Goodbye to X

September 28, 1990

It was 22 years ago that the motion picture industry adopted a rating system to set standards for films shown in mainstream theaters. The ratings -- "G," "PG," "R" and "X" -- were intended to guide viewers in their selection of films and represented a kind of voluntary self-censorship on the part of an industry alarmed by calls for government restrictions on the portrayal of sex and violence in the movies.

The system generally has worked well -- except in regard to the "X" rating, originally intended to designate material suitable for adults only. The "X" rating was never copyrighted by the Motion Picture Association of America, and this oversight allowed pornographers to freely pirate the designation for use as an advertising gimmick -- often adding a two or three more X's for emphasis. Soon an "X" rating became synonymous with pornography -- and a kiss of death to any filmmaker who hoped nTC reach a wider audience.

This week the MPAA at last moved to correct this situation with a new rating, "NC-13," which restores a category for adult-only material. The new rating should dramatically increase the latitude available to filmmakers and also make available again many fine older films that are neither pornographic nor violent but which distributors and video rental chains now refuse to market because they bear the stigma of the old "X" rating.

At a time when the New Puritanism is on the march again, the MPAA action is a healthy reminder that voluntary restraint is infinitely preferable to the heavy hand of government censors.

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