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30 Years of PG-13
July 1, 2014 11:51 AM   Subscribe

When the 1984 blockbuster “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which features a man holding a still-beating heart in his bare hands and other visual delights, was too gory for its original PG rating, Steven Spielberg contacted Jack Valenti and proposed the PG-13 rating. "Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context."
posted by keli (39 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I recently read something from Rob Thomas about how they deployed the word 'Fuck' in the Veronica Mars movie. Because they didn't want an R movie, they were only allowed one, and they wanted to make sure it was the right one. They filmed a few different scenes with different characters saying things that involved the word Fuck, knowing they would have to pick just one of them for the final film.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:00 PM on July 1 [10 favorites]


I was was 14 in 1984. PG 13 meant I got to see sideboob three years earlier than anticipated. This was the best thing ever! Then we got HBO and PG 13 became lame.

I worked in a movie theater as an adult (in my 30s). I thought the rating system was horrible. I remember when South Park was NC 17, parents would try to buy tickets for their kids then bail. They'd get made that we refused. They also got made when they bought the R rated ones and we kicked their kids out.

The ratings also never made sense to me. I never objected to nudity. I somewhat objected to gratuitous violence. I for sure objected to violence with pain and torture. Gore wasn't my thing, but the things I would have been concerned with didn't even make the list. Religion? Nope. Not there. Racist speech? Nope. Hate speech? Nope.

There's also been ratings creep. The movies that would have gotten an R then are barely getting PG now.

I had my way I'd get rid of the system and require people to actually do some research as to whether or not the movie was appropriate for those under 13.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:01 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Man, in retrospect, what a shitty movie to have wasted skipping out of school that day to take the ride to Paramus and see it. I really should have known during the opening musical number that a trainwreck was happening.
posted by mikelieman at 12:01 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


The odd thing now is that there's more nudity in general on cable TV than in movies. If Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire were movies, they'd be much more chaste.
posted by octothorpe at 12:05 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


The PG-13 is arguably the worst thing that ever happened to American movies. It ensures that the most widely distributed big-budget entertainment boasts: an enormous quantity of kinetic violence and nearly zero reflection on the ugliness and pain that it causes; plenty of lecherous and smarmy sex-oriented content without a glimpse of an actual nude human or any hint of reasonable and realistic sexual behavior; copious deployment of casually crass and sexist profanity that dances (mostly) around a single high-megaton syllable that apparently has the power to level schoolyards and day care centers should it be uttered more than once in the presence of most teenagers.

My favorite example of PG-13 rules gone wrong is likely Everyone Says I Love You, which got slapped with an R rating solely because of one (1) hilarious use of the word motherfucker. Other than that, it's PG all the way down.

Another interesting PG-13 data point: The Bride, released in 1985, received a PG-13 despite the presence of full-frontal nudity. Don't try that in 2014. (Also, don't watch The Bride because it's not very good. Unless you're really into Jennifer Beals, in which case ahem. But my point stands.)
posted by Mothlight at 12:07 PM on July 1 [28 favorites]


Went to see Temple of Doom in the theater as an 8 or 9 year old and was so terrified we had to leave (at the cardiac surgery scene).
posted by Rock Steady at 12:19 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Prior to PG-13, there were plenty of PG movies with nudity in them. For example, the movie Jaws was PG, as was the film version of the musical Hair.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 12:23 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


cjorgensen: There's also been ratings creep. The movies that would have gotten an R then are barely getting PG now.

Do you mean that the other way around? Because the original 1976 Bad News Bears had kids using a lot of profanity, including the n-word and the other f-word, in addition to using tobacco products. Ragtime has a topless woman in a somewhat sexual context and lots of racial tension and violence. Both were PG, and those were just off the top of my head.

I can't think of too many PG movies from recent times that would have been given Rs back then.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:26 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


There's also been ratings creep. The movies that would have gotten an R then are barely getting PG now.

I dunno, certain PG movies from the 80s strike me nowadays as movies that would definitely be PG-13 if not R.

Ghostbusters for example: according to the IMDB guide we have "implied fellatio" among other things and "4 Shits, 1 Goddamn, 4 Asses, 1 Asshole, 2 Pisses, and 2 Hells" and doesn't Venkman say "You bitch!" super-dramatically at some point?

Airplane has the infamous bare-breasted jiggle scene. I made the mistake of trying to watch the movie "Caveman" with my 11 year old. (Of course, watching that movie is a mistake in more ways than one, but the amount of sexual material struck me as way beyond a PG, which is probably why I loved it as an 11 year old!)
posted by jeremias at 12:30 PM on July 1


Nudity and language has moved up scale, violence has moved down. First Blood was the first R/18A rated movie I saw as a kid for example but it has been re-rated in here in Canada to a 14A.
posted by Mitheral at 12:33 PM on July 1


My kids call this the 80s PG. Before the PG-13, PG movies had lots of stuff that they are not allowed to have now, including nudity, profanity, violence, etc.
posted by bove at 12:35 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


My favorite bit from the 1981 (pre PG-13) classic, Student Bodies.

