The single biggest flaw in our current movie rating system is that shoehorns vastly different levels of content into the same rating. The R rating can cover everything from the gentle Lost in Translation, with one brief scene in a strip club to a Friday the 13th movie in which a half-dozen nude women get decapitated or meet some other graphically depicted and gruesome fate.
The MPAA has tried to help recently by publishing a brief summary of their reasons for applying a rating, but these are often ambiguous at best. What exactly is a “Sexual Situation”? How much violence is “Strong” violence?
So what do I propose? Nothing less than taking G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 and tossing them on a bonfire. We can do better. One thing we modern Americans are good at is digesting information either graphically or numerically. A barchart or the phrase “4 out of 5” can tell us a lot more than a brief, vaguely-worded phrase.
Also people respond differently to different types of content. Some are offended by violence but have no problem with graphic nudity and sex, some can’t handle either and still others seek them both out.
My proposal is really pretty simple. We take the various components of what the ratings board evaluates and rank them individually. Rather than simply have G or R, we have separate levels, from zero through five, for sexual content, violence, language and what I call subject matter or content, which would be kind of a catch-all for the general intensity of the situations in the film. A movie like Saving Private Ryan might get a 5 in the violence department but barely register in sex or nudity. Each component could then be displayed in a bar graph where the old MPAA rating used to go, like this:
The other part of this system would be to establish and publish as objective a standard as possible for each “level” so when someone saw that the sex/nudity rating was a 4, that would mean something like full-frontal female nudity or simulated intercourse, rather than having to guess what a 4 meant. Another possible refinement would be separate ratings for sex and nudity, because it’s very possible for a naked person to be completely unerotic or for two fully clothed people to go at it like a couple of crazed badgers.
I, for one, believe that more information is a good thing and this system would, by giving you more information more quickly, take away a lot of the guess work for parents and audiences in general.