There is now more gun violence in popular PG-13 films, those legally accessible to children of any age, than there is in successful R-rated films, an analysis has found. As strange as this may sound, the justification for violent films getting PG ratings is stranger still.
The PG-13 category was introduced in the United States in 1985. It represented an intermediary level between PG (parental guidance) films and those that have an R rating, which require people to be 17 and over to see the movie in the cinema without accompaniment. Whether it's damaging for children to be exposed to violence on the big screen is a long-running debate that's unlikely to be settled soon. Nevertheless, while rating systems exist, parents might expect that films available to everyone contain less violence than those that are restricted.
Dr Dan Romer of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study of the 30 highest-grossing films each year from 1985 to 2015. One thing this showed is that the trend Romer observed in a previous study towards increased gun violence in PG-13 films has continued in the three years since.
Indeed, there is now, on average, more use of guns against people in PG-13 films than in a typical R-rated film. The numbers were calculated not from how many shots were fired, but by breaking films into five-minute segments and counting how many contained bullets (or lasers) hitting people.
This raises the obvious question: If PG-13 films contain so much gunfire, why are they getting a less restricted rating? Or to put it another way, what is so terrible about the less violent R-rated films that mean they can't be seen by those 16 and under unless a parent is present?
Romer addresses this in a paper in Pediatrics. Part of the difference lies in the old, and frequently criticized, difference in the treatment of sex and violence. Many of the R-rated films have fallen foul of the censors' position that it is more harmful for children to witness explicit sex, particularly anything focused on female pleasure, than people killing each other.
But Romer found the bigger factor is that it is apparently considered fine for children to see gun violence, as long as the damage isn't realistic. “What increasingly differentiates the instances of gun violence in PG-13 films from those rated R is not only the higher frequency in the PG-13 category but also those films' erasure of the consequences (e.g., blood and suffering),” Romer and his co-authors write.
Consequently, a film that shows the horrible outcomes of gun battles, and therefore might act as a deterrent, is restricted. Something that makes violence look fun and relatively harmless is open to everyone and increasingly common.
The trend towards increasingly violent PG-13 films has become particularly clear in the last three years as guns became more frequent in them than in R-rated films. Romer et al/Pediatrics