03.29.12

Why is Bully's rating is so important to movies...and games?

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About a month ago, The Weinstein Company's documentary Bully received an R rating from the MPAA. An R rating would mean that kids wouldn't be able to see the film alone, a fact that Harvey Weinstein has argued is critical to the film's message. Weinstein appealed the film's rating and though his appeal failed, he decided to ignore their rating and release the film unrated. Now, he has followed through on that, convincing the second largest theatre chain in America, AMC, to join him. They will be screening the film without a rating, requiring kids only to have a permission slip.

In an article at Salon.com, Andrew O'Heir discusses what the MPAA's decision really means.

In the "Bully" case, the board has ended up doing what it usually does: favoring the strong against the weak, further marginalizing the marginalized, and enforcing a version of "family values" that has all sorts of unspoken stereotypes about gender and sexuality and race and other things baked into it. In short, the MPAA has sided with the bullies and creeps.

But what's really perverse, of course—not to mention cruel and repellant—is a ratings decision that ensures that the kids who most need the succor that "Bully" has to offer are not the least likely to see it. I'm both a parents and a movie critic and I understand the usefulness of a ratings code and the impossibilty of screening all entertainment options for your kid in advance.

Bully is being advocated as a mature—grown-up, not graphic—film for a young audience that has trouble talking to adults about the things they deal with on a day-to-day basis. With this decision, the MPAA has shown profound insensitivity and distance from the people that they claim to protect and represent.

The ESRB often rates games based on the amount of language and violence they contain. Despite frequent M ratings, it has become a quasi-meme to assume that the typical Xbox Live gamer is a twelve-year-old hurling any combination of obscenities. While games like Halo and Call of Duty are labeled as mature, they serve as breeding grounds for the height of immaturity.

The restrictions aren't working, yet they're indicative of a thought process that is also out-of-touch and out-of-date. Ratings need to be changed as much as games and films need to consider their audiences. If they're really serious about how bad an impact a mature game would have on young children, they should be rated Adults Only—a rating which often serves as a kiss of death.

Mature as a term should be abandoned. It misrepresents the content and does not do the community as a whole any favors either. I want mature games, no matter what they are rated.