---

From: vbcsc03l@vax.csun.edu (snopes) Date: 25 May 93 06:45:00 GMT Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban,rec.arts.movies Subject: Re: The MPAA (long) The following is the information I received from the Executive Directory of the National Association of Theater Owners concerning the MPAA's rating system. It's a pamphlet written by Jack Valenti, President and CEO of the MPAA. It's got more than a bit of propaganda, but it does explain some of the background of the ratings system from the point of view of the man who implemented it: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE VOLUNTARY MOVIE RATING SYSTEM HOW IT ALL BEGAN When I became president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in May 1966, the slippage of Hollywood studio authority over the content of films collided with an avalanching revision of American mores and customs. By the summer of 1966, the national scene was marked by insurrections on the campus, riots in the streets, rise in women's liberation, protest of the young, doubts about the institution of marriage, abandonment of old guiding slogans, and the crumbling of social traditions. It would have been foolish to believe that movies, that most creative of art forms, could have remained unaffected by society. A New Kind of American Movie The result of all this was the emergence of a "new kind" of American movie -- frank and open, and made by filmmakers subject to very few self-imposed restraints. Almost within weeks in my new duties I was confronted with controversy, neither amiable nor fixable. The first issue was the film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," in which, for the first time on the screen, the word "screw" and the phrase "hump the hostess" were heard. In company with the MPAA's general counsel, Louis Nizer, I met with Jack Warner, the legendary chieftain of Warner Bros., and his top aide, Ben Kalmenson. We talked for three hours, and the result was deletion of "screw" and retention of "hump the hostess," but I was uneasy over the meeting. It seemed wrong that grown men should be sitting around discussing such matters. Moreover, I was uncomfortable with the thought that this was just the beginning of an unsettling new era in film, in which we would lurch from crisis to crisis, without any suitable solution in sight. The second issue surfaced only a few months later. This time it was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the Michelangelo Antonioni film "The Blow-Up." I met with MGM's chief executive officer because this movie also represented a first -- the first time a major distributor was marketing a film with nudity in it. The Production Code Administration in California had denied the seal. I backed the decision, whereupon MGM distributed the film through a subsidiary company, thereby flouting the voluntary agreement of MPAA member companies that none would distribute a film without a Code seal. Finally, in April 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional power of states and cities to prevent the exposure of children to books and films which could not be denied to adults. It was plain that the old system of self-regulation, begun with the formation of the MPAA in 1922, had broken down. What few threads there were holding together the structure created by Will Hays, one of my two predecessors, had now snapped. From the very first day of my own succession to the MPAA President's office, I had sniffed the Production Code constructed by the Hays Office. There was about this stern, forbidding catalogue of "Dos and Don'ts" the odious smell of censorship. I determined to junk it at the first opportune moment. I knew that the mix of new social currents, the irresistible force of creators determined to make "their" films (full of wild candor, groused some social critics), and the possible intrusion of government into the movie arena demanded my immediate action. Within weeks, discussions of my plan for a movie rating system began with the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), and with the governing committee of the International Film Importers & Distributors of America (IFIDA), an assembly of independent producers and distributors. Over the next five months, I held more than 100 hours of meetings with these two organizations, as well as with guilds of actors, writers, directors and producers, with craft unions, with critics, with religious organizations, and with the heads of MPAA member companies. THE BIRTH OF THE RATINGS By early fall, I was ready. My colleagues in the National Association of Theater Owners joined with me in affirming our objective of creating a new and, at the time, revolutionary approach to how we would fulfill our obligation to the parents of America. My first move was to abolish the old and decaying Hays Production Code. I did that immediately. Then on November 1, 1968, we announced the birth of the new voluntary film rating system of the motion picture industry, with three organizations, NATO, MPAA, and IFIDA, as its monitoring and guiding groups. The initial design called for four rating categories: + G for General Audiences, all ages admitted; + M for mature audiences -- parental guidance suggested, but all ages admitted; + R for Restricted, children under 16 would not be admitted without an accompanying parent or adult guardian. + X for no one under 17 admitted. The rating system trademarked all the category symbols, except the X. Under the plan, anyone not submitting his or her film for rating could self-apply the X or any other symbol or description, except those trademarked by the rating program. (The X rating's name has been changed to NC-17, a trademarked symbol -- No Children Under 17 Admitted. This is explained more fully later in this booklet.) Our original plan had been to use only three rating categories, ending with R. It was my view that parents ought to have the right to accompany their children to any movie the parents chose, without the movie