The Hollywood trade publication Variety reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the group that makes the movie ratings, is working to "fine-tune" the ratings system. Its chairman, former Rep. Dan Glickman, "will face his biggest hurdle yet: trying to make NC-17 respectable."
In truth, the MPAA has been trying to make pornography respectable for quite some time. In 1990, the MPAA discontinued its traditional X-rating-for-adults-only system, since the "X" had become almost exclusively associated with pornographic movies. The MPAA Website puts it this way: The letter "appeared to have taken on a surly meaning in the minds of many people, something that was never intended when the system was created." So they changed the rating to NC-17 to avoid that "surly" stigma, even though the rating meant the same thing to moviegoers: no children under 17 allowed.
So why the renewed push to make NC-17 respectable? Trying to make the rating "respectable" doesn't mean the movies that deserve this rating are worthy of our respect. It means convincing newspapers and theater owners to water down their standards. Some newspapers refuse to run ads for NC-17 films, and some theater owners will not put them on their screens, although the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) swears there's no official policy on that. Blockbuster also refuses to carry DVDs rated NC-17. In short, the movie studios see putting out an NC-17 film as commercial suicide.
Which is why the NC-17 rating is not very often employed. In the last 17 years, the major studios have released only 19 movies with an NC-17 attached. (The highest-grossing one, the 1995 stripper movie "Showgirls," was a commercial and critical flop. It was roundly denounced as trash by everyone, including former MPAA capo Jack Valenti.) It's not so much a rating as a threat. So studios staring at the possibility of this stigma regularly edit back just enough stomach-churning violence or sexual depravity to get an R. (The original versions are then often restored on DVD as an "unrated" edition.)
Last year, the dreaded rating was initially applied to several horror movies. "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Saw III" were both initially rated NC-17 for horrific gore and were edited down to secure an R.
You'd think the MPAA would be proud of this small, very small show of responsibility to warn parents (especially) about the lurid films out there.
But Glickman doesn't seem interested in pleasing parents as much as pleasing filmmakers and theater owners who want this junk in theaters and want to desensitize the public into acceptance.