Monitoring the Movies Your Child Watches: the MPAA Check-the-Box Campaign


We're all aware of the movie rating system in America, a system which, for better or for worse, helps us as parents determine appropriate viewing material for our kids. What you may not be aware of is the fact that, recently, the Motion Picture Association of America recently updated that system so as to put more information in the hands of discriminating parents. The Check-the-Box Campaign, begun in April of 2013, has been touted as "an enhanced educational tool," as it involves more detailed descriptions of content in movie ratings boxes, different phrasing in  trailer tags, and a more "transparent" film ratings website. Not everyone approves of the changes, though, and indeed, there is no substantive change in the movies themselves, or the marketing thereof, but the campaign is nonetheless a tool that parents can use to filter content for their kids, something which arguably becomes more important every year.

 movie theatre courtesy of flickr gibsongolfer

MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd, a former senator, and National Association of Theatre Owners John Fithian revealed the campaign at CinemaCon, a convention for NATO members. Dodd noted that the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) of the MPAA renewed and improved the rating block to make the descriptors more prominent as well as creating educational materials, including a PSA and posters, to be showcased in theaters across the country. The campaign urges parents to “Check the Box” (the ratings box) so that they can learn more about the content of a movie before determining if it is appropriate for their children. Simultaneously, it changed the trailer tag shown before previews to reflect the fact that a particular preview has been approved to accompany a particular feature movie, not judged purely on its content but in comparison to that main movie, with the assumption being that, if you as a parent are okay with the content of that movie, you should be okay with the content of the trailer.

rating_compare trailer tag


The Parents Television Council, a U.S.-based advocacy group, says about these changes: "[they] just give studios 'the appearance of doing something about media violence without actually doing anything at all. The MPAA can keep rating violent movies PG-13 which means studios can market those violent films to kids. And because it applies to everything, in practice, it means nothing." The Atlantic magazine film critic Noah Gittell predicts “Check the Box” will do more harm than good. “It's an awful idea,” he says. “Not only will it do nothing to prevent gun violence, but it could lead to more children and teenagers seeing violent films because it highlights the elements that are most tantalizing — the adult content." Furthermore, he adds: “It shouldn't be a surprise that the plan is ineffectual; the MPAA is funded by six major Hollywood studios, and it is their mission to promote the industry and ensure profits. It follows that the aim of the ratings system has never been to prevent anyone's admittance to a movie. The MPAA's new labels will not stop anyone from seeing movies with adult content; it will only save children the trouble of squinting.”

Ultimately, whatever the creators or the critics of the campaign say, the fact remains that the ratings of a movie, the reasons for that rating, and the way a movie is marketed, are all things that we as parents should be aware of as we determine what we feel is appropriate content for our children to watch. One may argue that, more and more these days, it is not a matter of when our children will be exposed to violence or sexual innuendo, but how.  The question becomes then in what way can we best protect and prepare them? "Checking the ratings box," while perhaps an incomplete measure, is nonetheless a measure of protection and preparation.

Photo by gibsongolfer via Flickr.

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