Hollywood Morals on Violence

13 Feb

4th article in our series on “Gun Violence in the Media.

It is not an illusion: violence in films is getting more violent.  Most of society is desensitized , as it’s been a subtle shift over decades.  If you look at old Western films, you see the bad guys get shot, but there’s never any blood.  You hear the bang of the gun and down they go.  Not only do you see blood in today’s films but also brains explode, insides ooze or blast out of the body, and hear the sound of tissue tearing and disintegrating.

There is an ongoing debate among society and Hollywood that violence in films does or does not have a strong influence on the real world.  In light of recent shootings over the last several years and the President’s goal of gun control, one might think that Hollywood should put a kibosh on excessive violence.  In this article we will discuss Hollywood’s rating system and opinion of violence.

First, let’s look into the MPAA ratings system for PG-13 and R films:

“PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category… There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating…”[1]

In looking at the bold print, it seems like a pretty broad range between PG violence and R violence.  Also, how does the board decide what is the distinction?  It’s very vague.  And is it PG-13 only if it is realistic but not realistic and extreme?

“ R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.”[2]

This description tells us that not all these elements need to be included in a film to get an R-rating and at least parents are counseled to take this rating “seriously”.  Well I would hope so.  The part that is the most staggering is the very last sentence.  Read it again and see if there is anything that you find disturbing.

The British Board of Film Classification at least seems to be a bit more concrete and adamant about who can and cannot see a film. They rate on age of what deems appropriate.


Nobody younger than 15 can rent or buy a 15-rated VHS, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, UMD or game, or watch a film in the cinema with this rating. Films under this category can contain adult themes, hard drugs, frequent strong language and limited use of very strong language, strong violence and strong sex references, and nudity without graphic detail. Sexual activity may be portrayed but without any strong detail. Sexual violence may be shown if discreet and justified by context.[3]

18 Only adults are admitted.

Nobody younger than 18 can rent or buy an 18-rated VHS, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, UMD or game, or watch a film in the cinema with this rating…Very strong, gory, and/or sadistic violence is usually permitted. Strong sexual violence is permitted unless it is eroticised or excessively graphic.”[4]

The reason for the mention of these ratings in this article is to show how easy it is for children and youth in the United States can view intense gore and violence.  Senator Chris Dodd chairs the MPAA and said,

What we don’t want to get involved with is content regulation. We’re vehemently opposed to that. We have a free and open society that celebrates the First Amendment…We want to explore what we can do to provide parents and others with the information for them to make choices on what they want to see and what they want their children to see.  [The movie studios] want to be part of the efforts to help America heal, and they are more than willing to be part of that conversation. This is not a crowd you have to drag to the table.”[5]

Sen. Dodd, you don’t want to get involved with content regulation but you want to help America heal.  Am I the only one who finds these statements contradictory?  And how can parents provide choices when they themselves aren’t educated or seem to care or even understand how detrimental viewing violence can be?  This is where the debate begins: is it solely up to the parents or does Hollywood hold some responsibility in limiting the amount of violence in films?  Throw in actors in Hollywood who maybe anti-gun yet participate in violent films that use guns and the debate gets more confusing.  At this point in our society, I don’t know if we will ever find an answer to depicting violence in our films.

Please also view: Don’t Start The Story With Sirens Blaring: How The Media Makes A Killer

35 Responses to “Hollywood Morals on Violence”

  1. littlebells February 14, 2013 at 3:51 PM #

    Question for everyone:

    Should an actor who is anti-gun participate in films or take roles that are violent? Is it hypocritical or just part of the job?

    • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 4:20 PM #

      Q: “Should an actor who is anti-gun participate in films or take roles that are violent? Is it hypocritical or just part of the job?”

      A: Actors should not judge a character. They are suppose to be a vessel to portray a character as it relates to the over all story. IMO actors can make a difference in the overall content and story being told if they are against violence etc.. by the movies they choose but its a fine line because they don’t have any control over the marketing, directing and producing. IMO its better for actors to not use their celebrity to support issues that are in direct conflict with their careers. I mean there are other “not so visible PSA” ways to support a cause. Does that make sense?

      • littlebells February 14, 2013 at 5:17 PM #

        Yes, absolutely! I also think some actors may feel if they don’t take particular roles or films their career won’t survive. Maybe. Maybe not. I then go back to believing if this is the career you were made to have, it’s going to happen for you whether you take a role that goes against everything you believe in or not.

        • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 6:46 PM #

          I don’t want to veer too far off your violence topic but when actors are too willing to resemble their characters they typically undermine their characters; the losers are audiences.

