Since artistic expression inevitably reflects the culture in which it is embedded, it is hardly surprising that alcohol use and alcohol products are frequently displayed or mentioned in prime-time television, movies, and music recordings. Although the viewing or listening audiences for many of these media products are predominantly adult, some of them are disproportionately underage, and even the predominantly adult audiences typically include large numbers of young people.
The committee recognizes, of course, that the entertainment media and their adult audiences have a common interest in a robust free market in television programming as well as in movies, video games, and music recordings and that alcohol consumption is an inescapable element of modern U.S. culture. At the same time, it must also be recognized that images and lyrics depicting underage drinking in a favorable light or otherwise glamorizing alcohol consumption affect the perceptions and attitudes of children and teenagers toward alcohol consumption and that exposure to those images and lyrics is associated with youthful drinking.
Despite abundant correlational data from cross-sectional studies, however, there is no definitive evidence that youthful exposure to alcohol content in the entertainment media has a causal effect on underage drinking (Grube, 2004). Concern that such a relationship may exist is reinforced, however, by the findings of an important cohort study of adolescent initiation of smoking. Of more than 3,000 adolescents aged 10 to 14 who had never smoked, Dalton et al. (2003) report that 10 percent had initiated smoking 13 to 26 months later, and that 17 percent of those in the highest
quartile of exposure to movie smoking had initiated smoking, in comparison with 3 percent of those in the lowest quartile of exposure. After controlling for baseline characteristics, the researchers concluded that adolescents in the highest quartile of exposure to movie smoking were 2.71 time more likely to initiate smoking than those in the lowest quartile, and that, in this cohort, 52 percent of smoking initiation was attributable to exposure to smoking in movies.
On the basis of this limited, but suggestive, evidence, the committee believes that there is a strong possibility that youthful exposure to alcohol content in entertainment media contributes to early initiation of alcohol use. In light of that possibility, the entertainment industries have a social responsibility to eschew displays or lyrics that portray underage drinking in a favorable light or that glamorize or promote alcohol consumption or irresponsible behavior in products that are targeted toward or likely to be heard or viewed by large underage audiences.
Recommendation 8-1: The entertainment industries should use rating systems and marketing codes to reduce the likelihood that underage audiences will be exposed to movies, recordings, or television programs with unsuitable alcohol content, even if adults are expected to predominate in the viewing or listening audiences.
By “unsuitable alcohol content,” the committee means to include lyrics, images, depictions, or messages that portray underage drinking in a favorable light; that portray intoxication or otherwise excessive alcohol use by anyone in an attractive way; or that promote or glorify alcohol use in high-risk situations, such as while driving. Further specification of unsuitable alcohol content can be found in the advertising and marketing codes of the beer, wine, and distilled spirits industries. The committee urges the entertainment industries to review these codes to help develop specific standards for rating and marketing practices.
The challenge of promoting responsible industry practices regarding underage alcohol use is analogous to the challenge of reducing youth exposure to explicit sexual themes, violence, or illegal drug use. The committee accordingly reviewed industry practices in these areas—as well as the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prod the industry into stronger self-regulation. In the context of violent programming, a recent series of FTC reports is highly instructive. In a 2000 report, the FTC found that members of all three major entertainment industries—motion pictures, music, and video games—had engaged in widespread marketing of violent movies, music, and electronic games to children under 17 by promoting their products on television, in magazines, and on Internet sites that have large underage audiences (FTC, 2000).
The FTC found that 80 percent of the 44 R-rated movies selected for
study had been marketed to children under 17; as had 70 percent of the adult-rated video games and 100 percent of the explicit music recordings. In addition, the FTC found that advertisements for these products rarely contained rating information. The FTC also conducted undercover shopping operations to retailers and movie theaters with unaccompanied teens (aged 13-17); the young shoppers were able to buy M-rated electronic games and “parental advisory” labeled music recordings 85 percent of the time and to purchase tickets for R-rated movies 46 percent of the time.
Follow-up reports (FTC, 2001, 2002) noted progress by the movie and video game industries in disclosing rating information in advertising and in limiting advertising for R-rated movies and M-rated games in teen-oriented media. However, the report found little improvement in advertising by the music recording industry and only weak progress in strengthening self-regulation. The motion picture studios and video game manufacturers have developed an age-based rating system, designed to inform parents of the level of objectionable material suitable for children of different ages. In contrast, the music industry’s “explicit content” warnings are not age specific and make no mention of the specific reasons for the warning (e.g., drug use, language, violence). However, one music industry member has begun including reasons for the warning on product packaging and advertising.
