Monday, January 12, 2015
THE PG-13 ERA: IS IT TIME TO END IT? A look at the real use of the PG-13 rating.
Recently the MPAA gave out their rating for the much-anticipated "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie, and they gave is an R rating; I'm not sure you've all heard, yet, but most of you know that, while I normally try my best not to focus my attention on future released films, this was an exception. Not for the reasons that most people were paying attention though. The reason I was making a point about this, was because I was hoping the movie would be rated NC-17, and finally break the typical walls down regarding that rating, considering the interest and fanbase the book of the film has, and therefore national chain theaters would begin setting the precedent of allowing NC-17 films to screen. I wrote about this almost two years ago as the film was still in the early pre-production stages, you can read that blogpost at the link below:
Now, I'm not gonna reiterate what I wrote there, and we all know, the MPAA, is, at a minimum flawed, and at worst incompetent, and worst than that, the theater chains have been gutless as we've seen recently when they made their early decisions not to screen "The Interview" last month, 'cause of threats from the Sony hackers. (Not that I completely blame them for that, but it led to the studio pulling the movie, maybe moreso than even the threat, and that part of the story has not been emphasized enough btw) The studios however, whether because of or in spite of the MPAA, they don't want to release NC-17 movies in general, and frankly they aren't crazy about R's either, but the movie is gonna be, R, hopefully that means it's still capable of closely equating the tone and subject matter of the book but, I questioned whether that was possible then, and I question it now, unless the MPAA has suddenly shifted from their traditional trends, behaviors and decisions in the recent past, probably not.
That said, I've been thinking about the ratings lately, in fact, they keep coming up in conversation in general lately. In fact, there's a been more than a few fellow bloggers that have recently posted their dissatisfaction with one particular rating, the PG-13 rating. Frankly, I've been considering a post on the detriments of the PG-13 myself for months, but...-, well, the problem with the rating, other than the fact that, it's really arbitrary; I mean, the line between PG and PG-13 is practically- I honestly don't know what it is anymore frankly. That's part of the problem, PG-13, isn't really a rating it's a marketing ploy. Get the teenagers in the theater (Like the teenagers aren't sneaking into R's but, whatever) they have the money; they go see the movies, and- I don't know, no excessive sex or nudity, just a bunch of superheroes blowing stuff up, so you know, teenager won't have sex then? I don't know, frankly, Not that I even really pay attention to the ratings, nor do I think parents or anybody should either, but it is, really just an advertising point, more than anything else. PG-13, is the magic words really, I don't know exactly why really, but....
You see, I was thinking about this, believe it or not and bare with me on this, 'cause I'm gonna talk about professional wrestling for a minute here, but I want to compare this, 'cause this is actually sorta relevant, but it's gonna take a little explaining. The WWE, has over-the-years, continued to redefine their product depending on, what they want to focus on, who the audience they want to attract is, the storylines they want to tell, etc. Yes, it's pro wrestling, but for instance, in the '80s/early nineties, they tried to attract more kids. Larger than life characters, sort like a comic book character, Hulk Hogan telling kids to say their prayers and take their vitamins, and they refer to that time as the Hulk Hogan years or era, and then the steroid scandal broke, so they didn't focus on the more artificially-enhanced bodies, and they called that era, "The New Generation" cause they were focusing on a different group of wrestlers and whatnot, kinda like when "Saved By the Bell" did "The New Class", which lasted about as long. (Correction: Actually "Saved By the Bell: The New Class" lasted a lot longer than I thought, which is sad) Anyway, that didn't completely work, they were losing ratings and money, so eventually they switched to more adult material. The violence became more graphic and extreme, they started to have more sexual content, the storylines became more adult oriented and serious and true-to-life, etc. They called this time period, "The Attitude Era", you might have heard of it, and it was the biggest time for pro wrestling ever. Ratings were, off-the-charts, it was seriously competitive against Monday Night Football for awhile at one point. This was over a decade ago, and while there's other factors that I'm not including here that somebody else can bring up if they're really interested, eventually, people stopped watching the WWE as much. People got tired of all that over-the-top stuff from the the attitude era and that idea ended, and now, the ratings for pro wrestling across the board, are fairly pitiful. Now matter how you slice them, even if you adjust the ratings to today's standards they're not what they were at that time, and frankly it's because pro wrestling sucks now, and not just because it's wrestling, it's bad 'cause it's bad, now. The booking and writing, the talent, the way it's used, the storylines, they're pretty lousy. Now, they're trying to redefine themselves, and get the kids audience, they're in the middle of another era now, the WWE, and they're calling it "The PG Era", because that's the television rating they're aiming for, for most of the attitude time period and even afterwards, they were TV-14, now they're TV-PG and they're trying to attract younger viewers with their show now.
