have one common flaw: they assume that age-based divisions can be evenly distributed across a entire set of sins. How this works out, in many cases, is they sum total substance abuse, sexual content, language, violence, and "adult themes" (which seems to range from metaphysical concepts to a simple rehashing of the sexual content moniker); and then come up with a suggested age, with the general notion that the greatest offense is presumably the appropriate ranking. To wit, if you have a little bit of R-rated sexuality then you have entirely R-rated movie. That works, I guess, as a theory but it overlooks two important things. First, it overlooks what might be considered appropriate degrees of a given subset. Second, it potentially (though not always) overlooks the appropriateness of context. A movie that shows hardcore drug abuse in a subverted quest-hero story might be rough for the kids, but the overall package might make it the kind of things you want teenagers to see and think about; before the one line-crossing crosses all of them.

What I have been thinking about is coming up with a way to break ratings down into types so that a given parent can decide piece by piece. Let's be honest, most of us don't give a flying crap if our kid sees soldiers taking slugs to the chest, but will be damned before the same kid sees a nipple. I have been mulling that sort of break down to make: sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll? I suppose: sex, substance, theme, violence, and language.

Then each of those sub-classes gets a five-stage rating: roughly equivalent to age appropriateness of All, 7-year olds, 11-year olds, 15-year olds, and adults only*. We'll call these A, 7, 11, 15, and R. This increases the information field, though, which potentially decreases the ratio of absorption (we have parents taking kids to see really violent R-rated movies, so that decrease might not really matter). One possibly solution is to, say, make substance abuse and violence rated by vowels (A - All, E - 7, I - 11, etc, maybe) and then have the others rated by a series of consonants, so that you generate a five letter words. Or, to generate a "total rating" by taking the single highest rating, and then have sub ratings displayed at the bottom so that we mostly see if the movie is rated 11 or rated Restricted but we can find out that it is rated 11 in theme, All in substance, and R in language.

One possibly addition could be the appending of a "p" to those movies' ratings that, for various reasons, are deemed to have a requirement of parental guidance. This might be any movie above a 15, or movies that are above, say, 11 in certain categories. Likewise, an "f" may be appended to those movies in which is forbidden for someone younger to see, for whatever reason.

Another advantage I see to this system is that it stops those really weird things we get where horror movies with gore get rated PG one year, and R the next; while movies that violate the sensibilities of the day (such as movies that show smoking, now) won't get a rating that fails to explain them as a whole.

I guess I should end this by saying that perhaps age rankings are not the best way to handle it. Instead, a series of increasing intensities might make sense. For instance, 0 could be substituted for All. 1 can be instead of 7. 4 could be for Restricted. In this way, the ratings could be a five digit number, where a movie with bad language and lots of violence but no substance use nor problematic themes might be 00043.

How about you, any rating systems that you could think up that might better serve what is actually going on in a movie?

Si Vales, Valeo

*: It is important to note that I picked these ages more or less arbitrarily. There should be at least some psychological considerations to be had, here. It might be that something like A, 11, 13, 16, R is a better set.


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