As part of his attempt to respond to the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump suggested what seems, at first blush, like a movie ratings system, which, of course, we already have.
Here’s the quote:
wut pic.twitter.com/nGeldmOOM2— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick) February 22, 2018
Watching the full video of Trump’s remarks for context, however, shows that what he’s looking for is probably a separate rating for the level of violence in movies, somewhat akin to how TV ratings begin with “TV-MA” or “TV-14” and then include an alphabet soup of warning letters, including “V” for excessive violence. (There’s also “FV” for “fantasy violence,” which is exclusive to children’s programming rated TV-Y7.)
At meeting on school safety, President Trump says violence in video games and movies is responsible for shaping young people’s thoughts: “We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing” https://t.co/VfXvVkwQmq pic.twitter.com/vbt2t0dhtm— CNN (@CNN) February 22, 2018
If there’s one thing we all know about Trump, it’s that the former reality television host loves to watch television. He knows the TV business well, if not intimately (he still seems a bit confused as to how Nielsen ratings actually work). So it’s not hard to imagine that he’s come across a program preceded by a content warning — and sometimes even an official announcement — that dubs a program TV-MA, with a V for violence and an S for sexual situations, or something similar.
Thus, he’s probably hoping that movies will start doing the same thing, where you’d go to see an R-rated movie and know if it attained that rating for violence or nudity or being too incredibly scary or more than one use of the word “fuck” (which has actually happened). But here’s the thing: The Motion Picture Association of America (which gives films their official ratings) already does this. It just doesn’t showcase those content warnings as explicitly as TV does.
For instance, here’s a ratings advisory for an R-rated film, which includes, beneath the big “R” rating, “Strong graphic brutal battle scenes and brief nudity.” The MPAA has included this information for R-rated films since 1990 and for PG, PG-13, and NC-17 rated films since 2000. But in most cases, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for and where to look, and then be able to read it very quickly as it flashes by before a movie trailer. These content advisories also appear on movie posters, but only after a film is rated (which generally happens pretty close to the film’s theatrical release) and in text so small that you have to be eagle-eyed to spot it. Check out this Logan poster to see what I mean.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that Trump probably knows there are already movie ratings, maybe doesn’t know that the MPAA does provide content advisories (but not as succinctly as television does), and is maybe suggesting, off the cuff, that movies start doing what TV does. The real question is if movie violence promotes real-world violence. Numerous studies suggest it does not — as does the fact that one of America’s most successful exports is our violent movies, and the countries we send those movies to don’t have nearly the problem with mass shootings that we do.