Do the Rating Systems Work? [03/28/02]

Go to a movie. Buy a CD. Pick up a videogame. There's a good chance that if you're young (or just look it), you might have to present a proof of age before you can complete the purchase. It might seem to be a hassle, but in the long run, it may be worth it. With government officials spending taxpayer money to investigate the influence of questionable material on our youth, a number of the industries have had to self-regulate rather than face governmental intervention. Here are some of the bigger players:

ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) - Created in 1994, the ESRB gives ratings for software, including console and computer games and certain websites. Their ratings include EC (Early Childhood), E (for Everyone), T (for Teen), M (for Mature), and A/O (Adults Only). They also provide content descriptors to let parents know for what reason the content is rated.

RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) - Under pressure from the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the RIAA agreed in 1985 to begin self-regulating releases from the musical community by labeling releases with potentially offensive material with a Parental Advisory sticker. While not all record labels perform this practice, most of the major labels do, in hopes of avoiding governmental oversight. There is no breakdown or descriptors for these labels, which can often leave parents with a "black and white" decision on whether or not to buy the album.

CARA (Classification and Rating Administration) - Effective since November 1, 1968, this rating system was voluntarily created and enforced by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners. Ratings include G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance), PG-13 (Parental Guidance for those under 13), R (Restricted -Parental Guidance for those under 17) and NC-17 (No one under 17 admitted).

Why do we need these rating systems? Well, without a self-regulating rating system, each of these industries would come under heavy fire from parent groups who blame them for potentially corrupting the morals of our youth. Musical artists, record labels, movie production companies and the like potentially are forced to spend more money on defending themselves in court over moral corruption lawsuits. Rather than suffer unending legal battles or even government enforcement, each industry has decided to police itself.

The biggest flaw in the system is at the point of purchase. Many times, the people who are at the registers don't bother to check for I.D. to ensure the people they are selling the tickets, CDs or games are of legal age. I personally have seen times where answering yes to the question "Are you 17 or older?" was enough to get someone into a theatre. And because of this problem, the Georgia State Legislature is trying to pass the Violent Video Game Protection Act, in which selling Mature rated videogames to a minor will be deemed a misdemeanor.

While this solution may seem unsavory, it comes across as a government action in response to a seemly lack of concern by the sales force to ensure that underage shoppers aren't getting products without the approval and supervision of their parents. While this currently may not be a national concern, if Georgia does pass the measure, it's one step closer to seeing something similar in other states and eventually nationwide.

So, the question in point is: "Do the Rating Systems work?" In theory, yes. In practicality, not always. And the industry is not always to blame. In fact, parents are as responsible. Parents who don't actually take an interest in their children's entertainment are as much to blame. How many parents allow their children to own questionable material and even buy it for them only to come back months or even years later and complain about how their children have become troublesome by the music they listen to or the games they play?

If you want to keep the rating systems effective without government intervention, take an active role in making sure that the suggested guidelines are enforced. If you work in a place that sells tickets or products, be sure to make sure that questionable material isn't getting into the hands of children. If not, the government may be forced to step in some time down the line.

- - Kinderfeld

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