Today’s “Legion of Decency”

I find it really interesting to watch films from around the time that the Hays Code was in effect. There’s such a dramatic difference in how these films handle certain sensitive subjects, often times by just hiding it from the screen. Consider this scene from the classic 1944 film, Double Indemnity:

Violence is implied, yet we don’t actually see Phyllis being shot in this scene. We can just assume it, since she goes limp at the same time as we hear a gunshot. Obviously, times have changed since this – now, we don’t have to assume that all films carry what is essentially the same PG rating. After all, since then, we’ve enacted a new system which allows us to rate film on a scale from G to NC-17, showing specifically what audiences a film will be appropriate for.MPAAratings

I have a pretty substantial issue with the MPAA in particular – that is, the Motion Picture Association of America, which issues these ratings. My issue mainly relates to the leniency, or rather, lack of leniency, regarding most of the ratings which it gives out. Many people will agree that the MPAA rates films which have scenes of violence in them much more leniently than they will with scenes of sex or nudity. Most of this goes towards the concerns of parents, yet violence isn’t handled with as much scrutiny. I found this post recently, which honestly shocked me – saying that most parents couldn’t tell the difference in violence between movies rated PG-13 and movies rated R. It’s a bit of a strange thing to hold sexuality so hostage, yet to freely embrace violence.

The other thing which I find so interesting is the rules on curse words, which I personally find ridiculous. In case you weren’t familiar, there aren’t really any restrictions on words you can say in films rated R. In a PG-13 film, there are a ton of restrictions, most infamously, you can only say the “f-word” once. I’m not sure what the reasoning for this is, seeing as the word is still in the movie, and any 13 year old would still be able to hear it. Similarly, on TV programs, there are restrictions to how many times certain words can be said per year on broadcast. Networks such as AMC make sure to use these effectively, but still – it’s a bizarre and unnecessary rule. I don’t think kids should be able to be exposed to this kind of content, but I imagine there’s a better system which can be put into place.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that on most network television programs, there is still an immense amount of violence. Consider scenes like this, which aired on network television:

I’m not saying that these rating systems are bad, per se, but I will argue that they are definitely flawed. The problem is more that the ratings systems in place require objectively grading something subjective. Most parents(and frankly, most institutions) will accept these ratings as an objective boundary restricting who should and who shouldn’t be able to watch something, when in fact, they are suggestions of such based on content. Parents especially need to be more aware of what their kids are watching, rather than just assuming the content is suitable because of its rating. Content ratings are definitely important, but I think that a lot of people believe them to be the ultimate authority in deciding what’s appropriate for their kids. There are definitely films such as The King’s Speech which carry an overly harsh R rating, and are probably suitable for younger audiences, and there are films such as The Dark Knight, which are probably graded a little too low at PG-13.

I just think parents need to be a little more open-minded, and the MPAA can help with this by calling their ratings “suggestions,” rather than implying that their word is law. Obviously, they’re not going to do this, but as I said – it’s objectively grading something that is inherently subjective. I assume that they want to have control over what is shown to audiences in the same way that the “Legion of Decency” did, but that came to an end eventually, so maybe some change is coming soon.

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