Movie Ratings are Bullshit! – MPAA, BBFC and the Bechdel Test

All systems go! After considering a more lucrative hobby as male strippers in Las Vegas, the CCS Video Podcast gang is back in full form.

The MPAA and BBFC movie ratings systems are a touchy topic that B-Mask, CineMax, Kenny and LaughingMan have been eagerly anticipating. The Cheshire Cat Studios gang is no stranger to the controversy surrounding the complete lack of consistency by the US and UK film ratings boards, but what of the secrecy surrounding the very guidelines that the MPAA is sworn to uphold? And what of the political factors and corporate interests that lie at the very heart of the matter? Does the MPAA and BBFC truly uphold high moral standards to provide parents with the tools necessary to shield their children from sex, violence, language and drugs, or does the all-mighty dollar truly have the last word? And what of the disastrous effects that the dreaded NC-17 rating -disproportionately applied to sex and nudity over scenes depicting wanton violence- can have on independent film makers?

B-Mask, CineMax, Kenny and LaughingMan explore the controversies and hypocrisies of the MPAA and the BBFC, and mercilessly eviscerate the advent of the latest movie rating tool championed by pro-feminist social justice warriors: The Bechdel Test. But the question remains: Is there a perfect ratings system that parents can use to determine if a film’s content is suitable for their children, does the MPAA and BBFC do an adequate job of providing consistent ratings, or should art be adherent unto itself and nothing else?

Give us your feedback!

The original recording lasted for just under a full hour, and much of our favorite points, examples and material had to be trimmed out for the sake of a timely release. However, the extra information shouldn’t be lost to the cutting room floor, so be sure to tell us in the comment section below if you’d like to hear the full 1 hour long ‘Movie Ratings are Bullshit’ audio debate!

LaughingMan: Warning, for reasons that will soon make themselves abundantly clear, we have to make it clear that the copyrighted footage used in the following video is included for purposes of commentary, criticism and/or education. That’s called “Fair Use”, YouTube. With that being said-

CHESHIRE CAT STUDIOS VIDEO PODCAST : MOVIE RATINGS ARE BULLSHIT! – MPAA, BBFC and the Bechdel Test

B-Mask: All systems GO!

CineMax: So…

LaughingMan: Do-do do-do…

CineMax: Thank you. Thank you for killing the intro.

LaughingMan: Sorry.

CineMax: Thank you for crushing my dreams. I’ve always wanted to be a stripper in Las Vegas, and think that God has finally sent me a message. It’s a sign.

LaughingMan: Fuck the video podcast, he’s off to Las Vegas. Just like the movie Showgirls.

B-Mask: LOL. Now you too can pay 900 dollars to comeand see your favorite four Internet nobodies! *The Dark Master is watching hairy legs and high heels in a strip club. CineMax’s hat falls from one of the strippers onto his head*

Kenny: Oh no…

LaughingMan: We’d get a hell of a lot more money stripping that we would doing anything on YouTube.

B-Mask: Let’s face it, they amount to the same thing, so…

Kenny: You could whore ourselves out to Machinima and then Microsoft will contact you and be like “hey advertise the Xbox One and say good things about it. Earn an additional $3 CPM bonus for promoting Xbox One! It’s that easy! Campaign email sent to Machinima partners. (just don’t tell anyone about it)”

LaughingMan: You go into a strip club and then all of a sudden you hear “PEWDIEPIE!”

