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):
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.