Anyway, some think, eh, the WWE should go back to attitude era, but, you know, and this is what got me thinking though, having bad ratings or not being as big as they once were is one thing, but why is it so much worst, the product itself, than it used to be? Again, I'm genaralizing here, but the rating change shouldn't be a factor, in fact conventional wisdom has always shown that having limitations like having to be PG can lead to more creativity, television has a long history of examples like that, including in pro wrestling in the past. But, going back to PG-13 though, this is why the comparison is worth noting, because that's the way television works in general, but that's not necessarily the way movies work, and this is the problem with the PG-13 rating. Most people, when they're writing a movie, they don't think about the rating, they just create, it doesn't matter what it is; they don't have a standards and practices division, really; you don't traditionally set out to write or direct or create a PG-13 movie. Yet, the studios do aim for that rating, but that's not the natural inclination of film. Normally you're just creating and then, you get the ratings, and then there's cuts and maybe re-shoots and story considerations, it's then that the rating starts getting adjusted. The creativity aspects of aiming for PG-13, it isn't really significantly different the way, you'll try to get other ratings it seems.
So, this is the studios doing. Yeah, it started originally as a way to distinguish a middle-ground between material that could be excessive and over-the-top for older kids but not quite the graphic nature of R-rated movie, but now, it's basically a world where PG-13 is as much a product as the film is itself; it's Coca-Cola, goes down easier, and attracts more of the audience that supposedly the studios want. So let's look at the PG-13 era of film, and what have got, what have we learned. Well, you look at the top-grossing PG-13 films, there's few unexpected films on that list, as in films that weren't tentpole films that were planned to be major blockbusters in order to make money. In fact, "Independence Day", "The Sixth Sense", "Inception" and "Gravity" are the only four films in the Top 50, that weren't sequels to other films, and weren't based on an original source material of any kind. Basically, this rating is most used, specifically for films where, hypothetically a built-in audience for the film already exists, which is a bit odd considering.- You'd think that'd be the last thing you'd have to keep track of since hypothetically a built-in audience for the material, would seek out and watch the film no matter the rating. So what of these movies? Most of them, as you would suspect are comic book movies, or other action franchise features, most involve battles and/or some kind of, usually it's of the fantasy kind, but most of the time, it's a major centerpiece, climax or selling point on the film. There's a few comedies, fewer romances, and almost no nudity of any kind, although "Titanic", the #2 highest-grossing PG-13 film, is a very notable exception. (People think nudity means R, but traditionally, if you can argue the nudity is sensuality and not sexuality, they have been known to let it slide for a PG-13 film; yes you read that right, that is the nudity standard) Curiously, there's a lack of one other subgenre and that's animation, only "The Simpsons Movie" breaks the Top 200, and that's actually surprising considering how big animation is, even more adult-oriented animation, having been mainstream for a few decades now, Even if you look recently, it's clear that PG-13, is often a style of movie, for the major Hollywood studios, almost a genre in of itself. The Top 10 PG-13 grossing films last year, were all tentpole movies, all remakes or sequels or apart of a franchise, and only when you dig into the ratings do you come across the other movies that receive the PG-13 rating, and you find that most of the movies were films where the ratings was not much of a selling point at all.
You know the other thing weird about the PG-13 rating? It's, not really a rating that, changes the audience. R and NC-17, are definitely ones where most theater chains will, well, restrict. Maybe some theaters are more successful than others at it, but still, PG-13, only means "Parents Strongly Cautioned", it doesn't require that a teenager be around an adult; it doesn't even really technically require that you be 13 to watch the film in the theater or make you go through any additional process before seeing the film. Hell even most televisions nowadays have the thing that sets the ratings, if somebody really wanted to, they can simply limit the programming that somebody wanted to see, there really isn't a process in which PG-13 does that. Now, granted, most moviegoers under the age of 12, probably have a parent with them anyway, but still a mature nine-year-old, can easily and without any fear of any retribution of any kind, go and watch a PG-13 film on their own. So, when you really look at it, that way, it becomes harder to justify the rating, 'cause at least there's a guidelines and restrictions that are enforced for R and NC-17 to some degree, but PG-13 has none of that. Which really begs the question of why bother?
What would be so problematic, or even different if they simply eliminated the PG-13 ratings? Most of those films would simply be lowered to PG, (Which frankly, is already pretty close to a G at this point, and they never give out G ratings anymore, even BoxOfficeMojo has an option of statistics that just combines G and PG.) and frankly, there's nothing wrong and no reason why a superhero movie can't be R-rated either frankly. I can't imagine the next "Iron Man" movie losing that much money because of it.
Honestly, I don't know if it's really time to end PG-13 entirely, but the way it's used is a reflection of the faults of the film industry as a whole, and should be looked at like that at this point, instead of as a real strength of a true guide or rating, until something changes anyway.