          I think Samuel Jackson’s “Stephen” is a fantastic character but any fan of the actor has seen this cursing bodacious, loose cannon performance from Jackson way too many the times, in his personal life to think the performance is unique or sincere.

          Unfortunately this was way too much wasted belligerence and manic self-hate to waste on such the kinds of skits and celebrity appearances.

          I still love Stephen’s subtlety despite his acting counter-parts’ unusual choices regarding his first amendment rights.

        • Open Book February 16, 2013 at 3:01 PM #

          LB- I think actors may have all the best intentions but I think they need to be a good judge of who they choose to work with. Choosing collaborators is as important as selecting a script IMO.

    • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 6:48 PM #

      “Should an actor who is anti-gun participate in films or take roles that are violent? Is it hypocritical or just part of the job?”

      To me philosophically; this is a very unusual question?!!! I wondered why wouldn’t she ask this about a director. Like OB I’m inclined to consider an actor “a vessel for” playing possibly characters that he or she doesn’t resemble otherwise. When an actor looks like a popular character, like the way Harrison ford looks like Han Solo, I am inclined to consider it a massive coincidence. Then for fear of disrespecting the actor, I pray the resemblances end there.

  2. Open Book February 14, 2013 at 3:57 PM #

    BRAVO!!! LB. Great great research and article. In Hollywood money takes priority over morals and social responsibility. I think consumers need to demand more media regulation today. Ever since the deregulation of the media with the Telecommunication Act of 1996. It gave advertisers free reign and now violence and infotainment has taken over our news, films and television. IMO consumers need to demand more media regulation. They can choose with their wallets. Below is a link and a quote about the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

    “…the Telecommunications Act of 1996…enabled the handful of corporations :dominating the airwaves to expand their power further. Mergers enabled tighter :control of information…The Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano :commented…”Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few.”[34]


    • littlebells February 14, 2013 at 4:07 PM #

      Thank you OB! I actually had more information which I can share in our discussion, but I was already over the word limit. 🙂

      I did not know about this Act! I will have to read it for sure.

      FYI, as it is Valentine’s Day, I won’t be around for our schedule discussion time, however, anytime before 7pmEST and after 10 PM EST, I will be available to answer questions. Oh and tomorrow of course.

      • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 4:23 PM #

        Happy Valentines Day!!! Enjoy!!

      • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 5:07 PM #

        LB- I didn’t know about this Act either until I saw the doc “MissRepresentation.” They stated since this Act passed in 1996 the media has become less regulated. This Act has made it easy for a few companies to control our Internet, news, books and films.

        • littlebells February 14, 2013 at 5:19 PM #

          I can’t believe I missed that part. Or maybe I just forgot it because there was so much information in that AMAZING film. The media is not only less regulated but any Joe Schmoe can write “articles” on the web and claim they are fact.

          • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 5:46 PM #

            Don’t feel bad I’ve watched this doc 5 times and it was the 4th viewing when I caught it. Hahaha! However, ITA anyone can write whatever and claim “fact.” Its this behavior that’s created a culture that makes it a crime to think critically about the so called “facts” without turning people into psychotic fools because u don’t agree with these facts. In this day in age with camera phones, Twitter and Facebook etc.. they don’t allow people to think critically before they act. Everything is about instant gratification without getting held accountable for their actions.

            • ozzie20 February 15, 2013 at 8:05 PM #

              Is there no TV regulating body in America? I thought it was practiced worldwide, lol! I’ve got to remember to get round to watching that documentary!

              • Open Book February 16, 2013 at 2:44 PM #

                There was a time when their were more people regulating the media. We have the FCC but its a joke. http://www.fcc.gov/

                Anyway after 1996 big media companies came in and took over the Internet, TV, Book Publishing and films. Anyway these few companies now regulate TV, films, books and news not the FCC. Now these few companies can look after their own interest instead of the consumers.

    • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 6:47 PM #


      I thought it was a great article and very informative. You have really given us a lot to think about regarding violence in film performances.

  3. littlebells February 14, 2013 at 5:20 PM #

    How much of a hand do you think Hollywood films have on influencing young minds and minds that are mentally unstable?

    • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 6:00 PM #

      IMO I think they have a big hand. They have glamorized violence and instant gratification with reality TV. Today, any freak can get on the news, get a film or television show about them. The crazier and scandalous the behavior the better. Yes, I say Hollywood has Influence.

      • littlebells February 14, 2013 at 6:04 PM #

        “Any freak can get on the news.”

