The Motion Picture Association of America has long been the bane of many a filmmaker (and young kids who want to see gory movies). Ostensively, the MPAA exists to protect young, impressionable, wide-eyed children from the corrupting influence of adult themes in movies. Most frequently these adult themes involve sex, drugs, language, and bloody violence.
The inclusion of the adjective 'bloody' isn't just a semantic choice - it is actually a fundamental element in deciding whether a movie gets an R, or the much sought after PG-13.
What Decides a Rating for Violence?
So, what is the major difference between R-rated violence and PG-13 rated violence? Well, violence which is seen as overly gratuitous or which is dwelled upon - such as torture or other kinds of sadism - will generally earn an understandably R rating. However, generic violence which also shows a large (some might say realistic) amount of blood can also end up with an R rating, even if it's a simple action movie shootout.
Having said that, the exact same scene without blood could earn a PG-13. This leads us to the overarching hypocrisy of MPAA's ratings for violence. Cracked.com recently used Live Free and Die Hard to illustrate this point. During one of the film's many shootouts, an anonymous gun-totting agent is gunned down in the middle of the street. In the unrated version, there is a blast of red mist where he is hit. In the P-13 version, he simply collapses to the floor like he's slipped on a banana peel.
But of course, the act of violence in these two versions is exactly the same. Presumably in both versions, a high calibre projectile has been blasted into this human's shoulder at 940 m/s, piecing this skin, shattering this collar bone, causing significant pain and ultimately leaving him incapacitated as he gurgles away his last breath alone and isolated in the world. The only difference in the R-rated version is that it actually shows the physical consequence. Cracked.com goes even further, explaining:
In both cases that dude is dead, and his mother is going to cry at his funeral, and no one's going to feed his puppy for, like, three days until the incessant yapping makes his neighbor kick the door down.
If this is true, the MPAA is not really protecting children from the witnessing or glorification of violence, but merely protecting them from seeing the natural consequences of that violence. In this case, it is a revulsion to blood - not a revulsion to violence - which is dictating the rating.
Are PG-13s Actually More Violent Than Rs?
Indeed, recent studies have revealed PG-13 movies actually contain more gun violence than R-rated movies. Furthermore, the overall amount of gun violence in PG-13 rated films has more than tripled since 1985 - especially with the explosion of the modern action/superhero family movie. Dan Romer, the director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, conducted a study into PG-13 violence. He stated:
It's disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence. We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive.
This is a major issue for several reasons. Firstly, with all-too-frequent tragic massacres conducted by young people, the interplay and relationship between youngsters and firearms is now a potent issue. Secondly, studios are now also eager to court the PG-13 rating in a hope of widening their audience and generating more money.
Of course, R-rated movies still contain a high level of violence, but the key difference is, as mentioned above, that they can (and often do) show the grisly consequence of blasting someone with a firearm.
Now, I'm not saying every R-rated movie is ideal for kids, or that every R-rated movie is a lesson in the morality of violence. Sam Peckinpah's classics, such as The Wild Bunch, are much more a celebration of gun violence than an indictment against its random use. However, by contextualizing violence and by showing its results, more mature conclusions regarding its use can be inferred - and these are conclusions that shouldn't necessarily be hidden from youngsters. PG-13 movies generally just show gun violence as a spectacle, or even worse, glorify it by showing it as a means to and end carried out by our hero. This led cracked to conclude:
We can show the gun get fired, but not the organs ripped apart -- even though gun-firing is the fun part, and the ripped organs are the reasons you should be careful. We're showing them the fun part without the consequences.
A Comparison: Saving Private Ryan vs. Taken 2
Let's take, for example, two violent videos from two different movies: Saving Private Ryan and Taken 2.
Saving Private Ryan was rated R for "intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language," while Taken 2 was rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality." The difference appears to be the realistic nature of the violence, as opposed to its 'intensity.'
The former was famous for its harrowing depiction of war and showing it for what it really is - a dirty, bloody affair in which little glory can be found. The violence, no matter how bloody it is, is therefore contextualized, while its terrible results are also seen. The opening beach scene was particularly affective in this sense:
Taken 2, however, arguably features the same violence - albeit on a smaller, more intimate personal scale. The difference in Taken 2 is that the consequences of this violence are rarely shown, while the deaths can be just as grisly, but importantly, not as bloody. Check out this kill-count video below:
The important question is, which of these two videos is most likely to negatively impact young viewers?
Personally, it's hard for me to clearly separate the two, although MPAA certainly thinks Saving Private Ryan should not be viewed by youngsters, while Taken 2 is fine. In reality, Neeson can kill as many goons as he likes, just as long as we don't actually see the terrible physical consequences of that. As Cracked concludes:
By censoring violence in this one specific way, we're guaranteeing that kids see only violence that warps their understanding of it in such a way that makes them more likely to be violent. The MPAA is, by their own logic, making the world worse.
What do you think? Does the MPAA do a good job of rating movies?
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