[We cut to an announcer seated behind a desk in a well-furnished office]

Ladies and gentlemen, in order to achieve an "R" rating today, a motion picture must contain full frontal nudity, graphic violence, or an explicit reference to the sex act. Since this film has none of those, and since research has proven that R-rated films are by far the most popular with the moviegoing public, the producers of this motion picture have asked me to take this opportunity to say "Fuck you."

[the MPAA R-rating logo appears on the screen]
posted by Naberius at 12:37 PM on July 1 [15 favorites]


IIRC, Roger Ebert hated, hated the ratings system. Hated, hated, hated it. Here, for example.
posted by Melismata at 12:40 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


This gave us the only almost decent joke in Be Cool, the awfully way-too-meta and-way-too-repetitive sequel to Get Shorty. There's a conversation near the beginning with John Travolta and I don't remember who where Travolta points out the inanity of the MPAA rules.

"For instance," he says, "You can say 'fuck' exactly once in a PG-13 film. Any more and you get an R rating. Know what I think? Fuck that."

Be Cool (2005, color, R)
posted by Spatch at 12:46 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]




Went to see Temple of Doom in the theater as an 8 or 9 year old and was so terrified we had to leave (at the cardiac surgery scene).

Oh, so I guess PG-13 does work if the parents pay attention to it.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:56 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Fuck.
posted by telstar at 12:58 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


... the original 1976 Bad News Bears had kids using a lot of profanity, including the n-word and the other f-word, in addition to using tobacco products.

This is a bit off-topic, but I am amazed that we live in a world where smoking cigarettes is something that people think needs to be censored.

We live in weird times.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 1:15 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo: This is a bit off-topic, but I am amazed that we live in a world where smoking cigarettes is something that people think needs to be censored.

We live in weird times.


It's weird, but it's also the only surefire way to prevent tobacco companies from trying to advertise in film. (Which is an argument unto itself).
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:28 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I am amazed that we live in a world where smoking cigarettes is something that people think needs to be censored.

I'm in a weird place in my life, having grown up very "Fuck censorship" and now finding myself having some strong "Won't someone think of the children" urges. I think there's something to be said against the glamorizing of the unhealthy. Censorship might be too strong, but I'm ok with banning smoking from certain movies. Though I don't know that smoking is on the official list of stuff that takes a movie from PG to PG-13 or R.

Parents and people forget that the ratings work better as a warning than a threshold. They are indicators that you should look into a movie more deeply if your child is affected by the rating. Not "Oh, PG-13 means little Billy can see it" but rather "Hm, at least worrisome up to age 13, I should perhaps investigate this further."
posted by aureliobuendia at 1:31 PM on July 1


The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (available on DVD from Netflix) shows just how arbitrary the ratings process is, and just whose interests it serves (hint: it's not the moviegoing public's). Definitely recommended.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:35 PM on July 1 [12 favorites]


(Among many other tidbits from the documentary: movies are penalized far less for female nudity than for male nudity.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:38 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (available on DVD from Netflix) shows just how arbitrary the ratings process is, and just whose interests it serves (hint: it's not the moviegoing public's). Definitely recommended.

Seconding this. It was way more bizarre than I was expecting.
posted by mordax at 2:34 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


3rding this film is not yet rated.

So yeah, essentially the childless religious leaders are dictating the movie ratings for everyone elses youngsters. Indie films get more scrutiny (and harsher ratings), big hollywood productions (including lots of violence) get a pass. Homosexuality is a sure way to ensure a higher rating.

Fuck the MPAA, fuck the rating system.

Oh, yes, I'm all for parents guides put out by 3rd parties - if your religion tells you not to see a movie, feel free to take that advice.

A personal example: I think every 15 year old should see Requiem for a Dream - it's the most effective anti-drug movie I've ever seen.

I'm fully comfortable with parents acting as censors for their children; that's their job (well, introducing them to media that is age appropriate).

Also worth noting, the MPAA pirated the hell out of 'this film has not yet been rated'; next time you hear an anti-piracy message from the MPAA, keep this in mind (oh yeah, they justified it, but not as intelligently as I've seen other pirates justify their piracy).
posted by el io at 3:14 PM on July 1


I agree with you on requiem for a dream, but my friends and I went out to score some weed so we could cope with what we had just seen, which struck me as slightly ironic. Not that I am in any way equating weed and heroin.
posted by deadwax at 3:26 PM on July 1


Yeah, I am probably getting old. These days the movies seem raunchier, the violence seems more intense, the hate more overt, and the misanthropy more endearing. It also gets weird when I conflate TV and movies. Hannibal for example (TV not movie). I can't imagine this getting less than R in the 80s if it were a movie. These days it's barely a blip.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:47 PM on July 1


The MPAA raters consistently have racist and homophobic biasses when deciding which films get which ratings.

NC-17, for example, was first used for Henry and June, not because it had sex in it, but because it had queer sex in it.

