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Debating the Ratings

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									Reading Selection From:
Pearson Reality Central: Readings in the Real World

                                       Debating the Ratings
M for mature. P-13. TV-14. R-rated. “Viewer discretion advised.” “Explicit content.” Everywhere you
turn; there are ratings and warning labels. You cannot pick up a CD or settle into a movie theater seat
without being reminded that people are worried about what you see and hear.

        Who are those people, anyway? Who gave them the power to control your entertainment
choices? More importantly, what do they think they are protecting you from—and do you really need
protection?

WHO RATES? In the United States, ratings are voluntary. That means that the makers and sellers of
products like CDs and movies set the ratings. Ratings do not have the power of government laws. They
represent the raters’ opinions alone.

        Movie ratings, the oldest rating system, are assigned by a group of volunteers who watch
movies before they are released. These volunteers are all parents of kids’ ages fie to seventeen, not film
experts or psychologists. Their names are never made public.

        Based on observations, the volunteers decide whether a movie has more adult content than
kids should see. If so, they rate the movie R, which means “restricted.” Parents should not bring or
allow children to see the movie.

                                                                        Wait minute— parents?? What
                                                                are they doing here? All ratings systems
                                                                are aimed at parents. The “Parental
                                                                Advisory” sticker on a CD and the letters
                                                                on a video game box are supposed to
                                                                guide those who really control what you
                                                                see and hear—your family.

                                                             WHERE DO RATINGS COME FROM?
                                                             Rating systems usually develop as a
                                                             reaction against something. With music,
                                                             for example, the reaction was against
                                                             sexually explicit language and violent
                                                             lyrics. In 1985, Tipper Gore, the wife of
                                                             former Vice-President Al Gore, was
shocked when she listened to a CD she bought for her daughter. Mrs. Gore helped convince the music
industry to add Parental Advisory stickers to CDs.

DO RATINGS WORK? You are probably the best person to answer that question. Most kids can find
ways around the ratings if they want to. Many theatres do not ask for identification when kids buy
tickets for R-rated movies. Kids can watch R-rated movies on DVD or cable (if they can get around the
blocks their parents enforce). A survey of video store owners observed that 78% of all M-rated games
Reading Selection From:
Pearson Reality Central: Readings in the Real World

are bought by kids under sixteen, with no adult present. That is something ratings are supposed to
prevent.

         Ratings are tough to enforce. In addition, they may actually encourage what they try to prevent.
There is something called the “forbidden fruit” theory which says people are drawn to things they are
not supposed to have. According to this theory, ratings and warning labels become sales pitches. CBS
news commentator Andy Rooney joked about the TV shows that carry the caution, “viewer discretion
advised.” “The suggestion is that children shouldn’t watch it,” Rooney said. “What it does of course, is
alert kids to watch.”

PROBLEMS WITH RATINGS Kids are not the only ones who have trouble with ratings. Both parents
and producers think movie ratings
are confusing and illogical. People
complain that music warning
stickers are biased because they
are required only on rock, rap, and
hip hop CDs. Finally, many adults
believe that decisions about
entertainment content should be
kept strictly in the family.

         Other people think ratings
do not go far enough. Every year,
government officials try to pass
laws to limit what kids can see and
hear. In 2003, for example, a California legislator proposed a national ban on sales of violent video
games to anyone under eighteen. The law failed, but new ones like it are introduced all the time.

        Laws controlling content introduce new concerns. They are a form of censorship. Theoretically,
that conflicts with the First Amendment right to free speech. Voluntary ratings have many flaws, and
they are very controversial. Compared to laws, however, they may be the better choice.

								
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