Why are we so afraid of nudity?

The Weal ― OpinionsThe Classification and Rating Administration (CARA, a division of the Motion Picture Association of America) chooses what ratings to assign to films based on one main guideline – “to reflect what they believe would be the majority view of their fellow American parents in assigning a rating to a film,” according to their website.

That principle holds true against most major ratings boards – video games, films, and television are all regulated according to what a small number of people believe to represent cultural sensibilities for whatever area the entertainment medium is being rated for.

This makes it easy to see differences between countries – namely, the rating that sex and nudity is given. One notable case was the 2010 film Blue Valentine. The movie depicts a marriage that is in the stages of decomposition. The films scenes were not designed to titillate – brief awkward sex scenes, quick glimpses of nudity of someone in the shower; it’s hardly pornographic material. However, in the United States, the film was given NC-17, a rating that is a kiss of death for most films being promoted. NC-17 ensures that a film will have no commercial or promotional spots, and most theatre chains will refuse to show it. In Canada, it was given the equivalent rating of 18A. The American rating was protested, and eventually withdrawn, but the Canadian rating was upheld. Meanwhile, in most European countries, the film was giving much more reasonable ratings of Adult, 14, or 16+, allowing it a wider circulation.

Now, this would be all fine and dandy if the North American film boards were consistent with their stringent ratings. However, a quick glance at the ratings of current films in theatres shows that their priorities might need a little adjusting. Jack Reacher, The Bourne Legacy, Hitchcock, Les Miserables, Sinister, and Skyfall are all given either 14A or PG ratings. These films are devoid of sexual content, but include hand to hand violence, gun violence, blood, corpses, profanity, and graphic depictions of violence towards prostitutes and children. Yet, somehow they sit and two to three rating levels below films like The Sessions and Holy Motors, which show brief depictions of sex and nudity, and very little else to be offended about.

Ryan Gosling, an actor in Blue Valentine, summed up his feelings about how the ratings system’s double standards. “The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex.”

On Facebook, a strange rating system also applies. A document leaked in February of this year showed how Facebook decides whether to approve or ban photos – breastfeeding is unacceptable, but crushed heads and limbs are absolutely okay.

Clearly, in North America, something is out of place. Maybe it’s time to rethink our priorities – we all have bodies, and viewing nudity is pretty natural. However, we don’t all carry submachine guns everywhere, and our film ratings should reflect that.

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