industry or the government or self-appointed groups interfering with their rights. But the theater owners organization (National Association of Theater Owners) urged the creation of an adults-only category, fearful of possible legal redress under state or local law. I acquiesced in NATO's reasoning and the four category system, including the X rating, was installed. So, the emergence of the voluntary rating system filled the vacuum provided by my dismantling of the Hays Production Code. The movie industry would no longer "approve or disapprove" the content of a film, but we would now see our primary task as giving advance cautionary warnings to parents so that parents could make the decision about the movie-going of their young children. That decision is solely the responsibility of parents. CHANGES IN THE RATING SYSTEM We found early on that the M category (M meaning "Mature") was regarded by most parents as a sterner rating than the R category. To remedy this misconception, we changed the name from M to GP (meaning General audiences, Parental guidance suggested). A year later we revised the name to its current label, "PG: Parental Guidance Suggested." On July 1, 1984, we made another adjustment. We split the PG category into two groupings, PG and PG-13. PG-13 meant a higher level of intensity than was to be found in a film rated PG. Over the past years, parents have approved of this amplifying revision in the rating system. On September 27, 1990, we announced two more revisions. First, we introduced five-to-eight word explanations of why a particular film received its R rating. Since, in the opinion of the Ratings Board, R rated films contain adult material, we believed it would be useful to parents to know a little more about that film's content before they allowed their children to accompany them. These explanations would be available to parents by calling the local theater playing that picture, or inquiring at the box office. Second, we changed the name of the X category to NC-17: NO CHILDREN UNDER 17 ADMITTED. The X rating over the years appeared to have taken on a surly meaning in the minds of many people, a meaning that was never intended when we created the system. Therefore, we chose to go back to the original intent of the design we installed on November 1, 1968, in which this "adults only" category explicitly describes a movie that most parents would want to have barred to viewing by their children. That was and is our goal, nothing less. We have now trademarked "NC-17: NO CHILDREN UNDER 17 ADMITTED" so that this rating symbol and the legend can be used only by those who submit their films for rating. Other rating symbols are already federally registered trademarks. Those who do not choose to participate in the rating system can take their film to market using any letters or descriptions they desire, except the trademarked symbols and legends of the rating system. THE PURPOSE OF THE RATING SYSTEM The basic purpose of the rating system is a simple one: to offer to parents some advance information about movies so that parents can decide what movies they want their children to see or not to see. The entire rostrum of the rating program rests on the assumption of responsibility by parents. If parents don't care, or if they are languid in guiding their children's movie going, the rating system becomes useless. Indeed, if you are 17 or over, of if you have no children, the rating system has no meaning for you. Ratings are meant for parents, no one else. The rating board does not rate movies on their quality of lack of quality. That is a role left to film critics and audiences. Had we attempted to insert ourselves into judging whether a film is "good, or bad or indifferent" we would have collapsed the system before it began. The criteria that go into the mix which becomes a rating board judgment are theme, violence, language, nudity, sensuality, drug abuse, and other elements. Part of the rating flows from how each of these elements is treated on-screen by the filmmaker. In making their evaluation, the ratings board does not look at snippets of film in isolation but considers the film in its entirety. The rating board can make its decisions only by what they see on the screen, not what is imagined or thought. There is no special emphasis on any one of these elements. All are considered. All are examined before a rating is applied. Contrary to popular notion, violence is not treated more leniently than any of the other material. Indeed many films rated X in the past, and NC-17 now, have at least tentatively been given the "adults only" rating because of depictions of violence. However, most of the directors/producers/distributors involved have chosen, by their decision, to edit heavier violent scenes in order to receive an R rating. HOW THE RATINGS ARE DECIDED The ratings are decided by a Rating Board located in Los Angeles. They work for the Classification and Rating Administration, whose funding comes from fees charged producers/distributors for the rating of their films. The MPAA President chooses the Chairman of the rating Board, thereby insulating the Board from industry or other group pressure. No one in the movie industry has the authority or the power to push the Board in any direction. One of the highest accolades to be conferred on the rating system is that from its birth in 1968 to this hour, there has never been even the slightest jot of evidence that the rating system has ever deliberately fudged a decision or bowed to pressure. The Rating Board has always conducted itself at the highest level of integrity. That is a large, honorable, and valuable asset. There are no special qualifications for Board membership, except the members must have a shared parenthood experience, must be possessed of an intelligent maturity, and most of all, have the capacity to put themselves in the role of most American parents so they can view a film and apply a rating that most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions