Movie Ratings: Do they serve hollywood or the public -- Dillon Aretz
Moira Hodgson, the author, attempts to demonstrate how MPAA rating decisions had been changing in regards to sex, violence, and language.
She begins by presenting examples of films from the 1970s (though, it should be noted that Midnight Cowboy was from the late sixties) that garnered an X rating. She contends that these films, were they released presently--that is, in 1981, the time she is writing this article--they would only be R rated. This idea is based on examples that demonstrate how sex had become less X-rated, and more commonly R; while violence and language immediately signal that a film should at least be rated R. She then analyzes some of the behind-the-scenes players in the ratings business such as Jack Valenti and Richard Heffner. She asserts that of the "154 films rated R in 1980, 38 contained one single element, such as a word, that netted this rating" (Hodgson 2). This idea brings up a "zero-tolerance" attitude that she sees the MPAA having; yet, this is despite the newfound tolerance for (softcore) sex. Finally, she seeks to show who these ratings are for--as the article's title suggests. She presents several differing opinions, but closes with Jack Valenti's statement that the ratings system does good for both groups because it authoritatively centralizes ratings.
This article is interesting for several reasons. In terms of academic dialogs, conversation between scholars about ratings, this article comes from an interesting time period. Written three years before the PG-13 rating was introduced, the writer is dealing with the vast difference that separates PG and R. This gap is probably one of the major things that contributes to shifting ratings in this period. As she writes, a single word or scene could change the entire rating of a film. She also brings up the idea of art; which Jack Vilenti quickly dismisses saying, "'every director thinks what he has done is special, and it's difficult to tell him it's a piece of garbage.'" However, Hodgson seems to defend the idea of at least context, as in, how the potentially offensive material is presented. Boyz n the Hood, which we watched in class, only presents violence as a necessary element demonstrating the problems and dangers of life in South-Central. Similarly, Hodgson says Raging Bull, a film whose violence was integral to the film, earned an R rating regardless of the necessity. What she does not say is how much the different ratings can affect public opinion, advertising, and many other features of a film. This discrepancy, though, is probably only the result of a writer studying too soon; given another ten years, her perspective on her own time would have been much clearer.