• When PG isn’t PG

    by  • March 24, 2016 • Ratings Reform • 11 Comments

     shocked family

    Any reasonable person would be justified in assuming that PG is PG is PG; whether you are watching a television program or a movie, if it carries a PG rating, the ratings should be comparable and the content, roughly equivalent. But Hollywood’s standards and justifications aren’t necessarily reasonable.   

    In the past year, Disney has released a number of PG-rated films that by most parents’ reckoning, are perfectly well suited for their youngster. The live-action version of Cinderella, for example, was rated PG. As was the latest Pixar film, Inside Out, and the animated The Good Dinosaur. As is true with any good children’s entertainment, there is enough in each of these films to keep adult audiences entertained without resorting to adult innuendo, crass bathroom humor, or coarse language; but they were clearly made with young audiences in mind, and many parents would take their youngsters to the theater to see these movies without a moment of hesitation.  

    Shouldn’t parents be able to invest the same level of trust in a television program that carries a PG rating? Wouldn’t they be justified in assuming that standards for a PG rating are the same regardless of the medium?  

    Take a look at the recently debuted The Real O’Neals on ABC – owned by Disney, the same parent company behind the theatrical releases Inside Out, Cinderella, and The Good Dinosaur. In a recently completed analysis of the first three episodes of this PG-rated television show, the PTC found one instance of adult content every 43 seconds. And this wasn’t “mild thematic elements,” which was the reason for Cinderella’s PG-rating; or “peril” and “action” which the MPAA considered deserving of a PG label in the case of The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out. No, it was jokes about condoms, masturbation, prostitution, internet pornography and S&M sex play, as well as nearly non-stop talk about teen sex, and a seemingly endless string of deliberately scripted – then bleeped – “F-“ and “S-words.”  

    Vice Principal Murray: “Well my ex-wife performed several love crimes on me during our marriage, which is why we always had a safe word.”  

    Vice Principal Murray: “Well, you did use one of the banned words, which include but are not limited to ass, bitch, butt head, douche, slut, slut shamer, slut bag, slut basket…”  

    Kenny: “V. P. Murray, this policy is the [bleeped unknown] [bleeped unknown] lamest, [bleeped unknown] ass tickling, [bleeped unknown] sucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

    In other words, content closer to what you might expect to see in a PG-13-rated film is airing now on a program that is billed as a family comedy, airs during the traditional “Family Hour” and carries the least age-restrictive rating being used by the broadcast networks during prime time [until the debut last week of Little Big Shots on NBC, there were no regularly scheduled G-rated programs airing on the broadcast networks during primetime]. A rating that is also shared with mostly innocuous programs like Undercover Boss, Shark Tank, and The Voice.  

    So why should parents trust the television ratings system, when this is what they are given: a confusing, inconsistent mess that leaves innocent children exposed to wretched content.




    Ms. Henson is a noted expert on entertainment industry trends and the how the impact of entertainment affects children and the American popular culture at large. She also directs the organization’s Advertiser Accountability Campaign, which encourages companies to sponsor family-friendly entertainment. She previously supervised the research and program content analysis operations of the PT and produced a number of groundbreaking PTC studies that document the levels of graphic sex, violence and profanity on television. Some of those reports include: The Ratings Sham I & II, Dying to Entertain, Faith in a Box, The Sour Family Hour, The Blue Tube, and TV Bloodbath. She began her career with the PTC in 1997 as an entertainment analyst, documenting instances of inappropriate content on television. Ms. Henson has appeared on a variety of television shows including Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story, CNN Headline News’ ShowBiz Tonight, CNBC’s On the Money, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, and CBN’s Newswatch. She is a frequent guest on radio talk shows across the country and has been quoted extensively in news sources such asEntertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Variety, Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms. Henson is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a BA in Government. She resides in Falls Church, Va., with her husband and their son.

    11 Responses to When PG isn’t PG

    1. Robert
      March 31, 2016 at 10:29 am

      It’s kind of difficult to compare the ratings of movies and TV, because of the fact that PG-rated movies have almost exclusively become synonymous with kids or family entertainment, whereas TV-PG rated shows are oftentimes more intended for an adult audience. Even movies with content no worse than PG rated ones get PG-13 ratings, because of the fact that it is not a decidedly “family flick.”

      It’s also worth noting that before the invention of the PG-13 rating in the ’80s, PG-rated films would share content as listed above in their films.