*Group laughter*

CineMax: But seriously though, the topic of today is about movie ratings. And you may be saying to yourself, Movie ratings? What’s there to talk about? Exactly! What do we really know about movie ratings, anyway? We often hear people complain about a promising gory horror flick being diluted to a more family-friendly age rating. *MPAA almost cut Prometheus’ best scene to keep a PG-13 rating* Or a more daring independent film (Shame) that deals with more mature themes than “Crash boom bang!” being slapped with the dreadful NC-17 rating. But really, do movie ratings have any effect on a movie’s performance at the box office? Who gets to decide which ratings should be applied to which movies, and more importantly, based on what criteria? For example, have all of you guys noticed how movie studios strive for a PG-13 rating for their multi-million dollar blockbusters, even if this does essentially mean neutering the film maker’s original vision? *Guillermo Del Toro’s adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness was doomed because Del Toro insisted on an R rating to be true to the author’s original vision, while Universal Studios pushed for a PG-13 rating to ensure some success for the risky film.*

LaughingMan: It’s to get asses in seats. It’s the same thing that happened to me when I went to see Marvel’s The Punisher back in 2004. Everyone was like ‘oh it’s a comic book movie, it’ll be just like X-Men’! Bullshit, it’s rated R. There were actually ushers checking people’s ID at the ticket booth, and this sort of practice of regulating R ratings is excluding one of the major movie-going demographics. Movie studios push PG-13 because it gets more asses in seats.

B-Mask: Absolutely, that’s one of the things that happened with The Dark Knight as well.

Kenny: Even though the Dark Knight had a lot of darker themes and tones that would have made it an R rated film.

LaughingMan: Yeah, it’s not exactly the Jack Nicholson Joker where he’s like “hey we’re going to sing and dance to Prince music!”

B-Mask: It’s really weird that a lot of people die in the dark knight, and a lot of shit goes down, but by in large it’s still in large a bloodless film.

CineMax: See, I think that movie ratings should be seen as helpful guidelines of sorts, you know, to give people an idea of this or that movie’s contents.

Kenny: That’s all they really can be at this point.

CineMax: You see, when you invent this golden standard of a PG-13 rating that all of the studios strive for to get the maximum revenue for their pictures, it goes to show how manipulative the entire ratings system is. I mean, we brought up the Dark Knight earlier, and that’s a PG-13 movie, but so is Marvel’s The Avengers. And the two of them are on opposite sides of the violence spectrum.

LaughingMan: Right, with The Dark Knight being realistic violence versus The Avengers being fantasy or sci-fi violence.

CineMax: And they both warrant a PG-13 rating. And since we discussed horror movies before, there’s an example that I want to bring up when you hear of some latest greatest gory horror flick that is terrifying audiences world wide because they like doing those promo-commercials like-

Kenny: Like the Evil Dead remake?

CineMax: No, not like the Evil Dead, I’m talking about movies like The Devil Within or Paranormal Activity, where they have to sell the movie somehow and so they show you scenes of the audience terrified. “Oh this is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen! Oh my God I had to stop Tweeting in the theater because I was so terrified, meh meh meh mehhh!” And so you decide to go and check out the film to experience it for yourself and it may be a movie that’s actually shocking, like, I don’t know, The Serbian Film. And there’s all the gore, all the blood-

LaughingMan: You go right to the top of the list with The Serbian Film, Max. Goddamn!

CineMax: It may be something more subdued, it doesn’t matter. You’re sitting there, watching it and the gore, the horror, the blood, the carnage… it does nothing for you. You’re sitting there and you’re bored out of your skull. And then, as a contrast, later that day you may decide to listen to an audiobook of an H.P. Lovecraft story by Dark Adventure Radio Theater(like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, and the Call of Cthulhu) and even though Lovecraft stories are relatively subdued, there’s not a lot of gore or graphic violence, and yet I can guarantee that you’ll still have nightmares for the rest of the ensuing week.

B-Mask: Oh absolutely, it’s about what it psychologically does to you and I don’t think that any of the film ratings take that into account in quite the same way.

CineMax: No they don’t.

LaughingMan: Here’s the crazy thing, not only does the MPAA give out more NC-17 ratings for a film having sex over violence, but the ratings that they give movies with very similar content are completely inconsistent. For example, let’s take the 2003 movie “the Cooler” and compare it to “Basic Instinct”. “The Cooler” was slapped with an NC-17 rating because it had a shot of Maria Bello’s bush, where Basic Instinct, a film from a decade earlier, was given an R rating and gave us a full shot of Sharon Stone’s beaver. Now given that accepted societal norms tend to become more Liberal over time, this doesn’t make any fucking sense. That is, until you realize which film had the bigger budget, which one had more star power, and which one was backed by Tristar Pictures.

