of movie ads is headed your kids' way
WHILE MEMORIAL DAY
marks picnics and campouts for many of us -- maybe an
impromptu game of softball or volleyball too --
Hollywood is gearing up for the summer blockbuster
That worries Josh Golin and his Harvard-based colleagues
who manage the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
(CCFC) coalition at the university's Judge Baker
Children's Center. Golin figures that where there are
summer blockbusters, television commercials that run
during children's TV programming are sure to precede.
And he would be right.
The CCFC canvassed children's TV programs in early May.
It discovered ads for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull"-themed Lunchables and Frosted Flakes
on Nickelodeon on May 10. Earlier in the month, CCFC
noted network and cable children's shows were "flooded
with ads for 'Iron Man' and ads for toys linked to the
movie." Golin said there was a Burger King "Iron Man"
kids meal for children as young as 3.
Problem: "Iron Man" is rated PG-13. Same for the new
"Indiana Jones" flick.
And that's before introducing the debate among
researchers about whether violent movies and other media
(most notably, Internet violent content is exploding)
lead to unhealthy behavior among those kids 13 and up
who see the movie -- or the preteens and other
youngsters who attend.
In recent months, researchers from the University of
Michigan and Iowa State University have published
exhaustive studies showing a direct cause-and-effect
relationship between media violence and youth aggression
and other behavior problems. In contrast, behavioral
scientists at the University of Utah and Texas State
University have countered with papers questioning the
methodology of media violence research and whether there
is a direct connection to be made.
Susan Linn is a psychologist at the Judge Baker
Children's Center and Harvard Medical School. She has
written a new book, "The Case for Make Believe: Saving
Play in a Commercialized World (New Press, $24.95),
which fits in nicely with her role as director of the
CCFC. She said allowing film companies and studios to
"relentlessly market PG-13 movies to young children"
undermines what she calls an already flawed rating
"The PG-13 rating states that parents should be
'strongly cautioned' that 'material may be inappropriate
for children under 13,' but the film industry is doing
everything and anything to ensure that violence-packed
movies are the talk of elementary and preschool
playgrounds," said Linn, a ventriloquist who pioneered
the use of puppetry in children's play therapy and was
mentored by the late Fred Rogers of PBS fame.
The CCFC previously has flagged this questionable
connection between PG-13 films and kid's advertising and
toys. In January, responding to a CCFC complaint --
co-filed by about 20 children's advocacy groups around
the country -- the Federal Trade Commission urged the
Motion Picture Association of America to develop
"explicit" and "objective" policy to make sure movies
are not marketed to children not recommended to see the
Not surprisingly, the movie industry trade group hasn't
responded with any specific criteria. The MPAA assures
it reviews marketing plans for every PG-13 movies, but
Golin said the ad reviews are for content only and not
what is age-appropriate as it relates to the movie. It
is not difficult to surmise that kids who see, say,
"Iron Man" toys, will be asking their parents to see the
movie. And if they fail in getting into movie theaters,
the asking will no doubt resume when the video is
Here's what further worries Golin. He assumes two summer
blockbusters, "The Incredible Hulk" (late June release
date) and "The Dark Knight" (mid-July), will translate
to advertising for the movies and related toys. "Hulk"
is not yet rated but the 2003 version of the comic book
character was PG-13, while "Dark Knight" has been rated
PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and some
menace," Golin said.
What's more, the CCFC reports that "Hulk" has 260 new
toys, many aimed at kids 3 and younger, while "Dark
Knight" has a whopping 950 toys, another 4,000
merchandising and product promotions with General Mills
The CCFC has started a letter-writing campaign that
makes it easy for parents and others to write to the
motion picture association. Visit
commercialfreechildhood.orgfor more details.
Another organization, Teachers Resisting Unhealthy
Children's Entertainment or TRUCE, has posted an
impressive number of suggestions for kids, parents,
teachers and communities to practice greater awareness
of violent movie content truceteachers.org/mediaviolence.html).
One vital idea is watching movies with kids. Better yet,
screen it yourself first to decide if your child should
even watch it. Then rather than a post-movie lecture,
make it possible for your family to talk openly the
movie, including any fears and misconceptions.
Ultimately, it's up to parents to decide if a PG-13
movie is OK for their children -- and that's exactly how
the MPAA likes it. My take? I'll leave parents with a
2007 study conducted by Kennesaw State University
(Acworth, Ga.) researcher Philip Aust. He conducted a
content analysis of 24, G-rated -- repeat G-rated --
animated full-length feature films released between 1937
and 2000. He found 464 violent incidents (defined by
research standards) in the 24 films, plus 564 weapons
used in these incidents. When categorized by decade, the
films grew progressively violent as Disney and
moviegoers approached the 21st century.
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