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Classifiers are people who determine the appropriate classification ratings for various media. Classifiers provide ratings (classifications) for films, television programs, songs and albums, video games, and pornography. Individuals doing this work prefer being called classifiers instead of censors because they say their work isn’t about banning content. Instead, they say their work is simply about classifying it so only the most appropriate audience consumes it.
Classifiers may choose to classify media in its current form, edit the finished work to ensure it complies with classification schemes, or refuse to classify a work at all. Classifiers look for adult content, like coarse language, sex scenes and themes, violence, and other elements. Content without these features is typically classified as appropriate for all audiences, while content with these features is restricted.
The United States government does very little to regulate the country’s media, as it feels content censorship and restrictions violates the First Amendment. Instead, it trusts industry bodies to employ classifiers to regulate their content.
One of the best known is the Classification and Rating Administration, part of the Motion Picture Association of America. While participation is voluntary, most cinemas enforce the MPAA film classifications. Under this scheme, movies are classified G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautions), R (Restricted), or NC-17 (No Admission for Children 17 and Under). In addition, classifiers add descriptors to further guide viewing choices. These descriptors might inform moviegoers that a film “contains mild sex scenes and adult themes” for example. While classifications for DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are also voluntary, they also usually carry the same cinema classifications. Unrated content may also be released on these discs.
Television stations employ their own classifiers to classify their programs according to the TV Parental Guidelines. Parents can protect their children from inappropriate content by blocking programs with TV-MA ratings, meant for mature audiences. Free-to-air television never shows programs with “indecent” content to avoid offense. Cable channels can show this kind of content, including nudity and sex scenes.
Pornography doesn’t need to be classified within the United States, but many producers give their own works an X classification to show it contains adult content. While it can freely be distributed online, most state laws prevent people under the age of 18 purchasing pornographic content. The exception is child pornography, which is illegal within the United States.