MPAA’s New Detailed Movie Ratings Explanations: Should the Public Be the Co-Arbiter of Films?

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When The Motion Picture Association of America announced new detailed explanations on ratings for movies on April 16, the response was divided as it always is. The dichotomy among members of the MPAA and the American people is alarming when you consider most moviegoers couldn't name one person who governs the MPAA. And while it's honorable to try to better scope out movie violence for concerned families, the MPAA's closed-door meetings from the general public never make them simpatico with the average person.

But what would happen if the MPAA decided to hold open meetings around the country on what people really want in movies? I've touted that idea before here at Yahoo! Movies. And that includes references to a proposed Hollywood summit on movie violence once considered by Harvey Weinstein.

With movies shaping culture more than ever, the public needs direct involvement with the MPAA (and filmmakers) in gauging what they and their kids want to see. It's that kind of consensus that wouldn't bring such a divide and criticism of a ratings system frequently not adequate in shielding kids from certain content. Of course, even the new detailed ratings explanations may not stop some parents from taking their kids to see movies they shouldn't see.

The American public obviously can't be considered an amalgam of one mind, and it's clear enough many, many families are concerned about what their kids are seeing. So why can't the MPAA work more closely with the public so there's a balanced consensus and a new precedent set on content? Most likely, the concern is there that the public would still choose content the government prefers children not see, particularly violence.

No matter that many people hate violence in entertainment, enough people are out there in the video game culture who think certain violent content is perfectly acceptable. At town hall meetings, it could technically be a split down the middle on who wants such content and who doesn't, hence leading to some impasses. In that regard, the MPAA may be much closer to the 1930s Hays Code than anybody knows.

Conversely, and as reported by the Associated Press, some think there's collusion between the MPAA and Hollywood on giving extremely violent films a softer rating for the sake of profits. There seems to be some veracity to the accusation when you see material in a PG-13 movie today that would have received a rating of 'R' 20 or 30 years ago. Even many directors re-editing a film for more marketability still leave content in their films that shouldn't change the initial rating.

If the public and the MPAA ever do get together, they may want to dig into the old Hays Code mission statement from 1930 for inspiration. Assuming there's a wide enough consensus to realize how influential movies have become in our culture, reading the first line of the Hays Code might give a starting point. It gives much to think about when you read that first line:

"If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind."

Here's to the MPAA stopping their clandestine behavior, working with all of us to ensure that better world, and for solidarity in entertainment.

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