TV, Music & Game Ratings

So, there you sit with your 8-year-old, watching the interviews following a big football game, when one of the players swears. Right there in front of you on TV. 1 Language is just one area where national norms have changed. What was once, only a few years ago, considered offensive has been accepted as normal. As the USA Today writer put it, "In the old days, a bar of soap might have been put to use. But in 1996, swearing and cursing continue to become more mainstream." 1 Jesse Sheidlower, author of The F-Word, says there's been an explosion in the general use of the f-word in the last 20-years, and hence he believes it has lost a lot of its shock effect. Studies have shown that young people today are so inured to cursing that they're surprised people find it offense. 1 Our own experiences have shown that many teens and adults, even professing Christians, have become callous users of coarse language and even more so of casual inappropriate use of the Lord's name. When asked about it, they often see nothing wrong and are surprised you would think so. (See Colossians 3:18)

In regards to rating systems being proposed for everything from TV to video games, the change in accepted public norms on language reflect the bigger problem. No rating system based upon acceptable national or "community" standards will ever stem the tide of profanity, violence and sex flooding our media. As people are willing to accept more, the ratings themselves will allow for more -- until they are rendered functionally useless.

Television's family hour -- 8 to 9 pm -- is loaded with sexual themes and innuendo that even young children understand, says a study released Wednesday. About 75 percent of family hour TV shows contain some sexual content. That's up from 65 percent in 1986 and 43 percent in 1976. 2 The researchers note that less than 10 percent of the scenes shown mention any risks or responsibilities of sexual activity -- let alone a Biblically acceptable understanding. A quick glance at an average evening's sitcoms, feature regular references to pre-marital and adulterous sex, homosexuality and more. And the fact is, that regardless of protests about this type of content, people are still watching -- so we can only expect more of the same (if not worse) fare. (See Job 31:1)

On to violence. A study by the UCLA Centre for Communication Policy declared that TV Violence is down! But is it really? Or is this a case where the standards are also changing? This study confined it's concern over violence to shows " with violence that ran at an early hour, did not include warnings, was not integral to the story line, (and) was more graphic than it needed to be or did not feature the consequences. " 3 The result was that most violent shows were now approved of -- just label them with a 10 second warning, etc. The study's author even commended shows like NYPD Blue (which comes with a warning). If these and other experts continue to change what constitutes violence, no rating system will truly reflect what is appearing on screen.

Nearly all new video and computer games now carry ratings. 4 But the same reviewer noted that there is only minimal (if any) enforcement of these ratings in regards to sales, rentals, or arcades. "On some of the more violent games, a 'parental advisory' message may come on the screen intermittently, along with other information on the game." 4 This a function next to useless when one notes how many parents are with their children in the average arcade. Video and computer game ratings are as follows:

EC, early childhood, suitable for all ages.

KA, kids to adults, suitable for 6 and older. May contain minimal violence, some slapstick humor or crude language .

T, teen, for 13 and older. Titles may contain violence , mild or strong language and suggestive themes .

M, mature, suitable for 17 and older. May contain more intense violence or language or mature sexual themes .

AO, adults only. Not intended to be sold or rented to people under 18. May contain graphic depictions of sex and violence . 4

Compare these standards to the newly proposed American system of television ratings...

TV-Y, acceptable for all children

TV-7, for shows with some violence, scary, or other material unsuitable for children under seven (ie. Goosebumps)

TV-G, for all audiences. (ie. Touch by an Angel)

TV-PG, parental guidance suggested (ie. most sitcoms -- sexual innuendoes and all)

TV-14, not suitable for children under 14 (ie. NYPD Blue and Millennium -- some sex, blood and guts)

TV-M, for mature audiences only. (Sex and Violence) 5

Some within Canada are expressing hope that we adopt the same type of ratings and because most of our material originates in the States, we likely will. Regardless, ratings are only as good as the standards they are based on. Since our nations have now accepted the humanistic view that all morality is abstract and changeable -- every new rating system will do little to stem the flood of offense material.

The Biblical approach is two-fold. For children all material should be under parental guidance (See Proverbs 22:6). Time consuming? Yes. But it is your God given responsibility. Might it mean having little you would want them to watch? Probably. Explore the alternatives.

Secondly, the Bible has given clear guidelines on what we should be setting before our eyes and ears (See Psalms 101:3, 119:37). If the content glorifies things that are offense to God -- in other words sin -- it is not honoring to God and time poorly spent (See Proverbs 6:16-19, 15:26). The images and sounds you are feeding your mind will be with you for a lifetime (See Matthew 12:37). What's playing in the theatre of your mind? (See also, Proverbs 4:23-27)

End Notes

1) USAToday, 01/17/96
2) AP, Bangor Daily News, 12/12/96
3) CP, Daily Gleaner, 10/16/96
4) AP, Bangor Daily News, 12/6/96
5) USA Today, 12/13/96 & Time Magazine, 12/23/96

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 1996-1997. Feel free to duplicate as long as the source is cited.