a whole one post about ratings

I was going to write a whole bunch of posts about ratings. I got so bored writing I lost interest.

Here’s the cliffnotes, which I will stop writing as soon as they get boring (but definitely not before I get sanctimonious and preachy):

inappropiaterating If ratings help you decide what to watch, great. If you think ratings aren’t specific enough, you’re not alone. There are other sources like IMDB’s Parent’s Guide, Kids In Mind, and Common Sense Media that give a lot more detail. Be careful what you wish for, though. If you find out all the “bad stuff” in a movie you may spoil the movie for yourself, and not all of these are the best at keeping plot spoilers secret. Common Sense Media is probably the best at being spoiler-free.

G and PG

Being rated G or PG doesn’t prevent media from sucking, nor does it’s good for kids to watch. It just means it didn’t hit the swears, sex, and violence quota for PG-13 as defined by the MPAA. A lot of G and PG movies are great. And a lot stink. Some are not meant for kids. The Elephant Man is PG, so is Poltergeist, so is Jaws. Jaws is PG. It wouldn’t be now, of course, but still. One Fine Day is PG, so is Field of Dreams, and I guarantee my kids would not make it through either one.


Being rated PG-13 doesn’t prevent media from being disturbing, sexy, or violent, nor does it mean it’s for teens. It just means it didn’t hit the swears, sex, and violence quota for R as defined by the MPAA. A lot of PG-13 movies are spooky enough (The Others, The Sixth Sense, The Ring (US), The Village), violent enough (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Dark Knight, Twilight Breaking Dawn 2, Batman 2), or sexy enough (Austin Powers, Titanic, The House Bunny, Cider House Rules) to push beyond their “13” year old threshold.

However, PG-13 is currently the sweet spot for cashing in on teens’ repeat viewings, so movies in any way aimed at teens try to get this rating and make cuts as needed, which pushes the category wider, making it less useful.


Being rated R doesn’t mean anything except that it hit the swears, sex, and violence quota for R as defined by the MPAA. R is so broad it’s ridiculous. Rain Man is R, so it the Matrix, so is Saw. The Godfather and Borat. Reservoir Dogs and Up In the Air. If the same category that has Stand by Me has Requiem for a Dream, then something is goofy with the system.


The quotas for what make up the ratings are fluid and change with time. The members of the MPAA change after 4 years. It is not consistent (eg, Jaws. JAWS! PG!). Maybe the MPPA has some problems. There is more leeway for violence and gore than sex and language, even though to some people violence and gore is more offensive. The MPAA is only the American system. There are ratings systems from other countries – the UK has the BBFC, which has U as G and PG as PG, and then, oddly unstandably and reasonably, goes up by age – 12, 15, 18.

The end of the sermon is, it’s really up to you. It’s smarter to think about it for yourself, know yourself, and know your kids, and there are alternative rating systems available.

I end with some cool words from Andrew Welch, which sum up my philosophy:

But ratings shouldn’t be everything—they’re arbitrary and say nothing about a film’s actual worth. Same for content; it’s not the number of swear words, the amount of blood or presence of sexual content that determines how good or bad a work of art is. What makes a movie good or bad is how well its aesthetic and narrative parts work in concert with each other—a guideline that has never mattered to the MPAA, and never will.

Further reading:

2 thoughts on “a whole one post about ratings

  1. Yes. YES, to all of this. I just do. not. get. it. Everyone knows the system is terribly flawed and inherently unhelpful, but the MPAA doesn’t do anything about it. The British one seems better, because they get that there is a big difference between a six and a ten year old, let alone the span between ten and sixteen, maturity wise. At least that system is trying to be sensible. I just don’t get it when people in authority just shrug and say, that’s the way it is, the way it’s always been, so that’s the way we’ll keep on doing it. Why isn’t there a giant push to overhaul the ratings system? Is it some weird patriotic thing? Like the pushback against motorcyle helmets and seatbelts? Legislating certain common sense things seem to make a lot of people angry, like they’re losing freedom somehow. Or maybe I’m over thinking it and it’s just habit and everyone’s so jaded that it doesn’t matter.
    I will say I love Common Sense. I’ve used it for years, not as a reviewer, or for ratings, but to look up exactly why something has that rating, so I can judge as a parent whether or not I’m okay with it. I agree with you that to limit media to stuff that has nothing potentially problematic in it is to miss out on the reason we watch in the first place; the same stuff that gives a movie its bad rating is the content that makes it terrific. My personal line in the sand is: is it gratuitous? I hate crap that’s there for no apparent reason, just to get a reaction, perhaps. I am equally uncomfortable with graphic sex and graphic violence, speaking for myself and for what I’d rather my kids not see.

    Btw, re: your earlier tumblr post about self indulgent, overly serious video games like Black Ops, etc. I totally agree. It’s also worrying that so many guys buy into it as well and treat a video game as seriously as a heart attack. Absurd. Have you ever played Braid? It’s got some of the prettiest music I’ve ever heard, in or out of a game (you can listen to the soundtrack free on youtube, it’s nice background music for work), and it’s got deceptively retro visuals and doesn’t take itself seriously but is very well written with a marvelous storyline.

  2. I’ve tried Braid – I cannot get into it. I feel I’m missing the boat there but oh well. The ratings thing keeps coming up for me because I know people for whom it’s a line in the sand and I’ve been trying to think my way around it.

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