If Jack Valenti were still alive he would be sorely disappointed. Time will tell if the rest of will be too.
It was Jack Valenti back in 1968 that worked hard as president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to institute a voluntary film-rating system. The film industry had been using the Hays Code to alert patrons of mature content.
In 1968 Valenti worried that government regulation would interfere with the independence of the film industry. Increased violence and sexual content in film made this quite likely. Valenti proposed a voluntary system that would rate films prior to their release.
The earliest of ratings included G “for general audiences,” M “for mature audiences but all admitted,” R “for no one under 17 admitted without and adult,” and X “for no one under 17 admitted.” PG replaced the M rating. In 1984 a PG-13 rating was added to respond to parental complaints following two surprisingly gory Steven Spielberg films, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins.”
A MPAA film rating can make or break a film’s box office promise. Most box office hits score a PG-13 rating.
If Jack Valenti were alive today he would have to give the upcoming midterm election an R rating. We know that 17 year olds are prohibited from participating. What we are learning, however, is the content of most of the campaign TV ads are now for mature audiences only.
A recent survey has found that the 2010 Midterm Election will go down in history as “the costliest and most negative” of all time. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured in by candidate campaigns and independent expenditures. When compared to the midterm elections of 2006 this cycle has seen a 100% increase in monies spent.
Most noticeable has been the increase in attack ads. In the most recent Rasmussen survey majorities of Americans think that most of the campaign ads are negative. 56% of Americans surveyed said negative ads make them less likely to vote. Nevertheless those same majorities say they watch these ads, which make them effective.
Political science would confirm these results. Negative ads, often called attack ads, do endanger high voter turnout. But they do work in moving public opinion against candidates.
If an MPAA rating were used for this year’s midterm election an R rating would be appropriate.
Will the attack ads keep voters home? Or will they spur outraged Republicans to oust incumbent Democrats?
Prevailing wisdom used to be that an R rating would limit box office potential. “The Hangover” (2009), with an R rating, changed all that last summer when it grossed close to $300 million. Making it a box office winner.
Republicans are hoping for as much in this midterm election. Be prepared to stay up late on November 2. It could be an all-nighter. Just like Valenti’s MPAA rating system, look for the independents to make the difference.