B-Mask: Personally speaking I should express that when I’m saying all of this, I’m not being a prude here. I’m not going around saying “that should be slapped with a rating” what I’m saying is that it’s really bizarre that there’s no deciding factor for what defines for vulgarity, or- and vulgarity is a completely subjective value and shouldn’t be given anything, but… I don’t know, it’s all over the place. Does anyone else have any other examples of movies being given inconsistent ratings?

Kenny: I actually have a really funny and interesting example involving two very special men: South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker. When Matt Stone and Trey Parker were going through the MPAA rating procedure for South Park: The Movie: Bigger Longer and Uncut, the MPAA complained about a couple of scenes that were supposed to be in there. One of the scenes was supposed to be a video of a woman having sex with a horse, but the MPAA shot it down. And then they reshot the scene and replaced the video of Cartman’s mom having sex with a horse with Cartman’s mom eating human feces. While that was meant to be a big FUCK YOU to the MPAA, the MPAA thought it was fine and left it in.

*group laughter*

LaughingMan: OH JESUS! So Catherine the Great got thrown over for German fecalphelia!

Kenny: Basically, yeah.

LaughingMan: It’s exactly what happened to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Team America: World Police” movie, because in Team America, they have that puppet sex scene. On the theatrical release there’s no genitalia on the puppets but they’re doing all of these mock sex positions. So Matt Stone and Trey Parker submitted their film up to the MPAA for a rating and the MPAA told them that to get an R rating instead of an NC-17 they could only have the puppets perform missionary style and woman on top. That’s it. So they went back and added the scenes of the ‘golden shower’ and the chick shitting on the guy’s face and resubmitted it. Then the MPAA said that they just have to cut the shitting and the pissing and it’d get an R rating.

B-Mask: Nevermind the fact that it features a ton of celebrities getting killed, nevermind the fact that it features a song called “Everyone Has AIDS”, nevermind the fact that there’s a hilarious racial commentary when the main white character, Gary, has his face remade to look like a middle-eastern terrorist.

LaughingMan: He has brown face and pubic hair glued to his face! Nevermind all of that, it’s two puppets having sex.

CineMax: But that’s the thing, isn’t it. The MPAA, the BBFC, and all of these movie rating organizations, they rarely take context into account.

B-Mask: Exactly.

CineMax: You really can’t help but get the impression that they just fast-forward through a movie looking for naughty stuff, and pay little attention to anything else. Which is why we can have Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a G-rated tongue-in-cheek nod to the Silver Age Batman comics. Have clever puns about Aquaman having a small dick and the Flash having premature ejaculation problems, all under the disguise of a catchy cabaret song.

B-Mask: But nobody batted an eyelid when there was a joke about Samuel L. Jackson being the black snail in Turbo, nobody batted an eyelid when there was a joke in Rango about a spine being found in fecal matter. It’s just funny that they let that go, but when you see any sexual activity, “oh no” that doesn’t come under the same label. And don’t get me started on if your film decides to feature smoking. Dear lord, you will go under so much shit for featuring that…

LaughingMan: Oh yeah, “You have to love and tolerate everything and what people do… EXCEPT FOR SMOKING!!”

B-Mask: Smoking on screen has probably gone under one of the biggest changes. When do you EVER see anyone smoking on screen anymore unless you’re doing a period piece about the 1940s or a throwback film. Nobody does it anymore.

LaughingMan: They can smoke weed, though. In fact, it’s encouraged.

CineMax: Especially if it’s a James Franco film and it’s used for laughs. (Your Highness, Pineapple Express, This Is The End) then yeah, it’s okay.

