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Signing Away Your Kids

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Imagine sending your child over to a stranger’s house for two hours. While there, you have a guarantee she will not be physically abused in any way, but the unknown adult with may say or do anything he wants, such as: take his clothes off, have sex with other partners, or perform any kind of violent act, including murder, on other people. Would you be willing to sign up?

You are wondering why I would even propose such a strange scenario, yet some parents in the Midwestern US are happily entering into such an arrangement—and even paying to do so.

Near the end of June, I received a call from a New York Times reporter who asked me what I thought about GKC Theaters issuing what they call “R-cards” to underage theater patrons who wish to see restricted movies without being accompanied by an adult. Predictably, my reaction was negative. So was Jack Valenti’s, the outgoing president of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Quoting from Micheline Maynard’s finished story, Mr. Valenti felt the cards “distorted” the rating system, which he has been heavily involved in for over three decades. He also noted, “Not all R movies are alike. There are some R movies that children should not see.”

I couldn’t agree more. From my perspective as a film reviewer, I’m seeing fewer and fewer PG-13 movies that are appropriate for teens, let alone those classified R.

In the weeks that have passed since I gave my comments, I have continued to ponder the R-card option. The one question I cannot find a satisfactory answer for is: Why would any parent toss away the privilege of guiding their children in making wise entertainment decisions?

According to the Maynard’s NY Times article, Mr. James Whitman, VP of Marketing for the theater chain claims, “It was parents who were coming to the box office and saying, ‘You’re forcing me to see a movie I don’t want to see,’” that gave him the idea for the R-card.

The article says parents were tired sitting through ear-splitting pictures with their action-film-loving teenagers. The solution? You can now pay $2 to GKC and give your child access to any R-rated movie—no questions asked. As of the end of June, 700 parents have abdicated their opportunity to be part of the decision-making process, choosing instead to place full trust in the creators of the motion pictures.

Fortunately, many parents are still concerned about the messages and values portrayed by filmmakers who may be strangers to their family standards, and are a little uncomfortable about permitting their offspring to be the victim of whatever happens to be playing at the multiplex. Yet ironically, the signing authority of these Midwesterners may ultimately affect even those families who would never voluntarily remove themselves from this aspect of their children’s lives.

Presently, pressure to relax ratings categories is stronger than ever. Just this week, Mean Creek, an independent project portraying teen bulling is getting press because its R-rating will make it difficult for its target audience to see the movie. Michael Moore made similar complaints about his recent film Fahrenheit 9/11.

At the same time, the retirement of Jack Valenti means the MPAA came under new management. Former Secretary of Agriculture and past Congressman Dan Glickman officially took the organization’s reins on September 1, 2004.

Because the MPAA rating system is voluntary, theaters may opt out of the system, or make modifications—such as the R-card. Even though GKC Theaters are acting without the approval of the MPAA in this regard, the signatures of these 700 parents may erode the rating board’s influence even further.

For parents who use the system when selecting entertainment, it’s more important now than ever before to remind Mr. Glickman that we need accurate and basic information we can trust. If we don’t, we may lose this tool for making informed decisions for our families.

Write to the MPAA at:
Motion Picture Association of America
15503 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91436

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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