I for one, am happy that the advent of streaming and torrents and direct downloads have rapidly eroded the MPAA's influence on what America gets to see.

As for PG-13, it's still the case that a film can depict a lot of people getting killed and maintain a PG-13 rating, but one image of a dick and it's automatically R.

All the MPAA really does is act as a living example of how mainstream America has abhorrent values. I hope the raters keep getting outed, and I hope more and more theaters stop caring if a film is unrated.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 4:25 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


CTRL+F for "Just One of the Guys" and found "Just one of Them" :)

That's the only PG-13 flick I can remember in which there is a brief topless shot and it's so clearly perfectly constructed to hit that rating like the single "Fuck" per season or whatever rule there was on Breaking Bad.
posted by aydeejones at 5:09 PM on July 1


Oh, so I guess PG-13 does work if the parents pay attention to it.

Not sure what you mean by that. Temple of Doom was rated PG.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:09 PM on July 1


Somewhere in storage, I have this ToD poster which has no rating on it since (IIRC) it hadn't been resolved yet.
posted by plinth at 5:23 PM on July 1


I really enjoyed This Film Is Not Yet Rated, but I thought their private investigation was a bit disingenuous. Years ago, Jack Valenti said that the people doing the MPAA ratings are folks like you and me, with little children of their own donchaknow. Cut to the PIs in the present day that prove the people doing the MPAA ratings are actually folks with grown up children! What a massive discrepancy exposing the hypocrisy of the whole system, burn it down now!
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:53 PM on July 1


Well, the head of the ratings board seems to think it's important that the raters have children that are currently young:
I think it’s easy for an adult in the media to think that harsh language doesn’t matter to parents. And it may not matter to parents once their kids are 30, and 40, and maybe in their 20s [laughs], but we know from really direct questions in our surveys that they do care. They want to be the arbiter of what their kids are exposed to. So, what they want us to do is give them the information and then they’ll act on it.
Personally, it's problematic to me that people who don't have young children are dictating what young children get to see - it's a generational issue. Many older folks are uncomfortable with depictions of homosexuality, of male sexuality, of nudity in general (i'm not saying such films should be rated PG, but NC-17 is the kiss of death for films; they never wide distribution). Cultural norms should not be dictated by grandparents.

Also, the critiques went beyond the age of the children of the reviewers - the fact that religious leaders are the ones that are part of the appeals board is pretty problematic to me. If I wanted to live in a theocracy, I'd move to Saudi Arabia.
posted by el io at 6:30 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


I was about 11 when the PG-13 rule was created, and as an avid movie geek, this was BIG news for me. I mean, damn, does this thing mean I won't get to see some movie I otherwise would've been able to. What an outrage! (of course, it didn't really make a difference and in a few years was a moot point for me anyway. Plus, 12-year-olds don't really get carded when they go see a movie anyway, so it proved to be a non-issue.)

I remember that it was Temple of Doom that got the new rating, and especially the heart ripping out scene. But as kid, that scene didn't bother me because it was so silly and fantastical. (Though just after that scene, the victim is lowered into a lava pit, and Spielberg made sure to have explicit shots of the burning body...that was pretty damn gross). But what really gave me nightmares was the sequence previous, with Indy and Short Round stuck in the room with the ceiling slowly lowering to crush them...not gory in the least but much more terrifying.

Also, I always thought it was another movie along with Temple of Doom that created that rating. Gremlins has the infamous scene in which Billy's mom traps a gremlin in a microwave and cooks it with a big green explosion. I remember a lot of outrage! over that scene, which at the time I thought was hilarious, but now I think, yeah, that was pretty intense for younger kids.
posted by zardoz at 6:42 PM on July 1


The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (available on DVD from Netflix) shows just how arbitrary the ratings process is, and just whose interests it serves (hint: it's not the moviegoing public's).

It's not just arbitrary. The MPAA ratings system is bent to serve filmmakers and producers who have more money and clout. The article in the FPP basically makes it clear that Steven Spielberg had the clout to negotiate an entirely new movie rating for himself. By contrast, Trey Parker told Kirby Dick in This Film Is Not Yet Rated that he got no cooperation from the MPAA when the ratings board gave Orgazmo (an independently financed production) an NC-17, but he got a list of all the material he had to cut to get an R when he released South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut with major studio backing.
posted by jonp72 at 6:45 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Steven Fucking Spielberg.
posted by oneironaut at 10:11 PM on July 1


Remember Spaceballs, right near the end, Colonel Sanders says "Fuck!" when the automatic self destruct override button is broken. Shocking!
posted by illuminatus at 10:13 PM on July 1


I learned about the one "fuck" rule from the DVD commentary on Bring It On.

Yeah.

Also, I still can't believe that Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a G rating. That used to blow my mind as a child growing up in the start of the PG-13 era.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:04 AM on July 2


2001: A Space Odyssey was rated G as well.
posted by Naberius at 11:22 AM on July 2


Pg-13.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:53 PM on July 6


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