Roger Ebert: 'There Are Only Two Meaningful Ratings: R And Not-R'

The current controversy over the Motion Picture Association of America slapping Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine with an NC-17 rating, and then repealing it, has once again brought into question the usefulness of the MPAA as a whole. In fact, renowned film critic Roger Ebert goes so far to say that "there are only two meaningful ratings: R and not-R" and has called for a total overhaul of the system because, in his words, "our national standards of taste have changed."

Ebert cites the example of The King's Speech, which carries an R rating for "some language." For anyone who hasn't seen the movie (and we urge you to check it out) there is only one scene with any vulgar language. And while the one scene does have multiple uses of the F-word, the rest of the movie is tame. Compare that to something like 2012 which was rated PG-13 also for "some language" in addition to "intense disaster sequences." While there wasn't much language, director Roland Emmerich (possible spoiler coming up) pretty much ended the world, killing billions of people in the process. So mass genocide gets a PG-13 while The King's Speech gets an R. That simply doesn't seem right.

What does Ebert propose we do? And do we agree? Read more after the jump.

Ebert believes that since Jack Valenti created the ratings system 42 years ago, we've become much more desensitized to language, violence and sex. Just turn on the TV and there's no doubt about that statement. Curse words slip through on network TV from time to time, shows on basic cable can be incredibly vulgar, and the highest rated show in MTV history has a bunch of kids fighting, puking, cursing and having sex every single week. Jersey Shore would not have been on TV four decades ago, let alone spawned a cultural phenomenon.

But in that time, the MPAA hasn't changed. Sure they've added ratings and made some tweaks here and there, but really, films today are being held to the same standards they were decades ago. Standards that no one is truly sure about. To this day, no one knows exactly what constitutes a G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17, though many have tried to guess.

Valenti once told Ebert he believed his job was "providing guidelines for the parents of America." But "the parents of America" didn't have to worry about their kids illegally downloading pornography or buying bootleg movies four decades ago. Whether you like it or not, America – and the parents – have changed.

Even so, most parents probably do still consider the rating of a movie before letting their child watch it. However, if the system isn't doing its job correctly, there's no point. For example, most parents would let a child see a PG movie no problem. But even PG movies these days can be highly disturbing. Two recent Pixar films fit that bill. (warning: spoilers for Up and Toy Story 3 coming up...) In Up, the main character loses his wife in the first 10 minutes. In Toy Story 3, the characters willingly decide to die, before being saved, of course. But apparently, those actions are less threatening to the welfare of a child than hearing a character say a word they've heard a million times on a school bus.

We could go on and on about this issue. There are arguments on each side of the road and Ebert, as one would expect, does a great job of presenting them. Here's how he wraps things up.

Perhaps only three categories are needed: "G," for young audiences, "T" for teenagers, and "A" for adults. These categories would be not be keyed to specific content but would reflect the board's considered advice about a film's gestalt and intended audience. At a time when literally any content can find its way into most American homes, what's the point of singling out theatrical films? It's time to admit we've lost our innocence.

And really, who would disagree about that? We have lost our innocence, and whether or not you are happy about that, the MPAA could surely make themselves more useful if they embraced that fact.