Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trailing the Trailers

Nell Minnow, the columnist for beliefnet.com who first reported the MPAA's new rule change regarding the content of movie trailers, has provided a new update, including a response from the MPAA attempting to further defend the new policy.  The MPAA explained, in part, that under the new rule "the content of the trailer is appropriate for the audience viewing the trailer with the movie they have chosen to see," and that the MPAA has "received feedback from parents that content for some movies in a trailer with an "All Audiences" tag was misleading. This new change reflects the Advertising Administration's increased vigilance to target advertising to appropriate audiences."

I think I understand the MPAA's intent here.  Under the old rule, you could go see a "PG" movie and theoretically see a preview for a movie that was rated "PG-13" or "R" but it would be acceptable because the trailer was approved for "all audiences."  Under the new rule, it's intended that you would go see a "PG" movie and see only previews for similar "PG" movies.  I can appreciate that, but its still an imperfect approach. 

Will the MPAA now allow additional content for "appropriate" previews, including language and violence?  As Ms. Minnow argues, you could conceivably go see a movie rated "PG-13" for language and encounter a preview for a movie rated "PG-13" for violence. This could create create a wide range of standards between the old green-band and red-band trailers of the previous regime (perhaps the MPAA should adopt the now-discarded Homeland Security color coding?).  Again, the standards and sensitivities of the individual viewer (and parent) are so subjective. 

I still remember taking my pre-schoolers to see a Pixar film a couple of years ago where they were subjected to previews for the latest "Harry Potter" movie and the "Bratz" movie.  Those are arguably "appropriate" previews because children are the intended audience, but I didn't think they were appropriate for my little ones.

Ultimately, the choice of which previews get placed on movies is left up to the individual theater.  A true solution, then, would be for each theater to post (or provide upon request) a list of previews attached to each movie.  They already have to keep track of what trailers they are showing and typing it up on a neat little piece of paper is hardly a real burden.  Many parents would probably not take advantage of this information, but it would be a welcomed bit of customer service for those that would. 

The bigger problem, as Ms. Minnow points out, is the accessibility of trailers on the internet.  Anybody of any age can go online and watch any trailer.  Trailers can't be matched with "appropriate" content when they're indexed on apple.com/trailers.  But is this really a good argument for the old trailer system versus the new one?  Even under the "all audiences" standard, previews left very little to the imagination in terms of the violence or sexual content that would be found in an upcoming movie.  And "red band" trailers which are supposed to be restricted online are easy to access anyway.  Regardless of how they are rated, kids have the ability to watch the movie trailers they want to watch (and much worse, too).

This brings me back to my original post on this subject:  there's no substitute for a good parent.  Not only should parents be responsible for monitoring their children's use of the Internet, they should be responsible for raising their kids in such a way that they can make appropriate choices for themselves about what to watch, and can process those things they do watch in a healthy way.  No action taken by the MPAA or the FTC is going to do that for you.

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