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Movie Ratings: Why One Teenager Doesn’t See The Point of Ratings

What’s the Point of The Movie Rating System?

The day Prometheus hit theaters, my friend and I decided to check it out. A sci-fi epic about the potential discovery of what created humans? Interesting enough. The only problem: Movie Ratings R.

We’re both 15 and needed an adult to join us. My mom didn’t want to sit through the entire movie, so we devised a plan: she would buy a ticket, sit with us through the preview, and then sneak out the back door. After all, as long as she and my friend’s mom were comfortable with us seeing the movie, the rating didn’t matter, right?

We pulled off our scheme flawlessly, but about one hour into the film, the movie rating did matter.

“Why did you ask me to see this with you?” my friend whispered bitterly as we witnessed a graphic alien attack—just one of the many scenes that constituted Prometheus’ R-rating. “This is terrible!  I’m never sleeping again!” she cried while one of the film’s characters performed surgery on themselves.

Film Age Ratings Don’t Always Work

While my friend regretted seeing Prometheus, it didn’t equally disturb me, which made me question ratings based on the “general audience”. Movie ratings alert viewers of what they’re about to see, but using them to restrict viewership is ineffective. People will see what they want to see, regardless of movie theater security, TV parental controls and ratings. If you can’t watch something on TV, there’s always Hulu or YouTube. Can’t see something in theaters? Wait until it comes out on Netflix; you don’t need an ID to rent or buy an R-rated movie.

People have varying levels of tolerance when it comes to the usual things that provoke restrictive movie ratings, whether it be violence, language, frightening/intense scenes, etc. Pretty Little Liars is a prime representation of this. ABC Family’s record-shatteringly popular show definitely earns its TV-MA rating. In the lives of the show’s four main characters, there is no shortage of murder mysteries, crime, horror-movie-esque moments and serious relationship troubles. And yet, Pretty Little Liars has garnered impressive amounts of viewers, wavering between two and four million every week since its 2010 premiere. It’s not just adults tuning in. Pretty Little Liars’ third season debuted as the number-one telecast for females, aged 12-34, according to the website TV By The Numbers.

While I, and many of my sister’s 12-year-old friends, tune into Pretty Little Liars religiously at its Tuesday-night airtime, one of my 16-year-old friends insists on watching it only in broad daylight, surrounded by other people. She justifies this by pointing out how “scary” it is, and I agree. Regardless of age, nobody who is easily frightened should view any episode of Pretty Little Liars. But also regardless of age, anyone who is fond of mystery and recovers swiftly from chilling scenes should give the show a try.

Most movies and TV shows aren’t real, and this should be considered in the rating. Violence or circumstances entrenched in reality affect us more. My mom has no problem with me watching Juno, but is strongly against MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. Other than her reason of, “It’s just bad TV,” she admits she prefers that I don’t watch them because they’re reality, and therefore, a worse influence. I once told her I was going to watch Jersey Shore. She replied, “Why don’t you stare at a trash can for an hour? Same difference.”

Movie and TV show ratings are, inarguably, useful in one way: they warn people about what they’re about to see. However, I don’t think they should then restrict viewers by ages.  Everyone knows their own limits and has a different level of maturity (and, if you’re a teen, varying parental guidelines). Besides, ratings are easy to get around, and how many people follow them anyway?