Emory University’s Journal of Family Life published a new study on parents and their opinion of U.S. movie ratings. Their verdict?
They’re god awful. They’re inconsistent. They don’t account for our child’s maturity.
Oh, and I took him to a PG-13 movie, and someone said “vagina.”
That’s the gist, really. (Though I’m sure the study’s author, Patricia A. Williamson, Ph.D would seriously dispute that.) Don’t mistake my flippancy for frustration with the study. The study’s valid. The Motion Picture Association of America spends a pantload evaluating movies and issuing these ratings, and if its doing that, it’s worth studying how much parents appreciate it.
But I’m not convinced you could improve it. Not significantly. These mothers who were surveyed complained the ratings are too general, which is really all these ratings could ever be. What do they want? Lists? Of offensive stuff? Have you ever seen those mini-lists on HBO before the movie comes on? It’s like “Sexual Content,” “Adult Situations,” “Profanity” and so forth. It’s really unhelpful, and it doesn’t tell you anything.
But here’s the real kicker. The conclusion:
While this study is a significant first step toward investigating parental use of and satisfaction with the current MPAA rating system, it must be viewed as a pilot study. Due to the nature of focus group research, the number of participants is relatively small and the results are based on the views of parents from a single Midwestern town. However, the results from this study give us a starting point for constructing a large scale survey instrument to help gauge parental views in a more generalizable format. It is also one of the first academic studies that allowed parents to voice their opinions of the film ratings in their own words, without conforming to preconceived categories on a closed-ended survey. As such, the results shed light on why parents may rate the MPAA system as something they are “fairly satisfied” with when they are not allowed to elaborate on their opinions of the system.
When looking more in depth at parents’ views of the system, although parents see the system as somewhat useful, they would like to see improvements made to the ratings that give them more specific information about the types of content they can expect to find in individual films. Parents also expressed concern over perceived inconsistencies in the ratings process. It is hoped that this study will not only lead to additional research on the MPAA ratings, but will serve as a guide to the MPAA itself in improving the usability and reliability of the rating system.
Essentially, that means the study is sort of useless.
Here’s a suggestion: Why not keep the rating system for people who don’t need such an intensely detailed list of potential objectionables and let special interest websites manage the more specific ratings? Christian Today includes a quasi-religious analysis in its own movie reviews. Why not let the markets handle this?