ByDarren Teo, writer at
Born in Vancouver, raised in Singapore. Screenwriting Major at LMU's SFTV. Part time Seth Rogen body double.
Darren Teo

This is Chances are, if you're reading this, you've seen your fair share of movies. So here's a question: between a movie that is rated PG-13 and one that is rated R, which one has more violent content?


The MPAA, or the Motion Picture Association of America, has come under heavy scrutiny for their lenience towards violent content as opposed to other forms of explicit material such as sex or inappropriate language. A study conducted by the Journal of Children and Media suggests that in PG13 films, the only type of adult content on the rise was violence. In fact, a study published in the same journal estimates that within the last decade, the saturation of violent content in PG13 films has tripled.

Typically, if a film makes references to sex or contains swearing, it’s immediately given an R rating. However, the saturation of violence in PG13 vs. R rated films is indistinguishable. So why does this disparity, known commonly as a 'ratings creep,' occur?

Socioculturally speaking, it could be a reflection of America’s lax gun control-laws, resulting in the portrayal of violence as commonplace. Likewise, conservative attitudes to other types of content such as sex are synonymous with Midwestern America, which has the highest concentration of cinemas (and hence carry a significant demographic influence). A more likely reason, however, is the economic factors that play a role.

PG 13 films are significantly more lucrative than those rated NC-17 or R because it increases the potential viewership. Furthermore, a study conducted by Florida State University suggested that there is a correlation between the promotion of violent content and ticket sales. Why? Violence is a universally understood medium. Convoluted plots and character arcs may be limited to a niche, but everyone knows what an explosion looks like. With Hollywood increasingly setting their sights on foreign markets, it makes sense for them to rely on something which transcends cultural boundaries.

Scene from the upcoming Michael Bay film...probably
Scene from the upcoming Michael Bay film...probably

Since its establishment, the MPAA has been controlled and funded by executives from Hollywood’s biggest studios. For these individuals who are producing these big-budget productions, to receive the highest return for investment, it makes sense for them to not only produce violent films but to also lobby for more lenient ratings.

Within the film industry, this has consequences for independent studios who either can’t afford to produce violent material, don’t have the ability to lobby for their ratings, or have material that attracts heavy prejudice. However, the ramifications of this phenomenon, besides stifling this creative dexterity, go far deeper into our collective psychology.

More violent content is available to younger audiences than ever before. What’s even more startling is that we don’t know it. It’s a tried and tested notion that violent video games result in aggressive tendencies. The same is true for any stimulus, including films. Countless studies support this claim.

Social Learning Theory, the concept posited by Alfred Bandura, states that we as humans, and especially children, learn through viewing, cognitive processing, and then replicating external stimuli.

In the case of violence, viewers will see it in films, think about what they saw, and then consider replication. In other words, it's bad news.

And if the cinemas won’t censor what younger viewers watch, surely their parents or guardians will? Unless they can’t. In a study conducted by the American Association of Pediatrics, parents of young children couldn’t differentiate between violent content present in PG13 films and R rated films. If this is true, then allowing the most impressionable members of our society access to violent content could have consequences far greater than what we see in the cinema.


Is violence in film a problem?


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