TV Bites With
Viewer Discretion Advised
by Neena Louise
Viewer Discretion Advised. How many times have we heard this? The current
television ratings system was supposed to clarify just how much discretion is
advisable, but put into practice, it rarely serves its purpose. And does anyone
really know what all those ratings mean? Or does anyone even notice anymore,
given the enormous amount of screen clutter? Often a show's opening has a rating
in the upper left corner; a closed-caption logo in the upper right; an animated
color bug in the lower right corner; an ad banner in the lower left; the credits
squeezed in the middle; and the opening sequence of the show under all that
mess. If you had to read all the little captions and logos, you wouldn't even
notice that the show had started, never mind see and take note of the rating.
Some of the ratings are obvious: G - general; PG - parental guidance. But how
about TV-Y7-FV? Or TV-MA-V-S-L Fr??? I hadn't a clue what these meant, despite
the hype about how great the ratings system would be as parental guidelines. For
the uninformed, here is a quick guide:
TV-Y - All Children
TV-Y7 - Directed to Children over 7
TV-G - General Audiences
TV-PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
TV-14 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
TV-M (or TV-MA) - Mature Audiences Only
V - Violent Content
S - Sexual Content & Nudity
L - Adult Language
D - Suggestive Dialogue
FV - Fantasy Violence
Additionally, all V, S or L ratings indicate whether the V, S or L is
occasional, frequent or widespread (like this makes SUCH a difference).
The ratings are supposed to clarify what type of content any given show has, but
just what is the criteria? "Nudity" could mean too much flesh, rather
than outright nudity. "Sexual Content" could mean a passionate kiss or
"second-base"-type activity. "Adult Language"? Well, other
than the blatant four-letter words, what exactly constitutes adult language?
"Suggestive Dialogue" is especially vague. Many words have
double-meanings depending on the context (or simply on the delivery), so what,
exactly, warrants a "suggestive dialogue" label? Who decides? And why
do they slap a certain rating on a certain show? The ratings are USELESS without
this type of information, yet such information isn't so quick to come by (I had
to go to three different web sites just to find the information contained in
this column). And just how small a box are shows going to be put in? What's
next? TV-PG-IF-CC-DIS-LA (Parents strongly cautioned; imaginative fantasy; cute
content featuring people with disabilities, but on late at night)???
News and sports programs do NOT carry ratings. Oh, that makes sense. I
guess everyone knows by now that the news is fraught with violence, coarse
language and "mature situations", but what about sports? Is there no
difference in the violence quotient between hockey and, say, beach volleyball?
Sure, most people know which sports tend to be violent and which do not; but
then don't most people also know there's a difference between Jerry Springer
and Teletubbies? Do we really need a rating to tell us this?
The television ratings are so muddied and vague, I have to wonder what the point
of them are. The most vague is "TV-14". The TV Parental Guidelines
Monitoring Board describes it thus: "This program contains some material
that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.
Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program
and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended.
This program contains one or more of the following: intense violence (V),
intense sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or intensely
suggestive dialogue (D)." You'd think they were talking about a
pornographic slasher film, but it seems all of primetime gets this rating, so
how is this helpful? How does this help parents decide whether their 13-year-old
can watch Friends or not? There's only one way for parents to decide
whether or not a show is appropriate for their children: Watch it (duh). It's
important to understand that ratings are GUIDELINES, not RULES TO LIVE
BY. Parents know (or certainly should know) their children and their
children's capacity for understanding and their level of tolerance and maturity.
I hardly think a group of strangers in a boardroom - however well-intentioned -
knows how your child will react to the content of any given show. Come on,
people! Stop allowing others to do your job for you!
The only thing the current ratings system does is give the networks a way of
zeroing in on their target demographic group while keeping the government from
meddling. Think about how much easier it is now for the networks to categorize
their schedule into their key demographics and make it that much more attractive
to their advertisers. All it does for the viewer is add more screen clutter
which is similar to a stick of furniture: you know it's there, but you don't
really see it.
would love to know what you think, sound off on the
boards and let us know what you think!