Film Regulation and the Issue of Morality

The question of “morality” is one that is discussed often from a sociological perspective. When it comes to the media, there are two core aspects that blur the lines of what is “moral” and cause much controversy. The issue that often comes about involves our nation’s promise of freedom of speech and press. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”. Yes, one of our country’s main principles is to the freedom of the people, but the nation is also obligated to the protection of the people. How can we balance the two? If the press, and the views of the people projected through media, is free, then our youth can easily be exposed to corrupting material. But when the government regulates the media, isn’t that robbing us of our First Amendment rights? There is no easy answer to the question, and what is moral varies greatly among people.

Personally, I believe it is absolutely necessary that the media, particularly the entertainment industry is regulated. With that said, I don’t agree with every regulation and the degree of censorship on certain mediums, but I do acknowledge its purpose. Like many kids, I grew up exposed only to a narrow range of films and television programs. My mother believed that it was only appropriate for me to watch programs that were intended for my age. Like many parents, she both relied on and didn’t entirely trust film and TV regulations-she used ratings as a guide, but didn’t trust that I had the capacity to make the right decisions when I was in control. I hated the notion at the time, but I can’t imagine how I would have been affected viewing any of the material that I can now.

These are the very reasons that organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPPA). Without regulations, there is no way to guarantee that films and television programs are being viewed by an appropriate audience. However, given that these corporations have power over ratings and regulations and the film and television companies do not, it’s hard to say who is in the right. It is difficult to consensually decide what is “moral” in a nation of people who think so differently from one another.

Regardless of controversy, I support the majority of the regulation enforced by the MPPA. The MPPA is best known for their institution of film ratings. These ratings are a basic value system intended to give people an idea of what they are watching. They also give parents the power to know the general basis of what their children are watching and regulate it as they please. On the MPPA’s website, the first question on their “Guide to Ratings” is “What is the purpose of the rating system?” They answer with, “Movie ratings provide parents with advance information about the content of movies to help them determine what movies are appropriate for their children at any age. After all, parents are best suited to knowing each of their children’s individual sensitivities and sensibilities to pick movies for them. Ratings are assigned by a board of parents who consider factors such as violence, sex, language and drug use, then assign a rating they believe the majority of American parents would give a movie.” Their answer is very specific and caters to a concern that is common to many parents. Because parents contribute to these rating decisions, parents can feel assured that the ratings are based upon values similar to their own. The MPPA is clear in that their aim is not to censor what America views, but rather to warn and prepare us of the nature of what we view. The guidelines that dictate these ratings are brief, and a whole new set of issues are presented past the issue of what children are watching. It is impossible to say that a film “should” be PG-13 or R, R or NC-17, etc. Like the MPAA stated regarding children, parents are the only people who truly know their children’s specific sensibilities and what is appropriate. As people, we all have our own sensibilities, and our ideas on what is “moral” are dependent on those sensibilities. Ratings do not always match up perfectly, but rather give us some guidelines. In my opinion, it’s better to have a rating that is slightly off than none at all. Maybe a G rated movie has principles a parent thinks should be PG, but the consequences would be much more grave if their child watched a movie with more inappropriate material and even less guidance.

At the end of the day, I can see why there is controversy: parents don’t always see eye to eye, people don’t see eye to eye, and filmmakers may be deterred from certain audiences due to differences in opinion. However, I think it is vitally important that we have some regulation of morality. I don’t agree with every idea of the MPPA, but I am glad that I didn’t grow up entirely exposed to the media as I am today.


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