Back in the 1970s, there were only two ratings for more mature films: PG and R. Then the MPAA brought out a new rating in the 1980s: PG-13. This new rating allowed for more violence, but still kept the sex to a minimum, and the strange schism between boobies and stabbings began. But why even bother? Wasn't the system working before? Yes, but the MPAA is like any lobbying agency -- they need to get laws passed that are favorable for film studios. By harshly rating movies with sexual content and appeasing lawmakers wary of such sexual morality issues, they get the support of Congress to pass, among other things, certain intellectual property laws. The whole "The MPAA is there to protect the children" idea is just PR; it's really an "I stab your back, you stab mine" situation (tender scratching was deemed too intimate).
There Is No Sign of Change or Progress
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Kirby's 2005 documentary shook the MPAA up. They'd been comfortable in anonymity for so long, and then they found themselves reviewing a documentary starring themselves. The MPAA held a press conference after This Film Is Not Yet Rated came out, promising to come clean about their membership. They haven't made good on that promise in the nearly a decade since. They never did state who their members are, and Graves and Dodd are still the only faces of the system. They are not exactly ... friendly faces.
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The kind of faces you just want to hit with a brick, you know?
In fact, the MPAA has no meaningful plans whatsoever to change the system for the foreseeable future. They're focusing their efforts on mildly tweaking the information in the ratings display, but not anything to do with the ratings themselves. That's why recent films such as The King's Speech and Blue Valentine have been given "outrageous ratings." A few theaters have seen how screwed the whole system is, and in Blue Is the Warmest Color's case, several just decided to ignore the rating and show the film anyway. There are presumably blacked-out MPAA helicopters on their way over as we speak. And homosexual content is still given higher ratings -- even if there are no sexual moments.
"There! Those two totally shared a moment! R!"
As long as six giant studios are making 90 percent of our movies (and making decisions for 100 percent of them), they'll always keep a tight rein on what gets released, where, and how. We wish the American public could see exactly how screwed the whole system is, but there's no way that sort of depravity is coming in under an XXX.
Evan V. Symon is a workshop moderator and interview setter-upper guy at Cracked. He also helped contribute to the De-Textbook.
Be sure to check out what happens when the MPAA goes nuts in If Classic Christmas Movies Were Rated R.
Related Reading: Cracked's made a bit of a habit of talking to people with interesting experiences, including a former Biggest Loser contestant and Mormon missionary with some candid words on that experience. We spoke with a woman who was raised in a Christian fundamentalist cult and a 911 dispatcher on just how terrible that job can be. If you've got a story to share with Cracked, message us here.