Study Finds Violence, Guns On The Rise In PG-13 Films08:56

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At left, a scene from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). At right, an image from "Thor: The Dark World" (2013). Both are rated PG-13.
At left, a scene from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). At right, an image from "Thor: The Dark World" (2013). Both are rated PG-13.

What do the movies "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and last weekend's superhero action flick "Thor: The Dark World" have in common? They're both rated PG-13.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that movies with PG-13 ratings have become increasingly violent. It says that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and gun violence in PG-13 films has more than tripled since 1985.

It also found that since 2009, PG-13 films have contained as much or more violence as R-rated films.

Dan Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, was co-author of the study and joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to discuss the findings.

Interview Highlights: Dan Romer

On how gun violence has tripled in PG-13 films since 1985

“It started out as a new rating category in that year, and it was supposed to distinguish between PG films that were a little more edgy versus those that were not. And so, you would expect it to just be a little bit on the high-end of the PG rating. And that’s where it started, but then over time, it gradually increased to the point where it really skyrocketed over the last 10 years or so. And what we were really shocked to find was that, when it comes to gun violence, the amount of gun violence in the PG-13 category is now higher than what you would see in a top-grossing R-rated movie.”

On the “weapons effect” 

“So the ‘weapons effect’ is a phenomenon that has been studied over and over again, and Brad Bushman is the expert on that, but basically, when people see a weapon, fright immediately comes to mind, the possibility of violence, aggression, and this has been shown over and over again. When you interview young people who are in juvenile detention facilities, and you ask them about guns and what guns mean to them, they mean they are a symbol of the ability to exert brutal force on other people. As a result, they end up feeling the need to have guns and so we’re thinking that the graphic portrayal of gun violence in this category could actually be a contributor to the effect over the years.”

On why the R rating still applies to sex, but not violence

“When we look at films over time, we notice the R rating has consistently been applied to films with sex, so the MPAA and their ratings board seem to feel that’s appropriate and hasn’t changed very much in its standards for that. What have changed are the standards for violence dramatically. And that’s where we have this inconsistency. It probably has something to do with the need to create a larger audience for some of these ‘blockbuster action films.’”


This segment aired on November 12, 2013.

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