Why the Kids Are Seeing R-Rated Movies Unchecked Marketplace Forces Conspire to Nurture Today's Youngsters Not on the Good in Mankind but the Violent, Salacious, and Gruesome. Series: VIOLENCE IN FILM SECOND IN A TWO-PART SERIES

Article excerpt

THE issue here is not just "G," "PG," "PG-13," "R," and the dreaded "X" when it comes to movies. The real look-them-in-the-eye, all-American, bottom-line issue is the care and feeding of kids and why so many of them are seeing so many violent movies.

The answer will not come in a New York courtroom, where two movie producers are suing the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for declaring their movies to be X-rated instead of R-rated.

An important case, yes, because it could change the 22-year-old movie rating code. But in essence the issue in the court is a money issue, not a kid issue.

Why? X-rated movies have trouble being booked in the best theaters, where the largest audiences gather. Major producers of mature movies always want an "R" instead of the dreaded "X," which has become synonymous with pornography. Now, instead of "R," many producers want the code changed to include an "A" rating for "adults only," with no one under 17 admitted.

A three-part nutshell answer to why so many kids can see violent movies is: First, they are seeing such movies because fewer and fewer adults are there to say, "No." Second, just about any pre-teen or teenager can walk into a video store and rent an R-rated film and take it home to a VCR. Third, and most importantly, theater owners are under no legal mandate to stop youngsters from buying tickets to R-rated films.

"If I were to enforce the `R' rating," said the manager of a multitheater complex in Los Angeles who did not want to be identified, "I would lose half my audience. Besides, kids can see any movie they want on video; so why not let them see it here first?"

To be sure, the level of graphic violence in many movies has increased over the 22 years of the movie code, as violence in society has increased. Just about any mature or R-rated movie these days has more explicitness than before in language, sex, and violence.

But when the code was established to help parents decide what movies their kids should see, it spoke even more deeply to a canon in US society: All young children should be nurtured by the good in mankind, not the violent, salacious, or gruesome. When they reach 18, society has concluded, they are part of the adult world.

In essence, the code spoke to a sense of community, a sort of engaging idea that one kid is all kids. Jackie Koury sees it this way.

As a working mother with two kids, Mrs. Koury likes to go to movies now and then. One night a few weeks ago in a theater near Denver, she saw a 10- or 11-year-old youngster sitting near her. The movie on the screen was "Sex, Lies and Videotape," a serious, well-regarded and sexually explicit movie, but not a movie for kids. "I sat there and thought what is this kid doing here?" said Koury. She went to the manager, and after some discussion the youngster was escorted out.

"Why bother with the rating if it won't be enforced?" she said angrily. Since then, after local and national media interviewed her, she has been deluged with letters and phone calls of support from around the country calling for enforcement of the rating system, including requests for legislation.

"Why do we let young kids watch sex and violence," she asks, "and then turn around and tell them to lead a good life? What is the purpose of this? We might as well give them a can of beer and toss the keys to the car to them. …