I don't usually pay attention to MPAA movie ratings anymore--they lose all meaning when you become an adult--but recently, the local cineplex has instituted a new policy with regards to admitting people to R-rated movies. Their policy is to card "anyone who looks under thirty." You know, just like liquor stores and bars do.
Except establishments selling alcohol have a strong incentive to make sure buyers are of legal age: alcohol is a controlled substance, potentially fatal when too much is imbibed, and--reasonable or not--there are heavy legal penalties in place to discourage sales to minors. When you could lose your liquor license over a twenty-year-old buying beer from you, demanding verification of age, even from those who look like adults, is completely reasonable. But there is no law out there to penalize movie theaters for letting a fifteen-year-old see an R-rated movie, and for good reason: seeing a movie is unlikely to hurt anyone, even if the (completely arbitrary) MPAA rating says it's not appropriate for them.
The MPAA rating system is screwed up anyway, though. More and more I think we should scrap the one we have and come up with a new one based on a more holistic view of the movies being rated, instead of counting the swear words or pelvic thrusts. I've actually thought about this a lot, to the point where I've investigated the systems used in other countries and come up with one of my own based on what I think makes the most sense in these.
Here's my idea:
- General Audience: All ages. Encompassing what is currently labeled as G and PG, and maybe some of the lower levels of PG-13. The common swears, innuendo, mild nudity depending on context, mild violence, etc. would all be okay. The average parent does not care much about these things. They would not keep their kid from watching Short Circuit, for instance, despite the fact that people say the word "shit" in it.
- 12+: Young teens and up. This would include the bulk of what is now labeled PG-13, also throwing in some things that got rated R solely for nudity, drug use or swearing. Like the 1970s and '80s version of PG (think Jaws or Monty Python movies).
- 15+: Older teens and adults. What is currently called "soft R": movies rated R mostly for reasons like a lot of bad language, nudity, or non-violent sex scenes. Depending on the context, violence that is not extremely graphic but is nasty or frequent could end up as 15+.
- Adults Only: Movies including a lot of graphic violence, blood and gore, or the mixture of sex and violence. Very explicit non-violent sex scenes could push things into this category, too, depending. This would be the only rating that requires ID to enter. Not sure what the cutoff age would be--I'd be tempted to suggest sixteen instead of eighteen.
The vast majority of movies would end up classified as General or 12+. Relatively few movies would be Adults Only--mostly action, horror, and some satires and dramas. Part of the idea here is to make it a little harder for kids to see violence and a little easier for them to see nudity, naughty language or non-violent sexual content, which is demonized in the current rating system despite being pretty inoffensive on the grand scale of things.
Admission to the levels above "General" would be at the theater's discretion. Kid looks like they might be too young to go to a 15+? Don't sell them a ticket (unless their parent is with them or comes by and says it's okay for their kid to see this movie). I like the idea of allowing older teens into an "Adults only" film, maybe only with an adult accompanying them, but forbidding younger children from coming in at all.
Basically, I'm asking for a common-sense rating system based on how parents actually decide whether material is appropriate for a child to watch, and common-sense enforcement of that rating. Movies are relatively low on the "things that might hurt your child" scale, and kids are more resilient than adults give them credit for. The existence of an "adults only" category in my scheme is more for the benefit of adults who want to see a movie in peace than for the benefit of the kids.