If there was a recurring theme in the music videos of 2013, it was undoubtedly female nudity. And not the kind of vaguely suggestive, scantily-clad clothing options so common in pop -- this was complete and total nakedness (as you will remember from Miley's "Wrecking Ball," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," Justin Timberlake's "Tunnel Vision," and Rihanna's (actually tasteful) "Stay." We assume all these exposed lady parts were enough to send the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) over the edge, because the organization has just announced that it will be introducing age ratings to online music videos in the U.K.
Now, to the outside viewer, the U.K. probably appears to have a far more relaxed attitude to nudity than America does. Over there, campaigns have been raging by women's organizations for years (to no avail) to get rid of the nation's tradition of putting a topless woman on Page 3 of the daily tabloid newspapers. Britain's men's magazines are also awash with gratuitous images of naked women.
But despite the liberal nature of British print media, the UK has always had strict guidelines about what children are exposed to when it comes to moving images. For example, if you want to take your 8-year-old child to a movie theater to see something that has an age rating older than 12, it is straight up impossible to do so (unless you hide the kid in your bag or something). Doesn't matter if you desperately want your kid to see The Wolf of Wall Street before they're in double digits -- if the BBFC says you're not allowed, chances are you'll have an extremely rough time trying to do so.
And though it's worth noting that while TV commercials all over Europe are far more
liberal about showing a bit of butt crack and side-boob, British television has a strict "watershed" -- meaning full-on nudity and the F-word can only be seen after 9 p.m., presumably when young children have already gone to sleep.
The BBFC's move to introduce ratings on online music videos is merely an extension of the other limitations on moving images in Britain. Arguments can of course be made that the move is entirely pointless -- that kids are going to watch what they want to watch; that children now are exposed to countless things that previous generations weren't, thanks to the Internet and smart phones; that giving a video an "Explicit" rating just makes it more alluring than it was before.
But for parents who are attentive but busy, getting a quick overview of what their kids shouldn't necessarily be watching is invaluable. For parents that don't have time to sit down and watch every single music video that their kid might want to watch, being able to glance over said child's shoulder as they browse YouTube and see an age rating is going to be inordinately helpful in having some say over what your kid sees at home. It will give parents some semblance of control back as they attempt to navigate how to raise a generation that doesn't remember life before the Internet. And for stricter parents, it's worth noting that Google is already talking about implementing these future age ratings on music videos into automatic parent control settings.
Similarly, while some kids actively seek out the naughty stuff, there are children who don't enjoy stumbling across things they're not ready to see yet. 2012 documentary Sexy Baby
featured some 12-year-old girls who explicitly stated that they had been exposed to some things online that they wish they could un-see. Putting specific age ratings on music videos would assist these children in steering clear of things that might make them feel awkward or uncomfortable.
Of course, there's no way to stop kids from ever seeing age-inappropriate things -- that's not a new problem, it's just a more serious one now. But the truth is, as music videos are upping the ante and doing more and more extreme things to grab the world's attention, trying to pull on the reigns a little isn't a bad thing. Putting age ratings on music videos isn't going to change the world and it isn't going to harm artists. But if no one questions the logic of putting age ratings on movies -- even in a country where your parents can take you to them regardless of how young you are -- why should it be any different for music videos?