B-Mask: Yeah exactly. But, Max, in Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” do we ever see anybody smoke?

CineMax: No.

B-Mask: Oh shit I just realized that, because I really loved Wolf of Wall Street and-

CineMax: Because tobacco is the Devil’s weapon of destruction! It corrupts your soul!

B-Mask: Never mind the money and the rampant success, it’s the tobacco that will do you in!

CineMax: Listen, snorting cocaine out of a prostitutes asshole is FINE. That’s the Christian way. Okay?

*group laughter*

Kenny: In response to studies conducted by The Annenberg Public Policy Center of Ohio State University, Joan Graves, head of the MPAA rating board, said this: “We try to get it right. The criticism of our system is not coming from the parents, who are the people we’re doing this for.” So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth.

B-Mask: “Let’s think of the children…”

CineMax: I think you misread that, though. it’s not “we’re trying to get it right” it’s *adds patronizing over-emotional voice* “We’re trying to get it right, we’re doing this for the CHILDREN.”

LaughingMan: “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

CineMax: It’s like who cares if some films just aren’t meant for kids, no let’s use this hackneyed appeal for emotion.

Kenny: That’s why the PG-13 movie rating was created, for movies that are too intense for PG but not strong enough for an R rating.

B-Mask: Let’s consider how many movies anymore are rated G, or PG, or U, or PG 7, “may contain comic mischief”, “may contain comic violence”, etc. It’s a completely failed concept to have films for children in that way anymore.

LaughingMan: Well yeah, just look at Disney. The only Disney animated movie to get a PG rating was “the Black Cauldron” right?

B-Mask: Yeah.

LaughingMan: And then they have violence scenes in other Disney movies, like the bad guy in Tarzan getting hung by his neck and you see the shadow in the lightning, and then in Beauty and the Beast Gaston falls off a cliff and dies, in The Lion King the Musafa dies and Scar gets eaten alive by hyenas. And these are scenes of horrific violence but they’re still given a G rating.

B-Mask: Exactly, and you have to wonder how-

Kenny: And there’s the song “Hellfire” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

B-Mask: Yes, which is about sexual frustration. And the fact that the DVDs and videos are still rated as G and as U for Universal.

LaughingMan: It’s because Disney has deep pockets and has a hand in this entire rating system debacle. The MPAA has a powerful sway in Hollywood, under the threat that “if you don’t let us rate your films, then the Government will come in and do it.”

B-Mask: Just like how the FCC has already censored television and radio, so it makes sense that the (government would have gotten involved with movies as well).

LaughingMan: Exactly, “If you don’t let us censor the movies, then the U.S. government will come take it over. Hollywood is more collusive than competitive, they’re like vertically integrated monopolies that control development, production, post-production, and distribution. You have to consider that Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney, Paramount, Fox, and Sony Pictures all control more than 95% of the US Film Industry. And each of those studios is owned by a larger parent company or conglomerate like Time Warner, Comcast, Disney Corp, Viacom, Fox, and Sony, and all of these corporations own more than 90% of all of the media in the U.S. like television, radio, etc. And what I see is that the MPAA is used to keep down the independents. Because who gets hurt worse by an NC-17 rating than the independent film makers? The difference between an R rating and an NC-17 rating is literally millions of dollars because television stations will not advertise trailers for NC-17 rated movies, major stores like Wal-Mart and some video rental services like once Blockbuster Video won’t carry NC-17 rated movies. And an NC-17 rating can destroy your movie.

Kenny: Yeah, no one really wants to ever get an NC-17 rating.

LaughingMan: Matt Stone said that for their film Orgazmo, the MPAA didn’t give them ANY stipulations or guidelines on what needed to be cut to make their movie an R instead of an NC-17. And then with Team America World Police they actually gave them some guidelines on what to cut, and Matt Stone says that the MPAA is so inconsistent and so subjective, and it’s absolute bullshit.