Extrapolating from recent national survey data, 11- to 13-year-olds spend an average of 6.2 hours per week, and 14- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 4.7 hours per week watching movies (Roberts et al., 1999a). In terms of alcohol content in films, recent content analyses indicate that alcohol was shown or consumed in 93 percent of the 200 most popular movie rentals for 1996 to 1997 (Roberts et al., 1999b). Although underage use of alcohol occurred in only about 9 percent of these films, alcohol and drinking were presented in an overwhelmingly positive light. Drinking was associated with wealth or luxury in 34 percent of films containing alcohol references and pro-use statements or overt advocacy of use occurred in 20 percent of the films. Anti-use statements appeared in 9 percent of films with alcohol references, 6 percent contained statements on limits as to when, where, and how much alcohol should be consumed, and 14 percent depicted refusals to drink.
Drinking in movies is often associated with such risky activities as crime or violence (38 percent), driving (14 percent), and sexual activity (19 percent). Portrayals of negative consequences of drinking are relatively rare. In all, 57 percent of films with alcohol references portrayed no consequences at all. Similar findings have emerged from other content analyses. Thus, at least one lead character drank in 79 percent of the top money-
making U.S. films from 1985 to 1995 (Everett et al., 1998). Moreover, 96 percent of those films contained references supportive of alcohol use, while only 37 percent contained references discouraging alcohol use. Alcohol use even occurs in G-rated films. Among G-rated animated feature films released in U.S. theaters from 1937 to 2000 and available on videocassette, 47 percent showed alcohol use with, at best, ambivalent connotations (Thompson and Yokota, 2001). A review by Roberts, Henriksen, and Christensen (1999b) showed that alcohol use occurred in 76 percent of movies rated G or PG, 97 percent of movies rated PG-13, and 94 percent of movies rated R.
Ratings are assigned by a Rating Board appointed by the president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). According to the current MPAA Rating Board guidelines, the criteria taken into account by the board include theme violence, language, nudity, sensuality, and drug abuse. Films are rated as a whole. Under the rating system, films are rated G (all ages admitted), PG (parental guidance suggested because some material may be unsuitable for children), PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned because some material may be inappropriate for children under 13), R (restricted for children under 17 unless accompanied by parent), and NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted). Alcohol use is not explicitly mentioned as a rating criterion in the MPAA guidelines, and actual rating practice is not easily inferred. Although a film with illegal drug use cannot be assigned a G or PG rating, alcohol use (by adults) is widely depicted in films with these ratings.
Recommendation 8-2: The film rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America should consider alcohol content in rating films, avoiding G or PG ratings for films with unsuitable alcohol content, and assigning mature ratings for films that portray underage drinking in a favorable light.
Music is a popular form of entertainment for young people: 11- to 13-year-olds spend 11.2 hours per week and 14- to 18-year-olds spend 9.3 hours per week listening to music on radio, compact disks (CDs), or tape (Roberts et al., 1999a). Many parents and other adults are likely unaware of the extent of alcohol images in today’s music and music videos, particularly rap music, which is especially appealing to young people. References to alcohol and drinking, including brand-name references and lyrics and images glamorizing alcohol use, are commonplace in today’s music, particularly in hip hop songs and music videos. A recent content analysis (Roberts et al., 1999b) examined 1,000 of the most popular songs from
1996 to 1997 across five genres of music popular with youth. They found that 17 percent of all the lyrics contained references to alcohol: alcohol was mentioned much more frequently in rap music (47 percent) than in other genres, which included country-western (13 percent), top 40 (12 percent), alternative rock (10 percent), and heavy metal (4 percent). Overall, 22 percent of songs with alcohol mentions referred to beer or malt liquor, 34 percent to wine or champagne, 36 percent to hard liquor or mixed drinks, and 31 percent to generic terms such as “booze.” A common theme was getting intoxicated or high (24 percent), although drinking was also associated with wealth and luxury (24 percent), sexual activity (34 percent), and crime or violence (13 percent). Consequences of drinking were mentioned in only 9 percent, and anti-use messages occurred in only 3 percent of the songs with alcohol references. Product placements or brand-name mentions occurred in 30 percent of them and were especially common in rap music (48 percent). An analysis of alcohol depictions in rap music (Herd, 1993) found the portrayal of alcohol use to convey elements of disinhibition, rebellion, identity, pleasure, sensuality, and personal power.
