4.1.1 The Motion Picture Industry

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
4

With few exceptions, what might be called the "mainstream" or "legitimate" or "Hollywood" motion picture industry does not produce the kinds of films that would commonly be made available in "adults only" outlets. The films shown in such establishments, the ones containing little if any plot, unalloyed explicitness, and little other than an intent to arouse, are not the products of the motion picture industry with which most people are familiar. Nevertheless, sexuality, in varying degrees of explicitness or, to many, offensiveness, is a significant part of many mainstream motion pictures. One result of this phenomenon has been the rating system of the MPAA. Because those ratings are so frequently used as shorthand, and frequently erroneous shorthand, for certain forms of content, a brief description of the rating system may be in order.

The rating system, established in 1968, has no legal force, but is designed to provide information for distributors, exhibitors, and viewers of motion pictures. At the present time there are five different categories within the rating system. Motion pictures rated "G" are considered suitable for everyone, and people of all ages are admitted when such films are shown. The "PG" rating, which stands for "parental guidance suggested," still allows all to be admitted, but warns parents that some material may not be suitable for children. Films receive a PG rating if there is more than minimal violence, if there is brief nudity, or if there are non-explicit scenes involving sex. A "PG-13" rating is used where more parental caution is suggested, especially with respect to children under the age of thirteen.

Most germane to this Report are the ratings of "R" and "X." An "R" rating indicates a restricted film, and those under the age of seventeen are admitted only if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Motion pictures with this rating may be somewhat, substantially, or exclusively devoted to themes of sex or violence. They may contain harsh language, sexual activity, and nudity. Films with this rating, however, do not contain explicit sexual activity. If a film contains explicit sexual activity, or if, in some cases, it contains particularly extreme quantities and varieties of violence, it is rated "X", and no one under the age of seventeen may be admitted.

Only in rare cases will anything resembling standard pornographic fare be submitted to the MPAA for a rating. More often such material will have a self-rated "X" designation, or will have no rating, or will have some unofficial promotional rating such as "XXX." It is important to recognize, however, that although no motion picture not submitted to the MPAA can have any rating other than "X," and that although standard pornographic items would unquestionably receive an "X" rating if submitted, not all, and indeed, not many officially "X" rated motion pictures would commonly be considered to be pornographic. Although the nature of what kind of content will get what rating will change with the times, it remains the case that the "X" rating, especially when applied to the small number of mainstream films that officially receive that rating after submission to the MPAA, is not in every case synonymous with what most people would consider pornography.