Wednesday, September 9, 2009
This blog has been approved for all audiences
The always volatile issue of ratings for media content is once again in the spotlight. On August 13, Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian "Movieguide" website, called upon the MPAA to abandon it's "failed" ratings system for movies and replace it with an objective "Code of Decency." Baehr laments so-called ratings creep that seems to stretch the limits of the "R" and "PG-13" ratings into arbitrary meaninglessness. He even calls upon readers to sign an online petition that will be submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, presumably so they can investigate and regulate the matter.
But on August 31, the Federal Communications Commission went even further when it released a report to Congress on the effectiveness of parental control technologies which states that the FCC will begin an inquiry into the issue of a universal ratings system that would cover all media platforms, including television, video games, and wireless devices such as cell phones. Because motion pictures are eventually distributed to televisions and portable devices, such a ratings system would necessarily apply to movies as well. Members of Congress appear to be open to the idea.
The MPAA, for its part, decided to inadvertently throw some more fuel onto the fire with its unheralded decision to replace its previous green-band system for movie previews. In short, the previous banner stating that "This preview has been approved for all audiences" has been replaced with "This preview has been approved for appropriate audiences," (emphasis added) which is just all kinds of confusing.
As a parent, I am sympathetic to the frustration here. I know of people who took their youngsters to see "Land of the Lost" (rated PG-13) following the relatively sensible notion that it was a family film based on the Saturday morning show of their childhood. What they got instead was Will Ferrell dropping f-bombs. Quite an education for the kids! And I myself have cringed at some of the previews that show before children's movies. There was a period of time when I wouldn't even take my children into the theater until the movie was actually starting because the previews were so unpredictable. And now my kids are old enough to send me text messages on their mother's phone and to get online to play with their Webkinz, and it just gives me the willies thinking about what lies ahead.
But do we really want to ask the government to solve this problem for us? I think I can safely say that I have absolutely zero confidence that a federal bureaucracy is going to come up with a standard that matches my own values. Is the President supposed to appoint a new Czar of Good Taste? And what about the inevitable enforcement of such a new ratings system? Are we going to see new civil penalties or criminal penalties? Oh, I know, the government just wants to make sure parents have tools that they can use. Uh, no thank you. I don't want the government having any role to play in making moral judgments about what I choose to watch and what I choose to allow my children to watch.
And honestly, the intrusion is unnecessary. The current ratings system is certainly flawed, but any new system would also have its flaws. If nothing else, the current MPAA ratings system at least gives you an idea of who the intended audience is (it seems to mostly function as a marketing tool these days). It's up to you to decide if you agree with their assessment. Parents today have plenty of resources to help them discern whether new movies or other media are appropriate. But it is incumbent upon parents to be proactive in their children's lives -- acting as the filter when kids are very young and teaching them to make wise choices as they grow older. No amount of hand-holding from Big Brother is going to change the ultimate responsibility of being a parent. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to think I can do a better job than the government when it comes to deciding what's best for my children.