DuRant et al. (1997) analyzed 518 music videos from four television stations—MTV, BET, CMT and VH1—for portrayals of alcohol and tobacco use. In terms of music genre, rap music contained the highest percentage of depictions of alcohol use, and rhythm and blues videos showed the least alcohol use. Alcohol use was found in a higher proportion of music videos that had any sexual content than in videos that had no sexual content.
The music industry has been the slowest to implement rating and advertising restrictions in line with the FTC’s recommendations in its reports on the marketing of recordings with violent content to young audiences. The deficiencies identified by the FTC in these reports are directly applicable to the marketing of recordings with alcohol content to young audiences. The recording industry has no independent review board for its decision to label recordings. There are also no stated standards for what sort of recording receives a label, and the current labeling system does not require recording companies to inform buyers of the reasons for the ex-plicit-content label. The FTC’s follow-up reports in 2001 and 2002 found that advertising for explicit-content labeled recordings continued to appear on television programs popular with teen audiences. Although there have been some recent improvements, these advertisements frequently failed to indicate that the advertised product had a parental warning label; even when this information was indicated, it was often too small to be read. Except for one recording company, the companies themselves provide little to no information as to the reasons for the parental warning label or where to find such information (FTC, 2002).
In the committee’s judgment, more responsible self-regulation by the
music recording industry is an essential component of a meaningful societal commitment to reduce underage drinking. At the present time, lyrics glamorizing alcohol use are proliferating in recordings that are marketed predominantly to teenagers, and the music recording industry has failed to take suitable steps to establish and enforce an appropriate rating system.
Recommendation 8-3: The music recording industry should not market recordings that promote or glamorize alcohol use to young people; should include alcohol content in a comprehensive rating system, similar to those used by the television, film, and video game industries; and should establish an independent body to assign ratings and oversee the industry code.
Unlike the movie and video game industries, the music recording industry has not committed itself to meaningful self-regulation. It is time for the music recording industry to adopt such a code and to include in the code a specific ban against lyrics and images that depict underage drinking in a favorable light or otherwise glamorize or promote alcohol use in products that are marketed to underage audiences. These guidelines could be adapted from the FTC recommendations regarding alcohol advertising to youth (see FTC, 1999).
A music recording industry rating system of songs should provide consumers with brief descriptors of lyric and image content, including alcohol content, similar to rating systems adopted by the television, film, and video game industries. A rating system provides parents with information that can help them make informed decisions. While movies, television programs, and video games are rated on a gradient with specific guidelines for each of the ratings, the current system used by the music recording industry effectively classifies all products into two categories—with or without explicit content (on sex and violence). The packaging and marketing of music provides no other information as to the content of the product.
The system from the video gaming industry, established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), serves as the best model for a comprehensive rating system that can be adapted by the music recording industry. The system includes a rating that is displayed in a rating symbol on the front of the product’s packaging and content descriptors that are located on the back of the product. The ESRB uses five ratings (early childhood, everyone, teen, mature, and adults only); fewer would probably be suitable for music recordings. The ESRB system has 26 content descriptors, including 2 for alcohol content—alcohol reference and use of alcohol—that can be used in any combination to describe the content found in the game; see Box 8-1.
The music recording industry should specify when the recording includes alcohol content, and when a rating system has been adopted, the
EARLY CHILDHOOD: Content may be suitable for ages 3 and older; contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
EVERYONE: Content may be suitable for persons aged 6 and older; may contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language.
TEEN: Content may be suitable for persons aged 13 and older; may contain violent content, mild or strong language, or suggestive themes.
MATURE: Content may be suitable for persons aged 17 and older; may contain mature sexual themes or more intense violence or language.
ADULTS ONLY: Content is suitable only for adults; may include graphic depictions of sex or violence. Not intended for persons under the age of 18.
RATING PENDING: The product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating.
Examples of ESRB Content Descriptors
Alcohol reference: reference to images of alcoholic beverages.
Animated blood: cartoon or pixilated depictions of blood.
Blood and gore: depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts.
Comic mischief: scenes depicting slapstick or gross vulgar humor.
Drug reference: reference to images of illegal drugs.
Gambling: betting like behavior.
Mature humor: vulgar or crude jokes and antics, including “bathroom” humor.
Mature sexual themes: provocative material, possibly including partial nudity.
Nudity: graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity.
Strong language: profanity and explicit references to sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use.
