I’m working on a post about some of the more outrageous comments I’ve seen in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling that video games are entitled to the same protections as films and music. I covered a lot of the more common misconceptions in a prior post where I discussed how film ratings are not legally enforced, how it actually is a first amendment issue, how violence is different than obscenity, and how media is different than regulations on alcohol and/or drugs. I’ve also discussed how there is no rape in Grand Theft Auto and how unless some store is still selling Custer’s Revenge or Rapelay then there aren’t any games that do feature rape. There is, however, one thing I don’t think I have covered: Tennessee.
When people try to correct the misconception that film ratings are legally enforced, occasionally someone will mention Tennessee. People will claim that Tennessee has a law which legally enforced film ratings. As far as I can tell this notion was started by a story appearing on a local Tennessee television’s website. In the story someone asked if film ratings were legally enforced and the television station replied:
In Tennessee, the legal age to buy a R-rated movie ticket — IS 18!
It’s not a new law, either.
Tennessee Code 39-17-907, enacted in 1989, states, “…viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian…”
Violating the law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine and/or 11 months and 29 days in jail.
It seems like this story has been picked up by a few people since it was posted online and quoted as the truth. The problem is that the tv station is only quoting half of the sentence. If you read what the tv station wrote it doesn’t even mean anything. Here is the full text of the pertinent section of the law:
2010 Tennessee Code
Title 39 – Criminal Offenses
Chapter 17 – Offenses Against Public Health, Safety and Welfare
Part 9 – Obscenity
39-17-907 – Restrictions on showings.
39-17-907. Restrictions on showings.
(a) It is unlawful for any person to exhibit for public consumption, whether or not the exhibition is for compensation, any motion picture, film, movie, or videotape that depicts sexual conduct as defined in § 39-17-901, unless the exhibition is within a theater auditorium or other enclosed area that effectively removes the exhibition from the view of members of the public who are not voluntarily engaged in viewing the motion picture, film, movie, or videotape.
(b) Each theater at which two (2) or more motion pictures are shown in the same building shall maintain adequate supervision of the customers to prevent minors from purchasing a ticket or admission pass to a motion picture designated by the rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America by the letter “G” for general audiences or “PG” for all ages, parental guidance advised, and then viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian, or “X,” persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted.
(c) A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
I’m no lawyer but as I read it the law is saying that theaters have to have people around to make sure kids don’t buy tickets for a G or PG rated movie and then go see and R rated movie. It doesn’t say anything about making it illegal to sell R rated material to minors.