Ratings and Responsibility

Whether it's tougher enforcement of the "R" rating at movie theaters, the film industry's decision to tone down the gunplay in its promos, or efforts in Congress to ban the sale of gory videos, video games, or CDs to buyers under 17, the message is the same: Graphic violence is not acceptable entertainment for children.

Yes, a variety of motivations lies behind these steps - economic and political, as well as high-minded. And their effectiveness (and even constitutionality in the case of proposals in Congress) can be debated. Nonetheless, they represent an important shift in attitude among Americans.

Millions of children have taken advantage of lax checking of IDs to view "R" rated films. Ironically, that rating often serves as a come-on to youngsters. Hits like "Scream" or "The Matrix" owe a lot to patrons who shouldn't have gotten by the ticket window.

Now "restricted" should mean something, thanks to the commitment made by the National Association of Theater Owners, whose members operate two-thirds of the movie screens in the country. The Motion Picture Association of America has taken a related step, toning down the movie ads and promos that typically go out to general audiences, whether in theaters or in front of the TV at home.

Bolstering the ratings system and cleaning up movie promos are relatively small steps. A larger one will come when entertainment moguls realize that if they're going to market to children, their products should be appropriate for children.

Congress is attempting to bring that about by legislative fiat. How much better if the country's creative geniuses would wake up to the need on their own.

But the awakening must come, first of all, at home. The "R" rating, after all, is aimed as much at parents as children. More parental oversight of what children view is crucial. In this regard, reviews that take ratings seriously, and add their own more detailed analysis, are useful tools (see Monitor's Movie Guide on Fridays).

Beneath the ratings and proposed laws lies a more basic issue: moral responsibility. Parents, filmmakers, lawmakers, theater owners, and even kids themselves, have a role in that.

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