        Isn’t that a true shame? Ugh…

      • Open Book February 14, 2013 at 6:13 PM #

        The reason I’m lumping television in with film because all film studios are controlled by one big media conglomerate.

  4. Open Book February 14, 2013 at 5:32 PM #

    U Said: “Sen. Dodd, you don’t want to get involved with content regulation but you want to help America heal. Am I the only one who finds these statements contradictory?”

    Me: LB that statement by Dodd is such bull crap. The content today is being regulated by only a few companies looking out for their own interest. That’s the problem. All our content today appeals to teen boys with a low I.Q. and used to incite fear and anxiety to get consumers to buy more and the media companies to make more by advertisers. Its a vicious cycle. Its really deplorable they aren’t being held accountable.

    • littlebells February 14, 2013 at 6:05 PM #

      We live in a society where lack of responsibility is HUGE. And it’s not just the younger generation either.

      • Open Book February 16, 2013 at 2:34 PM #


  5. Open Book February 14, 2013 at 6:18 PM #

    LB- I have to go for the evening. However, I will be back tomorrow to comment. Everyone have a very nice Valentines Day!!

  6. littlebells February 14, 2013 at 6:20 PM #

    Just to give you a glimpse of how violence (how it’s portrayed and filmed) has increased over the years:

    Vera Cruz (1954)

    Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

    Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2

    Django Unchained (2012)

    • Open Book February 16, 2013 at 3:07 PM #

      Wow! I think the reason violence was so reserved way back when was due to technology. As special effects improved so has realism. Today the more visual detail and imaginative the violence give artist unlimited ways to try out realistic violent scenarios with CGI. Its sad but I think audiences are only attracted to watching for the CGI. I think the trend is dying. No pun intended.

  7. Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 6:57 PM #

    I’m as uncomfortable with the violence off screen as I am excited by what I see on screen. I hope I can out grow this appreciation for the stuff. Ultimately I think I could be convinced to resist the on screen versions if it would diminish the off screen incidents.

  8. parisienne February 14, 2013 at 6:58 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    I’m here but I’m also working so I may not answer you right away, that’s why. 🙂


    Great Article! However, I think that it is not solely HW’s job but education about violence and its existence starts in the home with the parents now if the parents are a bubble off then the kid is screwed. Just sayin.

    However, I do think that children have an inate sense of what is right and wrong.

    • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 7:22 PM #


      I’m sorry but you sound like me.

      I know it’s destructive;…. but I want to see it anyway….even children (secretly) know better. Adam Lanza…… oh but that’s a different story. He’s (or was) crazy. Violence at the movies isn’t like violence out of the movies… unless it’s violence in a movie theatre. I can distinguish,… can’t others too!

      I’m not sure we can have it both ways. What do you think LB? Is rejection of movie violence a wholesale rejection of all violence on film?

      Is this the only way to curb violence off film?

      • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 8:39 PM #


        I’m sincere about the question…. please forget everything else.

  9. ozzie20 February 14, 2013 at 8:36 PM #

    Sorry I’m late, I dozed off! I’m off to catch up! 🙂

    • Comic Relief February 14, 2013 at 8:40 PM #

      Hi, Ozzie!

      • ozzie20 February 14, 2013 at 9:01 PM #

        Hi CR! 🙂

  10. ozzie20 February 14, 2013 at 9:29 PM #

    Finally caught up! I’ll try to keep this short and to one post because I’m still half asleep but it will probably back fire as I ramble on and on when I’m tired, lol!

    Very interesting article LB! Firstly I always thought there was a middle classification in the US, like we have “rated 15”. Also those classifications are quite broad and vague. Secondly, and this maybe because I’m tired, but I don’t quite understand what the Senator is saying. The First Amendment is the right to free speech isn’t it? Films are very rarely banned (as far as I know) so there’s nothing stopping the right to free speech. It’s just a guide essentially that helps the audience to decide whether they want to listen to it or not. Hopefully I’ll understand it better by tomorrow’s discussion (Yay, I didn’t ramble! 🙂 ).

  11. Open Book February 16, 2013 at 2:33 PM #

    All public schools and private should have kids take a media literacy class starting at age 10 and continue to age 18. That way if they don’t have parents or adults at home then they can get guidance at school. Given media is such an integral part of our society today, it should be part of a schools curriculum. It will help kids develop and or improve their critical thinking skills etc..

    LB-I think this topic should be discussed further. U have made some very good observations regarding the issue. Thank u!

  12. parisienne February 16, 2013 at 7:27 PM #

    Just saw this recently on the internet. We definitely need to teach our children that violence is never the answer against being bullied.


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