    2. Mark Reeves
      March 28, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      I agree with you 100% on the inconsistent and ineffective TV ratings system. Having the networks rate their own shows
      is a farce. Movie companies do not get to rate their films. The MPAA does. While far from perfect, the MPAA is much more reliable than the TV networks. I agree that much of the PG-13 fare of today would have been R rated 20 years ago. However, I would argue that was is rated PG in today’s films is much more accurate than before. Do you remember some of the popular films from the 80′s like “The Goonies,” “Back to the Future,” “Top Gun,” and “Gremlins?” These films were all released after the PG13 rating was initiated in 1984. They would definitely be rated PG13 if they were released today.

    3. Boz
      March 28, 2016 at 10:26 am

      All ratings are 2-3 levels off. PG-13 is what was rated R 20 years ago, and R is what was even X 40 years ago. PG is not even safe. You absolutely MUST preview ALL movies before your kids watch them, even so-called PG. They are trying to influence your kids and they will lie to you about how safe/clean a movie is.

      • Justin
        March 31, 2016 at 2:43 pm

        True. One of the most blatant examples in the last few years was “Wolf of Wall Street” in 2013, which had over 500 f-bombs, orgy scenes (both gay and straight), drug use on screen, etc throughout the 3 hour movie. It was rated R “on appeal” (was originally NC-17, but since it was Scorsese directing and the studio that made “Wolf” literally OWNS the MPAA (yes, owns them), they decided to go with an R). One theater owner said “it was the hardest R he’s ever seen.” I think it would’ve been NC-17 for sure even 20 years ago, maybe 10 years ago (the R-rated theatrical 2013 version).

        But on the other end of the spectrum, the MPAA seems overly strict with some movies that should probably be rated G, like Inside Out. Only about 5 movies a year now (out of over a hundred) that Hollywood releases are rated G nowadays, whereas it used to be a lot more common. Sometimes I’m surprised that some PG stuff (mainly animated, clearly kid-targeted films) in the last several years weren’t rated G. Seemed G to me.

        • moax429
          April 1, 2016 at 12:44 pm

          Paramount Pictures (owned by the notorious Viacom), who made and released “Wolf of Wall Street,” *owns* the MPAA?

          No, Justin. Paramount *pays part of* the MPAA’s salary, as do Universal, Sony, Fox, Warner Bros., and Disney.

          But I *do* understand your confusion. Because Paramount and the other studios pay the MPAA’s salary equally, the studios can pretty much manipulate the MPAA into doing whatever the studios want. I checked the MPAA’s website regarding the information on “Wolf,” and now they’ve become *extremely secretive* about appealed ratings – they mention *nothing* about any appeal at all, but I *know* you’re *100% right.*

          (You might also remember Scorsese threw a tantrum when his equally sick remake of “Scarface” in 1983 received a well-deserved X, but then after throwing a fit about that, he had it appealed to R. And Universal, who distributed “Scarface,” vowed they’d never put out an X-rated film – funny how that changed in 1990 when they released the first NC-17 rated film, “Henry and June.” Then a few years later Universal followed that up with Ron Howard’s documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” which was *properly* rated NC-17; Howard was one of many producers who lobbied for the NC-17 rating in 1990, so it’s a good thing, unlike Scorsese, Howard stepped up and accepted responsibility.)

          I heard there was a documentary a few years back called “This Film is Not Yet Rated;” I understand it exposes the MPAA at their own game (I haven’t seen that film yet). I’m sure it’s on DVD, so you might want to check that out (as I hope to soon).

    4. Darlene
      March 25, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Several years ago I picked up a PG movie from our local library. I wanted to watch it before I watched it with my pre-teen and teen kids, and thank goodness I did. It was easily an R, containing obscene sex scenes not mentioned on the cover. I reported it to the library, but they were far more interested in not making a judgment on the suitability for children than they were about protecting children. It was an outrageous position after seeing what I saw. Pure trash rated PG.

      • moax429
        March 25, 2016 at 12:42 pm

        Sounds as if the MPAA (whose rating system I have *not* trusted since June 1980) changed the rating of that film from R to PG on appeal.

        It was precisely for reasons such as that I have subscribed to the Catholic News Service (previously, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)’s movie rating system ever since.

    5. Teresa
      March 25, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Thank you for keeping us informed!

    6. Darrell Ekdahl
      March 25, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Looks like it is time to rate Disney off-limits.

    7. Glenda
      March 25, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Shame on you Disney for exposing our children to such vulgarity. Because I’m now convinced that you do not respect the PG rating as being trustworthy over the years, I will keep my children at home and will only watch DVD’s that are not supported by Disney – - -but definitely after I have evaluated the contents filmed.

    8. Sue Long
      March 25, 2016 at 8:32 am

      I agree with everything you said except, ” content closer to what you might expect to see in a PG-13-rated film”. This content is not appropriate for 13-year-olds either. Hollywood is out to corrupt our kids. We need to be very careful what we let before their eyes. Parents should view it first to make sure it is appropriate content for their children.

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