Rating the Raters

It's beginning to feel like everything has a rating system these days. Movies started it as a handy way to let us know whether there's enough sex and violence in a movie to want to see it. Then TV shows posted warning labels, though for some reason they only tell us the show has Adult Language or Graphic Violence while conveniently forgetting to warn us about Insipid Plots, Stereotyped Characters, or Same Old Stale Jokes About a Clueless Father Raising Two Precocious Children All By Himself. Of course if they had to show a label like SOSJACFRTPCABH it would take up most of the screen, and there's precious little of it left now that there's always a logo in the corner and, on some channels, pop-ups promoting upcoming shows. If they keep this up we'll be watching the actual show in a 3"x 4" square. You know, just like the cable news channels.

Music is rated too. Some CDs come with a Parental Advisory label, which isn't really a warning, it's an enticement for kids to buy it. Though it just says "Explicit Content," what it should say is "If by some miracle you were able to understand these lyrics you wouldn't want your children to be listening to them." This warning comes courtesy of the RIAA, the same record industry trade group which issues subpoenas to 12-year-olds for downloading music. Come to think of it, we'd better start heeding those advisory labels if we know what's good for us.

Video games are also rated, and with content descriptions which are much better than those used by movies and record companies. They use descriptors such as Animated Blood, Crude Humor, and Informational, the latter being the strongest warning you could have if you want to stop a kid from ever wanting to play a video game. If they want to make sure kids will never play it, they should add Educational, Good For You, and Your Parents Like It to the list.

Even Web sites have a rating system. It's sponsored by the Internet Content Rating Association, and as far as I can tell no one besides me has heard of the rating system or the company. Hey, I only know it because I stumbled on it while searching for information about warning labels. It doesn't appear that any Web site has ever posted a rating label and, even if it did, by the time a parent saw it the kids would have already bookmarked the site in a secret file Mom and Dad will never know about. At least until the RIAA sends a search warrant for the computer.

Rating is an arbitrary thing. Take movies, for example. It's hard to figure out why some movies get the rating they do. In general, sex is bad while violence is okay. This is just like real life where it's okay to get into a fight, but you'd better keep your knickers on, dammit. Out of 70 films listed at the MPAA's rating web site (www.filmratings.com) as having received the dreaded NC-17 rating, only three mention violence as a reason. Showgirls received two ratings, an NC-17 and an R. Both ratings mention a lot about sex but neither lists the main reason -- torture. No, there wasn't a torture scene in the movie that you missed because you fell asleep, it was torture watching it.

Recently, Kill Bill, the Quentin Tarrantino movie with as many killings as minutes of run time, got an R rating, meaning children under 17 are allowed in as long as they're accompanied by a parent, guardian, or fake ID. The San Francisco Chronicle elaborated on the rating by saying, "It has shootings, stabbings, beatings, beheadings, disembowelings, amputations, mutilations, eye-gouging, slicings, choppings, bitings and a spanking. Also some naughty words." Actually I think the Chronicle was just having fun. After all, that paragraph was lifted word for word from an old Veg-a-matic commercial, except they left out the line about slicing unripe tomatoes.

Apparently naughty words alone won't get a movie an NC-17 rating, though it can get it an R. Take South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which according to The Movie Index, a company that has nothing better to do than sit around and count the swear words in movies, had more profanity per minute (PPM) than any other movie: 399 naughty words in 80 minutes. That's almost five cusswords per minute, or one every 12 seconds. You don't hear that much swearing at the Tourette's Syndrome Annual Awards Banquet.

Pulp Fiction, which also got an R rating, actually had more obscenities than South Park--411 to be exact--but it's twice as long, which is why it only has a PPM of 2.66. When the extended director's cut of South Park: Biggest, Longest & Completely Uncut is released, I feel confident it will have as many as 798 nasty words, which is even more than will be recorded on a typical December morning when the doors open at Toys R Us and 3,645 mothers find out there were only two of this year's Toy-to-Have and the manager and security guard already snapped them up.

There's a need for a new movie rating category: TF. It doesn't stand for Too Frightening or Terribly Filmed, it stands for Tempting Fate, and Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, The Passion of Christ, should receive this rating. During the filming the actor playing Jesus Christ was struck by lightning not once, but twice. The first time, lightning struck his umbrella, causing light burns to the tips of his fingers. A few months later he was again carrying an umbrella when he was struck, this time winding up with smoke coming out of his ear. Gibson continued filming anyway. This in spite of the fact that it came from a higher power than the RIAA, MPAA, or Internet Content Rating Association. It's enough to make me think twice before seeing this movie. And after all, isn't that what a rating label is about?

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.