The content of movies has been growing worse since the beginning of the ratings system, said Steve Schwalm of the Parents Television Council.

“Content has gotten abysmally worse since 1968,” said Schwalm, adding that the same is true for television, “where ratings have been used as a cover to degrade content and push the envelope on what is considered acceptable. … Producers no longer have the responsibility to produce family viewing.”

Schwalm cited a June report from the Parents Television Council. A study of content in six major network shows since TV ratings were introduced three years ago, the report indicates a 30% increase in foul language and a 54% increase in sexual content.

“What we're seeing is a correlation with rating the shows and increased edgy, raw content” he said.

Schwalm said that until now, “ratings have been an absurdist exercise,” and that it is good that they will finally be taken seriously.

But whom does the rating system really serve, parents or filmmakers? Media watchdog David Horowitz, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, argues it is the latter. He contended that enforcement is a superficial solution to a deeper problem, and that the ratings system itself has been a cover for producing racier and racier films.

“Film violence and sexuality started as a result of the ratings system,” Horowitz said. “Before, there was an industry code in place which kept violence and sexuality out of films” — a reference to the Hays Production Codes, which, for many years, controlled the content of Hollywood films. “Once (ratings) were introduced producers thought, ‘Well, if I get an R rating for one sex scene, why not put in a hundred?’” Horowitz said.

Despite his distaste for the standard content of Hollywood films, Horowitz discourages government involvement in the issue. “The problem is much deeper,” he said, referring to Clinton's enforcement plan, calling it, “the use of Hollywood as a scapegoat.”

“The president,” Horowitz added, “has set a worse example for our children than Hollywood could ever achieve.”

—Brian McGuire