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MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America)

The body that provides film ratings in the US.

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Twister: "PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather"

  • May 13, 2009
  • by
Rating:
-5
One of the greatest - and most subversive - effects of the Interweb has been the total collapse of censorship. Centuries of unelected secretive bodies deciding what we should and shouldn't see, think or do have been comprehensively sidelined by the web, where control is handed back to the viewer. 

In a world where teenagers are 'sexting' each other with lewd images on their cell phones (and bizarrely enough being charged with sex crimes designed to protect minors), and every connected computer is one browse away from streaming porn and pictures of fatal accidents, the concept of rating movie content in any official manner seems quaint and ridiculous.

Still the charade continues, where Pixar's Up receives a PG rating rather than a U, while The Passion of the Christ gets an R. Titanic gets a PG-13 with a sex scene and topless shot, but Boys Don't Cry gets an NC-17 because Chloe Sevigny has a orgasm (women aren't allowed to have orgasms in the MPAA because it's kind of dirty). The Dark Knight, by contrast received a PG-13 despite extreme violence, though Lost in Translation gets a R for one brief nudity shot. I'm actually shocked that Milk got through the rating system at all with its depiction of, ahem,gay people but I suspect that the political pressure was a factor there.

The arbitrary nature of these ratings reflects a moral code we're all supposed to live by, and the system is endlessly gamed by directors who know that PG-13 and R is where the money is, and NC-17 is death to a movie. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button contained one F-bomb in order to get pushed to a R, and it's pretty routine to cut scenes or add coverage to manipulate the rating.

Proponents of this system say that parents need advice on what's suitable for their kids, as if they live in some sort of Kafka-esque vacuum where the movie names and artwork don't communicate this. Without the MPAA, they say, people may inadvertently show their five year old Quarantine or Schindler's List when they meant to replay The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, a few years ago, the theater of the absurd took a new dramatic twist with the addition of descriptive ratings. 

This Top 10 list was compiled by the All Movie Guide but represents some of the best advice from the MPAA:

10. Mother's Boys (1994)
"Rated R for language and for a mother's sociopathic behavior"

9. Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
"PG for mild language and brief video images of violence and sexy dancing"

8. All I Wanna Do (1998)
"PG-13 for teen sex-related material, language, and substance misuse"

7. The Hunted (1997)
"R for strong bloody ninja violence and a humorous drug related scene"

6. War of the Buttons (1994)
"PG for mischievous conflict, some mild language, and bare bottoms"

5. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
"PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime, and gore"

4. Skateboard Kid II (1995)
"PG for brief mild language and an adolescent punch in the nose"

3. Bushwhacked (1997)
"PG for language and a mild birds and bees discussion"

2. Twister (1996)
"PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather"

1. Jefferson in Paris (1995)
"PG-13 for mature theme, some images of violence, and a bawdy puppet show"

I know people will disagree, but if the appearance of Janet Jackson's nipple is really a concern when sites like YouPorn are only a click away, I wish you well.

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January 13, 2010
I did a write up of the MPAA as well which does quite a bit to expand on yours (and make the same points).  I like the idea of the ratings serving as Guidelines... sure, but the MPAA became more of a profit thing.  They used loopholes.  There's a lot of violence in The Dark Knight, but since there's really no blood they said a PG-13 rating was okay... that and an "R" Rating would mean less audience attendence which would've equated to less money for the industry.  But it always strikes me as odd.  Your example of Lost in Translation is a great one because when I saw it my first thought was that I didn't understand the "R" Rating at all.  I also never understood why a movie which depicts sex would be considered far worse.  The Dreamers is rated NC-17 because it has a shot of a penis while Sin City gets to maintain it's R -Rating despite some really extreme violence.  And most advertisers won't advertise for NC-17 films and most theaters won't carry them.  That's often why it's a bad thing to get the rating.

Have you, by chance, seen "This Film is Not Yet Rated?"  It's a really good documentary that shows everything that's wrong with the MPAA.
January 13, 2010
Absolutely - it's all about the $$! Actually, it makes it possible to understand the motivation behind almost everything when you take the monetary perspective. It's one of the interesting side effects of the Internet that censorship has become irrelevant, unenforceable and uninvited. When I think of the some of things I really wish I had never seen from coworkers 'sharing' rotten.com, it seems really quaint that the MPAA has committee meetings about someone smoking a cigarette in a film (Avatar) while some kid has mashed up an online decapitation to techno music. On NC-17, the #1 opener of all time was Showgirls - and it only got a lifetime domestic gross of ~$21m. So yeah, you're absolutely right that NC-17 is the kiss of death to a picture! I haven't seen This Film is not Yet Rated - but thanks for reminding me to add it to the Netflix queue.
 
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More MPAA (Motion Picture Associati... reviews
review by . November 12, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
In hindsight the MPAA rating system seemed like a great idea.  In some ways it still is.  Giving movies a ratings is good for parents in terms of making sure some of them know the content that's in a movie before letting a child see it.  That's what's nice about the MPAA rating system.  And it would be nicer if it actually worked.        The MPAA ratings board mostly consists of people who will watch movies and take notes on the content that's …
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
In hindsight the MPAA rating system seemed like a great idea. In some ways it still is. Giving movies a ratings is good for parents in terms of making sure some of them know the content that's in a movie before letting a child see it. That's what's nice about the MPAA rating system. And it would be nicer if it actually worked.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The ratings system put out by the MPAA seems to be overtly prudish when it comes to sex and not strict enough when it comes to violence.
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James Beswick ()
Ranked #13
Lunch.com's "token Brit".
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