On Wednesday, Motion Picture Association of America president and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd announced a change in the movie ratings system, but it's not the one that people have been asking for. In the wake of the shootings in Aurora and Newtown last year, some pundits, parents, and other concerned citizens have called for the MPAA to revise their ratings system so that films with any graphic violence would merit an R rating. The thinking: An R drastically reduces a film's box office gross (you have to go all the way to No. 72 on the top-grossing movies of all-time to find an R, The Passion of the Christ), so a revision of the ratings standards would create a natural incentive for studios to cut out the bloodshed.
But Dodd had a different kind of change in mind. Instead of tweaking the content standards, the MPAA will use bigger font to describe the adult content and criteria in a film that produced its rating.
They are calling it the "Check the Box" approach, and it's an awful idea. Not only will it do nothing to prevent gun violence, but it could lead to more children and teenagers seeing violent films because it highlights the elements that are most tantalizing—the adult content. It shouldn't be a surprise that the plan is ineffectual; the MPAA is funded by six major Hollywood studios, and it is their mission to promote the industry and ensure profits. It follows that the aim of the ratings system has never been to prevent anyone's admittance to a movie—only to, as Dodd put it Wednesday, "inform parents and allow them to make their own decisions, considering their children's sensibilities and unique sensitivities."