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Classification Systems

Classification and rating systems

In Australia the Commonwealth Government’s Classification Board (ACB) rates films according to a set of age-based categories, while in the United States this work is undertaken by the industry association, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPPA). Three industry associations differentiated by platform and content rate video games in Japan, while video game rating in Brazil formerly depended on the U.S.A.’s Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and is now undertaken by the Brazilian Department of Justice, Rating, Titles, and Qualification. Indian television is self-regulated by industry while films are subject to the state-run Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The much-criticised opacity of the CBFC’s examination processes is liberal in comparison to China’s restrictions on film imports and content, while both contrast with the British Board of Film Classification’s (BBFC) emphasis on the public provision of information about its methods and the texts it examines. Of these nation-states, China is unique in not having developed age-based categories for classifying films, in particular, although all contexts maintain the capacity to refuse classification, or ban content altogether. Despite these differences – in categories, between media, in state or industry regulation – media classification is concerned everywhere with the consumption of culture by young people.

Media classification uses categories such as ‘general exhibition’, ‘parental guidance recommended’, and ‘restricted 18+’ to provide recommendations and to restrict content to age-based demographics. Assessments of various sorts of content – sex, horror, drug use, violence, explicit language, gambling – and their context and combination in texts determine ratings and hence the accessibility of various media to young people. The hierarchical age-based ladders at the centre of media classification depend on ideas about child and adolescent development, capacity and competence, and adult guidance and are contested by a range of stakeholders, including parents, politicians and bureaucrats, industry representatives, teachers and psychologists, and sometimes young people themselves. New technologies and associated modes of consumption (for example, collective film viewing, VHS in the home, interactive video games or portable apps) also shift ideas about audiences, capacities, and appropriate forms of governmental intervention. The histories represented on this site are thus entangled rather than convergent. They represent the constant redefinition of conceptions and norms about young people and media consumption rather than any move to a settled contemporary approach or solution.

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