B-Mask: When Matt Stone and Trey Parker made Orgazmo, had they made South Park and made a name for themselves?

LaughingMan: No.

B-Mask: When Matt Stone and Trey Parker made Team America World Police, had they made South Park and made a name for themselves?

LaughingMan and Kenny: Yes.

B-Mask: That perhaps answers the question.

LaughingMan: Mmmm-HMMM!

B-Mask: They had an audience that they were after.

CineMax: Yeah, you could slap “from the creators of South Park” on the Team America Movie poster.

LaughingMan: And who owns South Park, is it Universal Studios (viacom)?

*group confirmation*

B-Mask: Ah, (the MPAA’s inconsistency and hypocrisy) all makes sense now.

*group confirmation*

B-Mask: And it’s not just America with subjective scandals, we’ve also had our fair share of subjective scandles in Sweden with the Bechdel test.

CineMax: YES!

B-Mask: Go ahead, Max. Tell them about the Bechdel Test.

CineMax: Oh yes, the Bechdel Test, the latest handy tool used by social justice warriors to gauge how female-friendly popular bits of popular media are. What is the Bechdel Test, you ask? It’s simple, there are three stipulations or rules if you will: The movie must have more than one female character, the female characters must interact with one another, and the topic of their conversations has to be about something other than a male character. And you might say, ‘actually, that’s not all that bad. All that they are asking for are more interesting and complex female characters, right?’ Well here’s something to consider: Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Goodfellas. All of these sublime, major mile-stone motion pictures FAIL the Bechdel Test. Do you know what DOES pass the Bechdel Test? “2 Girls 1 Cup”.

LaughingMan: *fit of hysteria*

Kenny: The pornographic film Daisey Does Dallas also passes the Bechdel Test.

LaughingMan: *fit of hysteria. Falls on floor*

B-Mask: Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader passes the Bechdel Test.

B-Mask: What is great is that there’s actually a website online that documents all of the films that are coming out. It wasn’t just “does it pass the three rules of the Bechdel Test” they added little footnotes as well. I think my favorite example is of Iron Man 3 that says “passes the Bechdel Test” and in little parenthesis it says “(although dubious)”. They’re making this up as they go along. It’s a fantasy. And I think that the Bechdel Test is a great example of why rating systems simply don’t work. Because you can’t apply them in any rigid manner without being a hypocrite or finding out that there’s something that undermines it. Each film can’t be graded in the same way, each film is unique, each film is different. Art is NOT about ticking off boxes, art is in servant to itself and nothing else. That is how it works. It’s a really solid way in showing you how the idea of a rating system is broken.

*guy with clipboard puts a check on “parts of body that offend me” against Michelangelo’s David statue*

LaughingMan: It’s every parent’s responsibility to determine what they want their kids to watch and not watch, and if there was just a little bullet list of what’s included in the movie, it’d be more helpful. Parents could make a more informed decision about the specific contents of a movie rather than “oh, it’s rated G, or PG, or PG-13, or R” with very little context about what exactly is in the movie.

B-Mask: Exactly. A rating is sort of a vague statement. “Oh it’s that” but what does ‘that’ really mean?

Kenny: So really, do we need a rating system? I don’t think so.

B-Mask: It really feels like the rating systems are there only for parents and no one else.

Kenny: And that’s what baffles me the most, honestly.

*long pause*

LaughingMan: The end.

B-Mask: That was BIZARRE! We had this long steamroller of conversation just chugging through, and we just brought it right into the next station.

LaughingMan: That’s because we fixed the whole fucking problem.

B-Mask: We really did, didn’t we. That was brilliant. We really did the job for them. Does anybody want to offer us a job? You know?

Kenny: Yeah, I like that we reached a conclusion. We really didn’t need to think that hard about it but after analyzing the problem about movie ratings, it’s like, ‘you know what? screw it’.

CineMax: Mmm-hmm. But wait, you mean that a Cheshire Cat Studios Video Podcast did NOT end abruptly for once?!

