One of the regulations of the American media that we experience frequently in our day-to-day lives is the rating system placed on the content we view. The system of ratings that we know today first came into play in 1968 when the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) collaborated with movie studios and theaters (Croteau-Hoynes 95). As a collaborative, they decided to voluntarily draft a system of ratings so that it would be kept from government control and thus be friendlier to the operations of the industry. The privatization of the ratings system cuts the government out of a power role when it comes to deciding what is appropriate for American audiences. There is a lot of controversy these days over the inappropriate and immoral material that the media is injecting into our culture and society. The media that the public has access to has changed leaps and bounds since 1968, yet the rating system has stayed constant. This brings us to the question of whether or not the system really protects our nation’s children from the corruption of inappropriate information spewing our of media outlets.
The current ratings system is as follows:
In 1995, a presidential candidate by the name of Bob Doyle gave a speech pertaining to this issue of children and the American media system. He claimed that the media industry was “bombarding” our youth with evil and destructive messages through music, television, and the motion pictures. The entire speech by Doyle may be reviewed here for further consideration. Essentially, the issue is whether or not it is the government’s duty, or possibly even their right, to curb the content of the popular media in the 21st century. There are two sides to the argument, one is that our freedom to speech and freedom to information deems it unconstitutional for the government to take any action against our right to subscribe to, and consume, and media information that we deem fit. The second part of the argument, the message of Bob Doyle, is that the media is doing irreparable damage to our young people through the propagation of sex, drug use, and pervasive violence in our media.
The main issue with keeping these vulgar themes out of the view of children is that most ratings are simply suggestions for parents to consider and not hard rules. When it comes to the MPAA ratings, the only rating that does not allow children is the NC-17 rating, wherein no one under the age of 17 may be admitted. That leaves 4/5 ratings that allow children of any age to admission as long as they are in the company of an adult. This is the first, and strongest line of defense, yet it is so easily surmountable. The issue here is that the system is based on the idea that children should be controlled by their parents as it is their right and duty to choose what is right for their children (Croteau-Hoynes 96). Even so, children are often brought to these features by their parents, and when the films are released on DVD and on the Web, the children are granted even more access to them. Call is a flaw in the system or a flaw in our nations parents, but kids are getting access to these harmful materials at an early age.
Even easier to access than motion pictures are television programs. These have their own ratings, which were imposed by the Telecommunication act of 1996. Coincidentally shortly after the speech made by Doyle, the National Cable Television Association drafted a series of ratings not too dissimilar from those of the MPAA. The accessibility to these programs by children is so much higher to children than motion pictures even though the content is often very similar. The way that parents can control this is by emplacing parental controls on their cable in order to have a better handle on what their kids are able to watch.
The Television ratings under the NCTA are as follows:
In conclusion, I feel that there are certain steps that can be taken to lessen the impact of inappropriate content on our nation’s youth. I do however, believe that as Americans we are entitled to any media outlet we see fit and any content. But this issue is about the kids and it is a parental responsibility to protect them from certain things until they are ready to handle them. One way to tackle this when it comes to television is that I would like to emplace a system wherein, when a family first sets up their cable there are explicit warnings and an automatic transfer to a page where the family sets parental controls right from the get-go. Although I feel that it may impede on our freedoms, I would urge the MPAA to emplace a new restriction that prohibits children under 13 admission to R-rated movies in theaters. If a parent is so determined for that child to see the film they will be able to see it when it is released on DVD. I feel that these two new restrictions will do just enough to make a difference in the dissemination of our media but not impede too much upon our rights and privileges.
Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (2014). Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences. Thousand Oaks, California. SAGE Publications.
“Robert Dole: Remarks in Los Angeles: “Hollywood Speech”” Robert Dole: Remarks in Los Angeles: “Hollywood Speech” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85193>.
TV Ratings. N.d. Photograph. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <http://www.armstrongarmor.com/television.htm>.
MPAA Ratings Guide. N.d. Photograph. MPAA. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <http://www.mpaa.org/ratings/what-each-rating-means>.