Many in Hollywood are outspoken opponents of gun violence, yet they seem curiously uninterested in the fact that, according to a study in the journal “Pediatrics,” gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since it was first instigated nearly three decades ago. The study also found that the use of guns in PG-13 films even exceeds that of R-rated films, calling into question the efficacy of the entire ratings system.
A bit of history might be helpful here.
The PG-13 rating was first given to the film “Red Dawn” in 1984. It was created in response to outrage over two blockbusters released earlier that same year — “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” both of which earned only PG ratings despite being saturated with violence. The Indiana Jones film even included a man having his beating heart ripped from his chest, yet that moment wasn’t enough to persuade the ratings board to slap an R-rating on a movie that was being directly marketed to family audiences.
Thus the PG-13 rating was a compromise designed to give parents more information. That’s a good thing in principle, but far trickier in practice. Even from the outset, the PG-13 rating exacerbated the process by diluting the ratings system.
Prior to PG-13’s creation, a single use of a most prominent vulgarity would automatically mean an R-rating. Now it can be heard in PG-13 movies, too, as long as it isn’t repeated. Today, it seems obligatory that every PG-13 film include that profanity. Without the PG-13 rating, that word likely would be excised from the script far more often than it is today, and we doubt moviegoers would lament its absence.6 comments on this story
In addition, the PG-13 rating has paradoxically made it easier to show excessive violence while at the same time, masking the consequences of that violence. Heroes can riddle a bad guy with bullets and not produce the kind of blood and gore that would likely lead to an R-rating. Many films also seem intent on pushing the envelope on what’s acceptable in a PG-13 film. The study in “Pediatrics” notes that many R-rated movies from years ago would likely be rated PG-13 if they were released today.
This is not a call to scrap the ratings system. It is still a valuable tool for moviegoers and has become a well-recognized part of the culture. However, it is important to recognize that the ratings are an imperfect tool. Parents and others need to gather more information about a movie’s appropriateness beyond the rating assigned to it.