Recently my Facebook has been spammed with numerous poorly researched posts dealing with the current gun control debate. The blame was pointing to all angels raging from poor mental health support to violent media exposure. So when I sat down to watch a movie with my friends, I had an epiphany. How are these movie age restrictions determined, and how are they different in the world? Are all highly violent movies easily accessible for any 5 year old, or is there more to it?
Firstly, one must know the different age ratings. Let’s take 3 countries: United States of America, United Kingdom and Germany. The reason why I chose these three is because I believe that all three countries are pretty conservative when it comes to violence and sex in movies. (Saying that, I am taking into account that Prostitution is legal in Germany, this is why I picked England to even out the judgment.)
Secondly, who is behind the curtain of matching these ratings to the movie content? In the United States it is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that decides how much violence, sexual content or drugs is appropriate for which audience. In the United Kingdom it’s the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and in Germany it is the Voluntary Self Regulation of the Film Industry (or in German Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, FSK). All these are private agencies and are not connected with each other, and as a result have different types of analysis when it comes to movie content. What I mean by that, is that a movie that would be R rated in the United States, would probably be FSK 16 in Germany or 15 in United Kingdom. For example, Not Another Teen Movie is rated “R” in the United States while it is rated 15 in the UK. Another example would be Die Hard of 1988, which again is rated “R” while its rated much lower, as simple FSK 16 in Germany. Another exciting difference here is the fact that even if the movie is rated “R” it can be seen or obtained with adult supervision, while that would be frowned upon in the United Kingdom and Germany.
As it turns out, MPAA is much more lenient on violence than on nudity. Meaning that a movie is more likely to receive a higher rating with sexual content than with violent content. There have not really been any occurrences like that in the United Kingdom and Germany. As a matter of fact, movies aired in USA between 2000 and 2004 included 91,7% violence and about 85% nudity. While nudity only appeared in PG-13 ratings and above, minimal gore and interpersonal violence could have been seen in G rated movies. Even the American Psychological Association on Youth and Violence claims that “any depiction of sexuality will automatically render a film an ‘R’ rating, and explicit sex will often earn an ‘NC-17’ rating. In contrast, a film can contain violence and still be given a ‘G,’ ‘PG,’ or ‘PG-13’ rating” (Donerstein, 1993). This is quit ironic, since the United States are trying to stop everyday violence yet producing it on a much global scale. Maybe the simple solution to all our problems is simply allowing more love and sexual content in our every day entertainment instead of violence. If that happens who knows, maybe we’ll be making more love than war.
Donnerstein, Ed, Ron Slaby, and Leonard Eron. The Mass Media and Youth Aggression.
Washington: American Psychological Association, 1993.