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MPAA Rating Board-Elizabeth Bassett

Cieply states that “Yet it was Mr. Valenti’s genius to have devised an apparatus that is not bound by precedent, changes its definitions at will, and ultimately, serves the motion picture industry by becoming, at any given moment, as permissive or restrictive as the prevailing climate seems to demand.
This so called genius of Mr. Valenti’s is the MPAA’s rating board which he set up in 1968. Prior to this, movies were censored by the government and this determined whether or not they were allowed to be released to the public. As Jack Valenti was a former United States governmental official, he held a position of authority that allowed him to establish this new rating system.

This new rating board was comprised of average American parents who Valenti felt would be representative of the population at large in relation to the content they would allow their children to see on the screen. A new rating system was also established with the ratings G (general audiences), PG (parental guidance), PG-13 (parental guidance until age 13), R (restricted), and NC-17. Hopes of this system were to provide various classifications that would allow American parents greater autonomy yet specific guidelines in their children’s film choices.

With this system, however, the goalposts are continually moving as ratings are based on the opinions and feelings of the rating board. Subjective feelings of the rating board in relation to personal beliefs, sexual orientation, or age of children may vary daily or with changing of board members. Along with this, standards are rather loose in relation to the number of swear words and amount of sexual and violent content in each film. According to the movie This Film is Not Yet Rated, many filmmakers expressed that the board was more likely to grant a more family friendly rating to a movie with higher violent content as opposed to a film with little violence but a greater amount of sex and nudity. Another issue raised was that a film showing heterosexual relationships tended to receive lower ratings and was more accessible to the public than a movie with homosexual relationships. In this light, it is easy to see how filmmakers struggle with making movies “clean? enough for public domain as it is based primarily on personal beliefs and subjective feelings of the rating board.

In my opinion, I think that the malleable definitions and not being bound by precedent nature of the MPAA rating board is reflective of our society. Today in America, there are few set standards as individuals are encouraged to act on whatever feels right as long as it doesn’t cause bodily harm to other individuals. The rating board is also similar to this as it is based on individual opinion of what seems true as opposed to a specific structure. This has both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, it provides an overall picture of how mainstream America will feel about the movie. It also provides the opinions of fellow American parents that may be helpful to the general population in relation to movie choices for their children. Thinking of the negative side, however, it is subjective and difficult for moviemakers to recognize standards they should adhere to in order for their films to reach theaters.