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The Evidence Against Media Violence:  Beer Statistics

More on The Evidence Against Media Violence. From the LA Times, 4/30/01:

As Youths Are Bombarded With Ads, a Pro-Family Group Counterattacks

If President Bush truly wants to invigorate efforts to strengthen kids' character, he can't duck this issue just because it's ideologically inconvenient.


It's a troubling sign when kids know more about Busch than Bush.

An important new study released this month by the National Institute on Media and the Family found that an incredible 99% of students in grades 7 through 12 can identify Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser as a brand of beer—and 44% of them drink it. By comparison, a national survey at the height of last year's campaign found that only about two-thirds of older kids could name George W. Bush as the GOP presidential candidate.

And it's not just Bud, with its wiseacre lizards and its hip twenty-somethings wondering "whassup?" that's penetrated the schoolyard. The National Institute study, which surveyed 1,500 students from schools in the Midwest and the East, found that 90% or more could identify Miller Genuine Draft and Coors. That was significantly more students than could identify the purpose of the Bill of Rights in a national test a few years back.

The commercialization of childhood continues unrestrained. By one authoritative estimate, marketers now spend $5 billion a year directly targeting children, and kids now see an estimated 20,000 commercials a year.

In that flood, even products that aren't directly aimed at children can still inundate them. Douglas Gentile, research director of the National Institute, says there's no evidence that beer manufacturers are intentionally trying to reach kids with their massive advertising campaigns. "But whether or not they are targeting the kids," he says, "they are hitting the kids." And research, he notes, suggests that "the more kids are exposed to such advertising, the greater their intention to drink and the more positive their feelings about drinking."

Many other industries, of course, are very much trying to reach kids. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a follow-up to its groundbreaking report last fall on the marketing of violent entertainment toward kids. The new analysis found that the movie and video game industries had generally improved their practices.

It also found that the recording industry had displayed almost total disdain for public concerns about the marketing of sexually explicit and violent recordings toward underage kids. Among other things, the FTC reported that record companies continued to advertise explicit recordings on television shows with a large share of underage viewers; the ads almost never acknowledged that the recordings contained a parental advisory warning. In effect, the industry is continuing to inspire demand among kids without warning parents that the disc their 10-year-old suddenly had to have might not be something the child should be exposed to.

This manufacture of demand has understandably drawn the most critical attention when it is applied to products clearly inappropriate for young children—from tobacco to explicit recordings and R-rated movies. But the far broader phenomenon of treating even very young children as a consumer market to be manipulated deserves more focus as well. None too soon, it's coming.

Later this week, the Institute for American Values, a centrist think tank that focuses on family concerns, is issuing a mothers' manifesto urging a national effort to roll back Madison Avenue's invasion of the schoolyard and the nursery.

Signed by a long list of prominent women, the statement says they understand that the threat to families doesn't only come from the most obviously objectionable marketing schemes—such as Bud's talking lizards. The larger question is the competition parents face in shaping their children's values from a marketing culture that relentlessly tells kids they can find happiness only from a new pair of Nikes or Gap cargo pants. Struggling to resist that message, parents often feel like Linda Hamilton trying to outlast the Terminator: Eventually you'll have to sleep, but it never does.

"If our children are being steeped in a value system that says 'me first,' instant gratification, self-indulgence and materialism, we don't think that's good for society," says Enola Aird, a mother of two teens who wrote the paper.

Most of the recommendations in this upcoming "Mothers' Statement to Advertisers" urge private actions. The paper forthrightly says that parents must "reassert" their own commitment to teaching values to their kids and grow less reliant on television as a baby-sitter. It also proposes a voluntary six-point "mothers' code for advertisers," including a pledge to bar advertising and market research in schools.

But both the mothers' statement and the National Institute beer advertising study make sensible recommendations for public policies to combat the problem. These divide into two categories.

One is aimed at products unambiguously inappropriate for kids: beer, R-rated movies, explicit recordings. Each of these industries now sets different standards for advertising their products on television. The beer industry won't place ads on programs where half or more of the audience is under 18; several leading studios now set a 35% threshold for advertising R-rated films; the recording industry looked at a 50% standard before, characteristically, deciding not to set one at all.

The problem is that all these standards allow too much exposure to young kids. By its own standard, the beer industry could sell Rolling Rock on the annual "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. The 35% standard allows Hollywood to sell sex and slasher movies on shows such as "Dawson's Creek" (28% under-18 audience), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (29%) and "The Simpsons" (30%). More appropriate would be a uniform 25% standard—as the FTC proposed for the beer industry in 1999.

The answer for The Gap, Nike and all the other mass marketers whose ads bombard children isn't as obvious, which is why the Mothers' Statement sensibly proposes a broad FTC investigation into the way marketers target kids. Just the pressure of an inquiry can spur positive change—as Hollywood's response to last year's FTC study of violent entertainment has demonstrated.

It wouldn't be easy to sell the regulatory-averse Bush administration on such an initiative. But as Aird notes, if Bush is serious when he says he wants to invigorate efforts to strengthen kids' character, he can't duck this issue just because it's ideologically inconvenient. "It's all well and good to have character education in the schools," she says. "But if character education is being undermined by commercialism [everywhere else], then we've got a problem."

Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times

Rob's comment
The connection between violence and alcohol is how the media influences people, especially children. If the media can inculcate messages about beer brands, it can inculcate messages about violence and aggression. Both look more exciting and fun when put in the context of a TV show or commercial.

Related links
Highlights of the FTC report on media violence
The evidence against media violence

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