MPAA Movie RatingsI am not an apologist for the MPAA. As Cinematical's Eric D. Snider astutely observed recently, the Classification and Rating Administration of the Motion Picture Association of America continues to 'arbitrarily enforce and haphazardly apply' their own ratings, generally favoring big-budget studio pictures while lowering the boom on lower-budgeted independent films. With a track record of more than 40 years, though, does any parent today believe that the MPAA is solely responsible for telling them what is suitable for their children to watch?

Evidently Deborah Knight Snyder does. The mother of two children wrote an article for the GateHouse News Service in which she wondered about the movie rating system, which she described as an "imprecise, almost backward process." No argument there, but then she described Alex Proyas' Knowing as a movie that "scared the hell" out of her and questioned: "What parent in their right mind would let a 13-year-old see such a movie?" She continues: "Thank goodness our 13-year-old was otherwise occupied and chose not to join us for the film," and then relates an experience suffered by her older son when he saw The Ring just before he turned 13 several years ago. He later told her: "That movie was terrifying for a 12-year-old!"

Snyder doesn't address her own accountability in these two incidents, of course. One son "chose not to join us" and the other went with a friend's mother: "I confess I didn't think much about his going to see it." From this, we can surmise that an adult who has been watching movies for several decades and has two children -- one of whom is now in college -- had, until this very week, abdicated responsibility for deciding what her children could watch, ceding that role entirely to the MPAA.



PG-13To which I say, "Lady, are you out of your mind?" What parent in their right mind would allow their children to eat food made by strangers that has been clearly marked "May Not Be Suitable For Children"? What if the sign was even more clearly marked: "Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13"? Would you blithely march ahead, encouraging your children to chow down and hoping for the best? Or would you first investigate to a reasonable degree to safeguard your precious little ones?

I have friends with very sensitive allergies. If they eat anything with nuts, or seafood, they could be endangering their lives. You better believe they check out all food items very carefully before putting it in their mouth. Sure, they still run into problems, but they do their own due diligence and hope for the best.

Why can't parents do the same for their children before they head to the movies? Search Google for "family movie guide" and you'll find many sites that exist solely to provide detailed information about the content of movies that might be objectionable, not just to parents but to any moviegoer who'd prefer to avoid varying degrees of language, violence, and sexuality. If you don't have time or the inclination to see the movie yourself before deciding if your young one should see it, the least you can do is read up on it to decide if it's appropriate for you and your family.

R RatingAnd if you're watching something that disturbs you, here's a thought: Get up and walk out! That's what a family of six did at an advance screening I attended of Orphan, an R-rated horror thriller with a surprising number of children in the audience. If your kids start squirming and hiding under their seats, be a parent. If you're watching a movie at home with your kids and they start getting creeped out, stop the DVD or change the channel. There's always something else to watch.

Deborah Knight Snyder thinks "it's much more developmentally appropriate for young teenagers to see [nudity] than bloodshed and carnage." She was also fine with her son watching the f-bomb filled Frost/Nixon. So she's advocating nudity and profanity rather than non-explicit bloodshed and carnage? That's probably not what she means, but I get the point. Personally, I'm more disturbed by explicit violence than I am by the sight of a naked body. But what about other families? Every family has their own standard, and they should be responsible for enforcing it, not the MPAA.

As I mentioned earlier, the MPAA is guilty of plenty of ratings crimes, and it's become a sham to imagine that it actually provides any real guidance to parents nowadays. Let's stop pretending otherwise.

Besides, no rating system in the world is going to keep a determined kid from seeing something he wants to see, no matter how much bloodshed, carnage, f-bombs, or nudity it contains. That's part of growing up.