Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut concludes with the following dialogue: Alice Hartford: Then we have to do something very important. Dr. Bill Hartford: What’s that?
Alice Hartford: We need to fuck. (Kubrick)
When artistic genius Kubrick composed Eyes Wide Shut, which was based on Arthur Schnitler’s 1926 novella Dream Story, he definitely did so with careful consideration of an adult audience, and the movie he envisioned was not intended for children. However, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which has created a system of rating movies with the goal, “to offer to parents some advance information about movies so that parents can decide what movies they want their children to see or not to see,” felt it necessary to give the movie an NC-17 rating, which in the film industry is the epitome of the kiss of death (Valenti 384-385). This rating was a result of nothing more than the opinions of thirteen individuals who make up the MPAA’s board, and it is these individuals’ opinions that supposedly give an accurate representation of whether or not all of the parents in America would want their children seeing a movie. Essentially, in regard to all movies that receive an NC-17 rating, it is the opinions of these thirteen individuals that has impeded the artistic genius of the likes of Kubrick and many others. They have limited both the ideas and audiences for many works. For all artists, this is a horrible injustice, and it is for this reason that an alternative form of rating should be created. The MPAA is an unnecessary rating system. It inaccurately represents parent’s attitudes towards movies and impedes artists’ ability and vision of their artwork, so we need an alternative means of rating movies.
MPAA president Jack Valenti notes, “Each (board) member present estimates what most parents would consider to be that film’s appropriate rating,” in his article, “The Motion Picture Association Movie Rating System,” which can be found in Texts and Contexts (Valenti 386). However, this is a problematic approach to rating movies, when taking into consideration how thirteen individuals can not possibly represent the opinions of millions of different parents, who all come from varying backgrounds. Paul Attanasio further elaborates on this point when he states, “In a country as large and varied as ours, the idea of a central organ of taste is preposterous.” Attanasio brings up a valid argument, considering both how complex children are in the sense that they are at a crucial period of neurological development and how what is considered appropriate varies on an individual level. Substantially, this means that the purpose for the MPAA’s existence, which is to guess what most parents would consider to be an appropriate rating for a film, is an inaccurate system of evaluating movies, and thus it is unnecessary. Unquestionably, there is no way that thirteen middle to upper-class individuals can equally represent the diversity of parents in America. In addition, since this is a matter that varies on an individual level, the decision of what is appropriate content for a child is a question for the parents, and no one else.
While discussing movies as an art form, Valenti expresses that, “It would have been foolish to believe that movies, that most creative of art forms, could have remained unaffected by the change and torment in our society” (Valenti 384). Although Valenti acknowledges the need of filmmakers to express such changes in society, he still finds it necessary to rate movies on the premises of whether or not children should be able to see them, using a system that Valenti admits, “isn’t perfect, but it’s in an imperfect world” (Valenti 388). The fact that the president of the MPAA admits that it is flawed, and then justifies its weaknesses by saying that the world is damaged is chilling. When discussing the issue of the MPAA and the movie rating system, it is crucial to be mindful of how these ratings affect filmmakers, producers, screenwriters, and all other artists involved in composing a film’s perspective. It is essentially their work of expressing the world around them. From a filmmaker’s point of view, a movie rating system based on whether or not children should be able to view them greatly impedes the artists’ overall potential of being able to express their ideas of the world.
Considering how the MPAA obstructs an artist’s full potential of delivering a message, it can be inferred that from an artist’s perspective, the MPAA is not desirable. This is an issue that Lois P. Sheinfield discusses in his article, “The Big Chill,” when he notes, “Not only does this system compel the repression of original work, it denies a willing audience access to the work” (Sheinfield 389). To a larger extent, since the MPAA is impeding on artistic ability by censoring some works, it is also conflicting with artists’ rights of freedom of speech, restricting what it is that artists express and communicate through the art of motion pictures. This means that to a certain degree the MPAA is conflicting with the filmmaker’s constitutional rights. Sheinfield provides further evidence in regard to this issue, when he states, “In 1972 the [Supreme] court held that government can not restrict expression based on the merits of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content” (389). It is terrifying to think that even though the government has no power to restrict expression, that the MPAA is granted this power over films. On a fundamental level, not only is the MPAA unnecessary, but it is also serves as an injustice to artists involved in the film industry, and it is unconstitutional.
Paul Attanasio offers a simple solution to the MPAA rating system problem, in his article, “The Rating Game:” “The answer, then, is to return the judgment to the localities, just as the Supreme Court has done in its obscenity rulings” (Attanasio 393).Attanasio’s assertion is an excellent suggestion, since the decision of whether or not a child should be able to watch a movie is the responsibility of parents. Basically, this is the best solution. It would remove a constrictive system from filmmakers and allow parents to make better decisions for their children. In addition, by removing such constraint, filmmakers would be granted the freedom of expressing their views of the world, without unnecessary limitations. Substantially, by granting artistic geniuses like Kubrick the freedom to express their actual thoughts of the world, this could result in movie content that makes its adult audiences think, which essentially promotes a higher level of critical thinking, and what it is that we communicate with each other. On a rudimentary level, putting the responsibility of whether or not children should see certain films on each individual parent is the best solution, because while this assures that movies like Fantasia are saved for family movie night, it also provides the same assurance that sensitive adult content is left for adult audiences. In order for this to happen, parents will need to draw their own conclusions as to what is suitable for children.
In regard to the issue of the current means in which movies are rated by the MPAA, it is imperative that an alternative system replaces the MPAA, it is an unnecessary system that inaccurately represents parent’s opinions of movies, impedes on filmmakers ability to express themselves through their artwork, and to a larger extent conflicts with the constitutional right of freedom of speech. Basing a movie rating system on the grounds of whether or not a child should be able to see it is inadequate and childish in itself, or as Shales notes, “Trying to sanitize every film so that you can take a 12-year-old to it-why does that have to be” (Shales 397)? The best option to replace the MPAA is to put the responsibility of deciphering whether or not a child should see a movie on each individual parent. In addition, limiting what artists are allowed to express, repressing their abilities to communicate their original messages, is a huge injustice to both artists and their audiences. This is why the responsibility of deciphering whether or not a child should be able to see a movie, should be that of each individual parent, likened to the ruling of the Supreme Court in regard to obscenities. On a rudimentary level, this is not an issue of whether or not the usage of “hump the hostess,” is appropriate for films, but rather, what is an appropriate alternative to the MPAA (Virginia Woolf). The answer to this alternative solution is to put the responsibility of figuring out what is appropriate in films into the hands of parents with children.