Strong sexual content: graphic depiction of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity.
Suggestive themes: mild provocative references or materials.
Tobacco reference: reference to images of tobacco products.
Use of drugs: the consumption or use of illegal drugs.
Use of alcohol: the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Use of tobacco: the consumption of tobacco products.
Violence: scenes involving aggressive conflict.
SOURCE: Adapted from ESRB (2003).
rating board should classify any recording with unsuitable alcohol content, including name-brand reference of alcohol products, as appropriate only for “mature’ audiences. Using this approach for name-brand references would be analogous to the FTC’s recommendation that all films with paid alcohol placement receive an R or NC-17 rating (FTC, 1999). In conjunc-
tion with the alcohol industry, the music recording industry should work to bar alcohol placement in music videos aimed at underage audiences. Finally, the music recording industry should increase consumer and parental understanding of the improved rating system. In its December 2001 report on the marketing of violent entertainment to children, the FTC found that all of the 55 recordings in their study with explicit lyrical content (pertaining to violence) were targeted to children under the age of 17. With that type of marketing and pressure geared toward young people, parents must take an active role in regulating the images their children receive, and it is up to the industry to provide parents with the necessary information they need to make educated decisions regarding consumption. The recording industry should adopt a more comprehensive rating system, and it should provide literature on the reasons behind the ratings. This information should be made available either within the product packaging or in some other easily accessible area, such as through a telephone hotline or an Internet web site. The point is that parents be better able to access and understand information about the content of products they purchase for their children.
The MPAA has the Ratings Board and the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) has the ESRB, but the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has no separate governing body that rates the content of their industries products. MPAA’s rating board and the IDSA’s ESRB are both governing bodies established by their respective industry associations to provide nonbiased review and ratings of products for the purpose of educating parents. After viewing the content of a game (using video clips) or a movie (in its entirety), the boards make a rating decision on each game or film that is submitted to them; see Box 8-2.
The RIAA’s Parental Advisory Program consists of a set of guidelines that regulate the placement of the parental advisory label on the packaging and marketing of music, but it establishes no authoritative board to review the content of products. Individual record companies and their artists determine whether each individual recording warrants a parental advisory label. Asking record companies to rate their own records is akin to asking studios to rate their own movies. Without an independent review board, any determination of explicit content is probably both unreliable and inconsistent. Furthermore, without a comprehensive ratings system (similar to the one used by the video game industry), the determination of explicit content in records is of little use to parents.
RETAIL ACCESS TO MOVIES AND RECORDINGS
FTC’s recent reports on violence in the entertainment media, described above, recommended that all three industries (movie, music recording, and
video game) improve the usefulness of their ratings and labels by establishing codes that prohibit marketing R/NC-rated/M-rated/explicit-labeled products in media or venues with a substantial under-17 audience. The reports also emphasized that restricting children’s retail access to entertainment containing violent content is an essential complement to restricting the placement of advertising. Such restriction could be implemented by checking identification or requiring parental permission before selling tickets to R or NC movies and by not selling or renting products labeled “explicit” or rated R or M to children. In addition, the FTC suggested that each industry’s trade associations monitor and encourage their members’ compliance with these policies and impose meaningful sanctions for noncompliance.
We fully endorse the FTC’s recommendation and suggestion. We believe that these would also be appropriate actions to reduce the exposure of underage audiences to unsuitable images relating to use of alcoholic beverages in the entertainment media.
Adolescents are heavy users of television. Each week, 11- to 13-year-olds watch 27.7 hours, and 14- to 18-year-olds watch 20.2 hours of broadcast and taped television programming (Roberts et al., 1999). As a result, they are immersed in drinking portrayals and alcohol product placements. A recent content analysis of prime-time television from the 1998-1999 season, for example, showed that 71 percent of episodes sampled from prime-time programs depicted alcohol use, typically in a positive light, and that 77 percent contained some reference to alcohol (Christensen et al., 2000).
Among those programs most popular with teenagers, 53 percent portrayed alcohol use: 84 percent of TV-14 rated programming, 77 percent of TV-PG programming, and 38 percent of TV-G programming depicted alcohol use. More episodes portrayed drinking as an overall positive experience (40 percent) than a negative one (10 percent), although negative consequences were mentioned or portrayed in 23 percent of episodes. Underage drinking was relatively rare. Only 2 percent of regular characters under the age of 18 were depicted drinking alcohol. In another recent content analysis, however, characters between the ages of 13 and 18 accounted for 7 percent of all alcohol incidents portrayed (Mathios et al., 1998). When it occurs, youthful drinking or expressed desire to drink is often presented as means of appearing to be adult and grown-up (Grube, 1995).
