Sunday, January 23, 2011

Regarding the Comics Code Authority and Ratings Systems

Horus Kemwer of Against the Modern World attempted to comment on one of my Comics Code Authority posts, but for some reason Blogger didn't take the comment while sending it to my email (I get emails whenever you guys comment).

I had stated that DC was putting in a ratings system, which I compared to that of the MPAA, ie: movie ratings.

Horus said:
I find it odd that you characterize DC's decision to abandon the CCA as "adopting a ratings code, similar to that of the MPAA." My understanding about the MPAA ratings board is that they are actually a lot like the CCA, i.e. 1. it's a board of individuals with a supposed interest in maintaining morality standards in movies (e.g. parents) and 2. they use subjective, non-professional/informed opinion in assessing those standards. Of course, a hierarchy of ratings as opposed to just a yes / no is more like the MPAA, but if DC is making these decisions in house, then that is actually radically different from how the MPAA works, and a more interesting and important break from the CCA in my opinion, one the world of cinema sorely needs.

But then everything I know about the MPAA comes from This Film is Not Yet Rated . . .
Everything Horus says is correct.

I was comparing the tiered ratings DC is putting into place to the MPAA tiers (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17), and not considering how close in the CCA is to the MPAA in practice.  It is true that the governing bodies are/ were quite similar. 

I write these things quickly, and what you get is often a not-terribly-well-considered point. 

Really, I was considering how consumers will view these ratings.  Parents - ostensibly looking for someone else to verify that the material their kid is reading isn't smut - needed something to trust without having to actually read each comic themselves.  The "either it has the CCA stamp or not" was an artifact of a mode of thinking that "comics are for kids, end of story" which was part of the narrative sold to Congress during the comics hearings of the mid-1950's.

While that's also the line I grew up with in the 80's, that's a pretty odd way of thinking of an entire medium.  Its like saying "radio is for old people" or "sculpture is for Canadians".  But when you suggest that a medium is for children, in particular, you're also suggesting something about the cognitive state of the consumer, ie:  You, man in tie or lady in business suit...  Why are you reading something intended for an audience of recognized limited intellect? What is wrong with you?

I've never shaken the time I was interviewed online by a journalist who, in her line of questioning and with the assumptions she was starting with, accused people who read "comics" of having emotional or mental issues. To her - comics were something only small children should read.  She was absolutely stunned when I suggested that the attitude she was displaying might be considered a bit ignorant and she might want to check out some actual comics and learn a bit about the readership before writing her article, the point of which was sold to me as "comics in education", but basically quickly turned into "adults who read comics - should we reach out to help them?".

So, yeah.  If we can get away from a binary system of "for kids" vs. "pornography", which is kind of what we've got now in the minds of folks trying to sort through an entire medium with no toolkit with which to approach comics. I'd suggest ratings can provide a helping hand to both consumer and the industry.  The tiered system does for comics what ratings did for movies and allows for a stair step for an audience to decipher what sort of content can appear in a comic and what a discriminating reader can expect.  It helps the non-Wednesday crowd to make appropriate choices.  

The tussle of the next few months or few years will be getting everyone in line on this without a central authority like the CCA.  The publishers from DC, Marvel, Boom!, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite, etc... should get together and settle on a single system based on movie or TV ratings.  What the marketplace doesn't need is further confusion.  Help the consumer, and that helps you.  Ratings systems shouldn't be a turf war.

TV has done a remarkable job of self-policing since adding ratings a few years back.  And while I see Fantagraphics and the like beating their chest about putting ratings on their product and seeing themselves in the book market... fine.

But as Horus pointed out, the MPAA is a mess.  We're far, far away from the days when Congress was eyeing comic covers and nodding gravely, and they've thrown off the antiquated and draconian CCA.  You don't need to go back to hiring people of delicate sensibilities to tell you not to show ankle in a comic panel.  Show the public you can do this and do it well, and it may pay you back pretty darn well.

1 comment:

horus kemwer said...

Great points, and thanks for preserving my comment!