Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The MPAA Wants To Shoot Themselves

Good news, everyone! The MPAA ratings system is irrelevant, well, more irrelevant that usual.

From The NY Times:

The Motion Picture Association of America started rating films in 1968 to indicate suitability for children. Ever since, some group or another — whether of parents or politicians or filmmakers — has complained: Too broad. Too easily manipulated. Too arbitrary.

The association, financed by the movie studios, has occasionally bowed to public pressure and tinkered with its evaluation process. In 2007, for instance, it started considering smoking alongside sex, violence and profanity when assessing films.

The standard Hollywood ratings — G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 — must now compete with all manner of Internet-based ratings alternatives, some of which are gaining new traction through social networking tools…

Jack Valenti, who ran the M.P.A.A. for 38 years and created the ratings system, used to call people who complained about the system “C. W.’s,” or constant whiners. Joan Graves, chairwoman of the organization’s Classification and Ratings Administration, listens more patiently to complaints, but is no less emphatic in her stance: the ratings system is not broken.

“If we tried to respond to the demands of every special interest group, we would shoot ourselves,” she said in an interview. “That doesn’t mean we can’t improve,” she added. “We are always on alert for ways to make tweaks so that ratings are more informative or more realistic.”

C.W.'s? Clever, Mr. Valenti, very clever. It's quick-witted put-downs like that one that reveal why he was in charge of a broad, arbitrary, easily manipulated, often shady ratings organization for 38 solid years.

So which special interest groups/alternative ratings websites are making the MPAA want to shoot themselves on a daily basis? The Times article mentions three: Movieguide.org, the Christian-based home of the infamous Crystal Teddy Bear Awards; Kids-In-Mind.com, an organization whose content descriptions never fail to amuse; and SceneSmoking.org, an anti-smoking group whose sole criterion for assessing the quality of a movie is the answer to the question, "Does this movie feature smoking or not?" Seriously:

Illustration for article titled The MPAA Wants To Shoot Themselves

But while the MPAA doesn't consider, say, blasphemy in determining a movie's rating, since 2007 the MPAA has considered smoking or "depiction of tobacco use." I'm a non-smoker, and I don't understand why should they bend to one of the most special of special interest groups. Can't hyper-vigilant parents who want to know exactly how many female extras are seen smoking in The Hangover just go to SceneSmoking.org and get that information themselves?

As puritanical, and arbitrary, and shady as the MPAA can be, just a few minutes perusal of SceneSmoking.org reveals that the ratings system could be much, much worse. For one thing, SceneSmoking.org is far more arbitrary than the MPAA—at least when it comes to statistics. For example, did you know that "more than 1000 teens will start smoking today because of what they saw on screen?" No? Well, that's probably because SceneSmoking.org just made it up! See, teen brains are more impressionable than Silly Putty, but only when it comes to movies. Nothing else—not their parents or friends or communities—affects their decisions more than movies. So burn all the movie cigarettes! Wait, no, douse all the movie cigarettes with water! Maybe then instead of taking up smoking, kids will start buying cigarettes and throwing them in rivers. Problem solved.

SceneSmoking.org is also the proud home of the illustrious Hackademy Awards, which isn't at all what it sounds like:

Youth reviewers of Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down! announced their selections for best and worst when it comes to portraying tobacco use in a movie. The glitzy awards ceremony was held on February 18th at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. Their choices were based on their reserach and review of 2008 films. This year's winners are:

Thumbs Up! Movie: What Happens in Vegas
Thumbs Down! Movie: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Thumbs Up! Actor: Will Smith
Thumbs Up! Actress: Nicole Kidman
Thumbs Down! Actor: Robert Downey, Jr.
Thumbs Down! Actress: Penelope Cruz


So, despite the fact that What Happens In Vegas is a tedious romantic comedy with a pivotal comedic set piece involving Ashton Kutcher peeing in the kitchen sink, it is a cinematic achievement because there are no cigarettes in the entire movie? Sure. But shouldn't SceneSmoking.org be more concerned about the impressionable Silly Putty brains of its army of youth reviewers? Those kids see smoking in movies all the time! How long before they become part of the 365,000 kids who start smoking every year because of movie-smoke? And what about secondhand movie-smoking? Won't someone think of the children?!     

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