The television networks have adopted a mandatory rating policy. Shows are rated for age-appropriate content under seven grades:
G: “General Audiences—All Ages Admitted”
This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. which would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a “certificate of approval,” nor does it signify a children’s film.
Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films. The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present; nor is there any drug use content.
PG: “Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children”
This is a film which clearly needs to be examined or inquired into by parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but the parent must make the decision.
Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen and without inquiry, to PG-rated movies.
The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated film.
The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children.
Obviously such a line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is not easy to make judgments without incurring some disagreement. So long as parents know they must exercise parental responsibility, the rating serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning.
PG-13: “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13”
PG-13 is thus a sterner warning to parents to determine for themselves the attendance in particular of their younger children as they might consider some material not suited for them. Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children.
A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, or
TV-Y—appropriate for all ages
TV-Y7—appropriate for ages 7 and above
TV-Y7-FV—suitable for ages 7 and up but containing some elements of fantasy violence
TV-G—appropriate for most children
other contents, but does not quite fit within the restricted R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year olds and younger to attend.
If nudity is sexually oriented, the film will generally not be found in the PG-13 category. If violence is too rough or persistent, the film goes into the R (restricted) rating. A film’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, shall initially require the Rating Board to issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely, however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.
PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children’s movie going. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions that only parents can, and should, make. Its purpose is to give prescreening advance informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments. PG-13 is designed to make these parental decisions easier for films between PG and R.
R: “Restricted, Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian”
In the opinion of the Rating Board, this film definitely contains some adult material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before they allow their children to accompany them.
An R-rated film may include hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements, or a combination of some of the above, so that parents are counseled, in advance, to take this advisory rating very seriously. Parents must find out more about an R-rated movie before they allow their teenagers to view it.
NC-17: “No One 17 And Under Admitted”
This rating declares that the Rating Board believes that this is a film that most parents will consider patently too adult for their youngsters under 17. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean “obscene or pornographic” in the oft-accepted or legal meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms and for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating can be violence or sex or aberrational behavior or drug abuse or any other elements which, when present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.
SOURCE: MPAA (2003, pp. 4-5).
TV-PG—containing some elements that may be inappropriate for young children
TV-14—containing material that may be unsuitable for children under 14
TV-MA—programming appropriate for people over 17
However, the ratings are typically assigned by the producers of the programming, and there is no independent board responsible for standardizing or enforcing these ratings. Moreover, although the networks rate programs, only conscientious use of the “v-chip” by parents serves to block programming.
The main criteria governing ratings under the prescribed categories are sexual content, violence, coarse language, and suggestive dialogue; if these elements are present, a notice is displayed on the screen at the beginning of the program, as well as in most television programming guides. While depictions of underage alcohol use or abuse may be rated as TV-14 or TV-MA, no specific criterion governs this type of content under existing standards, and, as a result, alcohol content is not one of the special criteria communicated to parents in advance (see www.tvguidlines.org).1
Recommendation 8-4: Television broadcasters and producers should take appropriate precautions to ensure that programs do not portray underage drinking in a favorable light and that unsuitable alcohol content is included in the category of mature content for purposes of parental warnings.
The committee believes that standards to minimize underage exposure to lyrics, images and depictions with unsuitable alcohol content should be implemented on a voluntary basis by the pertinent industry trade associations and individual companies. However, as with the alcohol industry, some independent oversight of these standards is warranted. In both contexts, the committee believes that the most promising strategy is to promote industry accountability by facilitating public awareness of industry practices. Accordingly, the committee recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services be authorized and funded to monitor these media practices and report to Congress and the public.
Recommendation 8-5: Congress should appropriate the necessary funds to enable the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a periodic review of a representative sample of movies, television programs, and music recordings and videos that are offered at times or
Direct regulation of content by the FCC is exercised only for obscene and indecent material, which has been interpreted almost exclusively to cover sexual depictions (http://www.fcc.gov/eb/broadcast/obscind.html, accessed November 15, 2002).
in venues likely to have a significant youth audience (e.g., 15 percent) to ascertain the nature and frequency of lyrics or images pertaining to alcohol. The results of these reviews should be reported to Congress and the public.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services should include this information in the Annual Report on Underage Drinking recommended in Chapter 12.