about their children's movie going. As the MPAA President, I take no part in rating decisions, and do not overrule or dissuade the Board from any decisions it makes. No one is forced to submit a film to the Board for rating, but the vast majority of producers/distributors do in fact submit their films for ratings. Any producer/distributor who wants no part of any rating system is free to go to the market without any rating at all or with any description or symbol they choose as long as it is not confusingly similar to the G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 rating symbols. G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 are federally-registered certification marks of the MPAA. These rating symbols may not be self-applied. The Board Votes on Ratings The Board views each film. Each member present estimates what most parents would consider to be that film's appropriate rating. After group discussion, the Board votes on the rating. Each member completes a rating form spelling out his or her reason for the rating. Each rating is decided by a majority vote. The producer/distributor of a film has the right under the rules to inquire as to the "why" of the rating applied. The producer/distributor also has the right, based on the reasons for the rating, to edit the film -- if that is the choice of the producer/distributor -- and come back to the Board to try for a less severe rating. The re-edited film is brought back to the Board and the process goes forward again. Appeal of Ratings A producer who for any reason is displeased with a rating can appeal the decision to the Rating Appeals Board, which sits as the final arbiter of ratings. The Appeals Board comprises 21 members, men and women from the industry organizations that govern the rating system. They gather to view the film and hear the appeal. After the screening, the producer whose film is being appealed explains why he or she believes the rating was wrongly decided. The chairman of the Rating Board states the reason for the film's rating. Both the producer and the Rating Board representative have an opportunity for rebuttal. In addition, the producer may submit a written presentation to the Board prior to the oral hearing. After Appeals Board members question the two opposing representatives, they are excused from the room. The Board discusses the appeal and then takes a secret ballot. It requires a two-thirds vote of those present to overturn a Rating Board decision. By this method of appeal, controversial decisions of the Rating Board can be examined and any rating deemed a mistake set right. The decision of the Appeals Board is final and cannot be appealed, although the Appeals Board has the authority to grant a rehearing on the request of the producer. WHAT THE RATINGS MEAN G: "General Audiences -- All ages admitted." This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. which would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is *not* a "certificate of approval," nor does it signify a children's film. Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation, but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films. The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present; nor is there any drug use content. PG: "Parental Guidance Suggested; some material may not be suitable for children." This is a film which clearly needs to be examined or inquired about by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but the parent must make the decision. Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen without inquiry, to PG-rated movies. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be violence, but it is not deemed so strong that everyone under 17 need be restricted unless accompanied by a parent. Nor is there cumulative horror or violence that may take a film all the way into the R category. There is no drug use content. There is no explicit sex in a PG-rated film, although there may be some indication of sensuality. Brief nudity may appear in an unrestricted film, but anything beyond that puts the film into R. The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for special examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously the line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is not easy to make subjective judgments without incurring some disagreement. So long as parents know they must exercise parental responsibility, the rating serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning. PG-13: "Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13." PG-13 is thus a sterner warning to parents to determine for themselves the attendance in particular of their younger children, as they might consider some material not suited for them. Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children. A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year olds and younger to attend. If nudity is sexually oriented, the film will generally not be found in the PG-13 category. If violence is rough or persistent, the film goes into the R (restricted) rating. A film's single use of one of the harsher sexually- derived words, though only as an expletive, shall require the Rating Board to issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely, however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents. PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children's movie-going. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can, and should, make. Its purpose is to give prescreening advance informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make these parental decisions easier for those films between PG and R. R: "Restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian." In the opinion of the Rating Board, this film definitely contains adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before they allow their children to accompany them. An R-rated film has adult content that may include hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements, or a combination of some of the above. That is why parents are counseled, in advance, to take this advisory rating very seriously. NC-17: "No children under 17 admitted." This rating declares that the Ratings Board believes that this is patently an adult film. