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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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