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
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
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
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
"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. …