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A recent Harvard study has just "found" that the MPAA ratings system has loosened its standards in regards to rating films. The study shows that it seems to be easier to get PG and PG-13 ratings than it was 10 years ago.
Comparisons between movies from 1992 to 2003 shows newer movies with more sex, violence and profanity. They even made their own "head-to-head" type comparison system to show how movies like 1996's A Time to Kill (rated R) has less sex and violence than 2003's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (rated PG-13).
What this study does not seem to look at is the context in which these movies handle sex, violence and profanity. The Harvard review seems to be very black and white. The violence in Lord of the Rings is fantasy based and no realistic looking blood is ever shed. The violence is shown in a non-violent manner. A Time to Kill dealt with child rape, gunning down unarmed men and racial hate crimes (brick throwing, burnings). Granted there was more killing of creatures in L of the R, but, "A Time to Kill" is still more violent.
A lot of how a movie is rated by the MPAA has to do with the manner in which it portrays sex and violence. There is also a pretty exact rule about how much profanity is allowed in a rated movie. Two F-words in a movie can jump it from PG-13 to R. So there should be no creeping over the years with straightforward rules such as that.
The Harvard study argues that parents may be duped by the ratings system, thinking it is OK to send their children to movies, not realizing what they are actually going to see. And if they are really determined to make sure their children do not see anything they don't want them to, maybe they should go and see the movies first or try to get their own review from someone who may have seen the movie already. As for the MPAA, it is a guide, a reference to people giving them an idea of what type of movie they are going to see. It is not an exact science and it does seem to work pretty well.
Sex, violence, profanity and drugs have increased throughout all the rated films in the past 10 years. This is proven by the Harvard study. But that is too simple of a fact. The way in which all these things are portrayed needs to be studied as well when arguing the validity of the MPAA ratings system.