B-Mask: Bum-bum-BUMMM!

LaughingMan: We didn’t end on a joke.

B-Mask: Nooo! We have to end on a joke! Quick! Get one get some more of that ass!

LaughingMan: *laughs* Quick, get the Dark Master, hurry! We pan over to the Dark Master and he’s standing there in the corning reading a newspaper, and he just shrugs at us.

*group laughter*

B-mask

B-Mask was not always a purveyor of animation. Having credentials ranging from frog slinger to hash seller, he has experienced life to its fullest extreme from under his tiny rock. He hosts the series known as Beyond Pictures which aims to look beneath the surface of works- understandably difficult in this day and age.

CineMax

A subversive excommunicated from [REDACTED] as a result of a failed coup d'etat, CineMax has miraculously managed to reach and find asylum in the Land of the Free. Here he spends his days working for Cheshire Cat Studios, all the while plotting his inevitable return to the motherland to once again foment the flames of revolution.

Kenny

Born in the stomach of a whale in a small fishing town in Antarctica, Kenny knew that his life mission would be to end world hunger, save Tibet, and finally learn how to dougie. Instead, he ended up studying law and writing the "Food For Thought" article series for CheshireCatStudios.com. One day, he hopes to become President of Brazil and blow up the moon.

LaughingMan

The loveable lunatic with the foul mouth and the iconic laugh, Laughingman is the founder of CCS. With more coffee than copper in his bloodstream, he's a full-time website developer by day, and a gamer, editor, and fiction writer by night.

8 Comments on “Movie Ratings are Bullshit! – MPAA, BBFC and the Bechdel Test

  1. I’d love to hear the full audio discussion, it’s certainly quite an interesting topic.
    While I think that it’s good to have a trusted resource for parents to look up what kind of movie they are about to let their kid walk into, this MPAA situation reminds me of the whole Comics Code Authority debacle, back in the sixties. It certainly has the same bad aftertaste of censorship through economic pressure.

    • @Comics Code: Interesting comparison, but still only the tip of the iceberg. The full audio version touches up on a myriad of other issues regarding such government intervention, including pressure by the Pentagon on Hollywood regarding the depiction of the military, the Disney and Warner Bros strikes of the 1940s, and the Communist Blacklistings thereafter. What do they have to do with movie ratings, you may ask? How do they also tie into the Comics Code? Two words: “Vote chasing”

      Tune in for the rest tomorrow 😉

      • I’m looking forward to it! It’s rather fascinating how everything is kind of connected, even across time.
        @vote chasing: I agree, it feels like everything concerning the government is more or less just about getting votes. Like when they blame comics or video games for teen violence and fall over themselves to propose harsher censorship laws instead of actually looking at the underlying problems in society. I feel like politicians do that just because the first is easier to do and less complicated to explain to voters than the latter. It makes them look “pro-active” and “tough” and fixes nothing in the long run, but hey, who cares about the long run if there are elections to be won, right? After a tragic school shooting in Germany the family minister wanted to put all games that are “dominated by violence” and “award points for violent behaviour” on the black list, so that not even adults could buy them. Thankfully that wasn’t implemented. (Incidentally she is now the minister of defence.)

  2. I’m looking forward to it! It’s rather fascinating how everything is kind of connected, even across time.
    @vote chasing: I agree, it feels like everything concerning the government is more or less just about getting votes. Like when they blame comics or video games for teen violence and fall over themselves to propose harsher censorship laws instead of actually looking at the underlying problems in society. I feel like politicians do that just because the first is easier to do and less complicated to explain to voters than the latter. It makes them look “pro-active” and “tough” and fixes nothing in the long run, but hey, who cares about the long run if there are elections to be won, right? After a tragic school shooting in Germany the family minister wanted to put all games that are “dominated by violence” and “award points for violent behaviour” on the black list, so that not even adults could buy them. Thankfully that wasn’t implemented. (Incidentally she is now the minister of defence.)

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