News: Analysis & Commentary
Commentary: Hollywood Won't Lobby Its Way out of the FTC Report on Violence
If anyone doubts the findings of the Federal Trade Commission report decrying the entertainment industry's pervasive marketing of violent and obscene material to children, just come to my house. My 11-year-old stepdaughter recently interrupted our dinnertime with her own sweet-voiced rendition of rapper Eminem's song Slim Shady. Eminem, for the uninitiated, is the blond rapper whose lyrics are laced with tirades that include beating his wife, stuffing her in a trunk, and doing things that this magazine won't print. And if you want to catch Eminem's even more graphically violent Stan, try the local radio station. Even my 16-year-old daughter was shocked to hear it aired in its disturbing entirety.GROUNDSWELL. The entertainment industry is making a huge mistake by reacting to the report by simply falling back on the voluntary guidelines it has in place, and suggesting instead that parents aren't doing their part. Even those in Washington who are reflexively opposed to censorship are seething at the media giants for failing to own up to what the FTC clearly demonstrates: Getting to the under-17 crowd is clearly part of the marketing strategy for most films, movies, and games even as they have become increasingly violent.
While the media heavyweights duck out of hearings on that report, Congress is building up steam to make studios and music companies pull in a net that has quite obviously targeted and caught too many kids. If the likes of Walt Disney Co. and Warner Brothers can spend millions rooting out forged Mickey and Daffy Duck merchandise, they shouldn't be surprised when Congress asks why they can't bring the same vigilance to movie theaters and video and music stores to help police their own policies for kids. "It will take fines like those imposed on 7-Elevens that sell beer to minors," says Peter S. Sealey, a marketing professor at the University of California at Berkley and a former head of marketing at Columbia. "As long as a marketing executive's job is on the line opening Terminator 17, he's going to do whatever it takes."
Hollywood knew this report was coming since the shootings in Columbine. Yet instead of facing it head-on, they seem to be hiding behind their lobbyists. That has only furthered the notion that the industry is abdicating responsibility. Disney took a credible first step, refusing to allow ads for R-rated movies on ABC before 9 p.m., restricting R-rated trailers on its films, and "strongly encouraging" theaters to ban under 17-year-olds from those flicks. But Disney's policies say nothing about restricting ads on ESPN or pressuring TV stations from airing inappropriate ads during reruns of Disney's Home Improvement.
The industry is justifiably beefing up marketing to compete for eyeballs with the Internet, computer games and others. But Congress is listening to a different audience: the folks who sit around their own kitchen tables and worry who's putting Eminem lyrics into their kids' heads.By Ronald Grover; Grover Covers Entertainment for Business Week from Los Angeles.