Ratings System Hits 40th Anniversary

By Robert Marich
Sept.  14, 2008 -- Major studio trade group chief Dan Glickman said that the U.S. movie classification system is often misunderstood, but works in its task to advise parents about suitability of films, as he commemorated its 40th anniversary. The ratings are the familiar G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.
Glickman, who is chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said the rating system is designed to inform parents on suitability of films for their children and its standards for making parental judgments evolve as society changes.
“Drug use is a classic example,” Glickman said in an address to The Media Institute. “In the 1960s and ‘70s, many thought it was somewhat socially accepted.  That changed over time…and the ratings now reflect that change.”
Last autumn, smoking was added to the list of depictions that could trigger a restrictive rating, joining various forms of violence, sexuality and language.
MPAA affiliate Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), which opened its doors Nov. 1, 1968, issues the ubiquitous national film ratings for films that voluntarily submit. The National Assn. of Theatre Owners and Directors Guild of America are partners in CARA.
MPAA members – the six major studios -- agreed to have all their films without exception rated and independent distributors can have their films classified too. About 850 films get CARA theatrical ratings each year, though not all actually end up as cinema releases.
To make sure marketing efforts match classification, marketing materials for rated films are reviewed by the Advertising Administration.
“Is the system perfect? No. ” Glickman said. “It reminds me of that famous Winston Churchill quote about democracy: It’s the worst form of government—except for all the rest. Does it do a good job of conveying clear information to parents? Yes. Does it safeguard artistic freedom? So far, yes. But we make this decision anew with every shift in political power in this country.”
Though Glickman didn’t mention it, another misunderstanding is that CARA somehow functions as a censorship board. That’s not true because films are free to be released unrated. CARA is run by industry (the major studios) and thus has no authority of government to block any films from being distributed. It only enforces rules for films that choose to accept its ratings.
The system is not a gatekeeper of society’s morality and values,” Glickman added. “It does not require artists to promote behavior and beliefs deemed socially or morally upright.”
The second edition of Marketing to Moviegoers, which will be published later this year, explains in depth film classification and provides extensive analysis of implications.
“Viewed through modern eyes, (Hollywood’s prior restrictive Hays Code) is both humorous and troubling,” Glickman says. “Only ‘correct standards of life’ could be presented. No depictions of childbirth. No criticisms of religion. Forget about ‘lustful’ kissing or ‘suggestive’ dancing. If married couples were shown in bed, then typically each actor had to keep one foot on the floor at all times. Under the Hays Code, films were simply approved or disapproved based on whether they were deemed ‘moral’ or ‘immoral.’”
For full text of Glickman’s speech, click link below: