Friday, September 08, 2006

Rated xoxoxo: A Storyteller Considers M.P.A.A. Movie Ratings

I am living a double life. Striving to maintain my goals as a fiction writer (at least 500 words per day) while also preparing to go to law school. This struggle urges me to find ways to balance my writing life with my continuing education.

Lately, I've been studying strategies for scoring high on the Law School Admissions Test, and Kaplan recommends dissecting editorial and Op-ed writing to improve the chances of scoring higher on the "Logical Reasoning" section of the exam.

Below shows how I dissected an editorial written in today's New York Times, entitled Rated R, for Obscure Reasons

This editorial couches its argument in the context of a discussion of a new documentary entitled, This Film is Not Yet Rated. The Times editorial expressed its confidence in this film and agrees with the attitude expressed in the film: the movie industry ought to review and upgrade its rating system.

This argument proceeds by first extolling the informative quality of director Kirby Dick's documentary and then illustrating that it is persuaded--by evidence provided in the film--that the movie industry's rating system is not fair nor open.

Here's the editorial's conclusion:

“It is questionable whether the movie industry should be in the business of rating movies at all. It might make more sense to simply make information about content available, and let parents make their own assessments.

If there are going to be movie ratings, they should be done through a fair and open process. After the revelations of 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated,' the burden is now on the M.P.A.A. to give its ratings system a serious upgrade.”

Here are the argument's premises:

The rating system is operated by industry leaders and groups who keep the identities of the raters anonymous out of self-interest. Producers feel motivated to curtail the content of the movies to ensure that their movies receive a rating that is commercially viable.

Now, please give a warm welcome to the argument's assumptions:

Parents own assessments of movie content will ensure a fairer and more open process for rating movies, as will freeing the process from being conducted by anonymous groups and industry leaders.

And please give a round of applause for the argument's weaknesses:

This argument does not provide enough evidence for what it suggests is a clandestine nature of the movie rating system. The editorial’s argument does not take into consideration what the M.P.A.A.’s Rating Board deems its integrity: A group of 8-13 members who “have the capacity to put themselves into the role of most American parents.” According to the M.P.A.A., Rating Board members must have “a shared parenthood experience.” The president of M.P.A.A. stands by his principle of not involving himself in the Board’s decisions, which suggests his laissez-faire approach on the side of the industry. Finally, the editorial fails to address the reasons why the Board regards its anonymity as important: the Board wants to keep the rating system free from unfair persuasion by the industry, producers, or other groups.

Please consider how this argument might be strengthened:

If the editor offered examples of parents who feel betrayed by the industry’s anonymity, such examples would strengthen the editorial's argument.

What can we infer from this argument?

From the editorial’s argument, we can infer that this opinion has lower regard for industry leaders and values more the integrity of individual parents when it comes to making decisions about the appropriateness of movie content for their children.

What might be a criticism of the editorial's argument:

The editorial’s reasoning assumes these industry leaders are out-of-touch with these individual parents, and assumes that these two groups are alienated in their motivations and interests.

So that's what my mind was juggling with today in my endeavor to study for the LSAT. Now, here's a flash fiction piece, a short short story inspired by the exercise above:

Wendy’s thin brows furrowed and her fine jaw clenched beneath her rosy cheeks. She turned her brown eyes away from her father who sat across from her at the breakfast table. Alvin Grey had made his final decision: No. His twelve-year-old daughter was not allowed to see the movie Repetition. Are you kidding? My daughter see an independent film that bears no rating! I won’t hear of it!

Alvin always suspected those low-budget films, disguising themselves as “art,” were really nothing more than left-wing lunatics indulging their soft porn fetishes.

Unrated “films” are unsuitable for my daughter!

“Wendy, you’ll come home after school, and we’ll talk about your college applications.”

“But Father!” Wendy protested after swallowing a bite of waffle, “I’m not going to college yet for six more years.”

“Well, Princess. How do you suppose Daddy became In-house Counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America? Do you think I wasted my childhood watching movies that contain gratuitous sex and violence?”

“Father, please. This movie is a compassionate portrayal of aspiring actors who struggle to overcome abusive habits in order to fulfill their yearning for genuine human connection.”

“Well said, Wendy. But you haven’t convinced me of the merits of such a 'film.' (And Wendy's father was actually that kind of Dad who makes quotes in the air with his fingers around words that he feels are sensitive) Save your urge to pontificate for that impressive college essay that you should start drafting, today!”

Wendy’s father kissed her forehead and started to head off to work.

“Father, will you come see me perform the Lead in our school ballet?” Wendy, once again, asked at the wrong time.

“No can do, Princess. Daddy is on trial; working all weekend.”

Silently, Wendy called him all the bad names she could think of, barring Islamofascist.

Wendy had it in mind to leap into the courtroom in her lioness costume. She had to get it through her father’s thick skull, somehow: she wasn’t going to college; she aspired to dance for the New York City ballet.

"Mom, can I have some money to see a movie?" Wendy asked when all was clear.

"Go ahead. There's plenty in my purse."

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

Abandoning ratings is clearly not the answer, but something has got to give .. the amount of violence that goes unscrutinized, while any hint of sex gets the hammer, shows exactly how our values are skewed and screwed up