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean "obscene or pornographic" in the oft-accepted meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms and for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating can mean strong violence or sex or aberrational behavior or drug abuse or any other element which, when present, most parents would want to be off-limits for viewing by their children. Appraisal In any appraisal, what is "too much?" becomes very controversial. How much is "too much" violence? Are classic war films too violent with scenes of marines storming a beach and slaying hundreds, wounding thousands? Is is the graphic cop killing, the gangster shoot-out, or the slap across the face of a woman that determines "too much?" How much is "blood spilled" to be given emphasis? Where is the line to be drawn between "this is alright" and "this is not alright?" The same vexing doubts occur in sex scenes or those where language rises on the Richter scale, or where behavior not considered "normal" is revealed on the screen. What follows is disagreement, inevitable, inexorable, and oftentimes strident. That is what the rating system has to endure and confront. We understand that. We try to do our level best so that most parents would find our ratings mostly accurate and mostly useful. But, importantly, we urge and implore parents to care about what their children see and watch, to focus their attention on movies so they can know more about a film before they consent to their children watching it. To oversee the Rating Board, the film industry has set up a Policy Review Committee consisting of officials of MPAA and NATO. These men and women set guidelines for the Rating Board to follow, and make certain that the Board carries them out reasonably and appropriately. Because the rating program is a self-regulatory apparatus of the film industry, it is important that no single element of the industry take on the authority of a "czar" beyond any discipline or self-restraint. Advertising and Trailer Policy Film advertising is part of the film industry's self-regulatory mechanism. All advertising for rated motion pictures must be submitted to the Advertising Administration for approval prior to its release to the public. This includes, but is not limited to, print ads, radio and TV spots, pressbooks, videocassette packaging and theatrical and home video trailers. Trailers are an important aspect of the program. They are approved for "all audiences," which means they may be shown with all feature films, or "restricted audiences," which limits their use to feature films rated R or NC-17. There will be, in "all audience" trailers, no scenes that caused the feature to be rated PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17. Each trailer carries at the front a tag which tells two things: (1) the audience for which the trailer has been approved, and (2) the rating of the picture being advertised. The tag for "all audience" trailers will have a green background; the tag for "restricted" trailers will have a red background. The color is to alert the projectionist against mismatching trailers with the film being shown on the theater screen. HOW THE RATING SYSTEM IS USED BY THEATER OWNERS AND VIDEO RETAILERS Motion picture theater owners, who co-founded the rating system in 1968, were the first group in the entertainment industry to voluntarily enforce its guidelines. NATO estimates that about 85% of the theater owners in the nation subscribe to the rating system, and will not admit a child under 17 to an R rated motion picture with an accompanying parent or adult guardian, or admit a child under 17 to an NC-17 rated motion picture under any circumstance. In the mid 1980's, as watching movies on videocassettes at home soared in popularity, video retailers joined theater owners in embracing the voluntary guidelines of the rating system. Parents who relied on the rating system to determine which films their children viewed in theaters found the information provided by the rating classifications equally helpful in home video. To facilitate its use, ratings are displayed on both the videocassette package and the cassette itself. The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), which is the major trade association for video retailers in the United States, has strongly endorsed the observance of the voluntary movie rating system by video retailers. THE PUBLIC REACTION We count it crucial to make regular soundings to find out how the public perceives the rating program, and to measure the approval and disapproval of what we are doing. Nationwide scientific polls, conducted each year by the Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey, have consistently given the rating program high marks by parents throughout the land. The latest poll results show that 75% of parents with children under 18 found the ratings to be "very useful" to "fairly useful" in helping them make decisions for the movie-going of their children. This is an all time high for the rating system. On the evidence of the polls, the rating system would not have survived if it were not providing a useful service to parents. The rating system isn't perfect but, in an imperfect world, it seems each year to match the expectations of those whom it is designed to serve -- parents of America.

---

The views and opinions stated within this web page are those of the author or authors which wrote them and may not reflect the views and opinions of the ISP or account user which hosts the web page. The opinions may or may not be those of the Chairman of The Skeptic Tank.

Return to The Skeptic Tank's main Index page.

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank