Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law

First Page



The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade association whose members include film production studios, distributors, and theater chains, administers the most popular system for rating the content contained in the vast majority of publicly exhibited motion pictures in the United States. The stated goal of the rating scheme is to caution parents about any objectionable content that a film contains in order to allow them to make informed decisions about which films they will allow their children to see. While the rating scheme has undergone several changes since its establishment to further its stated goal, a fundamental conflict of interest exists because the MPAA has the dual responsibilities of rating films that are often produced by its own members and simultaneously advancing those members' commercial interests within the film industry. Despite the criticisms that the MPAA's rating system has received, legislatures and courts have largely refrained from taking action to correct its problems due to the United States' historical ambivalence toward government-imposed censorship.

This Note examines the United States' state and federal governments' past and current attitudes toward censorship of motion pictures. Then, it analyzes the MPAA rating scheme's flawed attempt at creating an independent means of protecting children from potential infliction of psychological harm from films. Finally, this Note demonstrates that the rating scheme constitutes false advertising and advocates that the Federal Trade Commission, under its congressional mandate to prevent such advertising practices, should order the MPAA to prepare and make available to the public an objective evaluation of each newly rated film's objectionable content in a manner that is both more detailed and more cognizant of the context in which the objectionable content appears.