Tuesday 13 September 2011

Here comes DrinkFree Movies

When I was at University I had a friend who took American Studies. By his own admission, this academic discipline largely involved sitting around watching movies. How we used to scoff at the Mickey Mouse subject and the life of worklessness that seemed destined to follow. Little did we know that such skills would one day make him ideally suited to being a 'public health professional'.

You may already be familiar with SmokeFree Movies. Now welcome, with crushing predictability, DrinkFree Movies.

Alcohol imagery and branding, and age classification of films popular in the UK

Ailsa Lyons, Ann McNeill, Ian Gilmore, and John Britton

Methods Alcohol appearances (classified as ‘alcohol use, inferred alcohol use, other alcohol reference and alcohol brand appearances’) were measured using 5-min interval coding of 300 films, comprising the 15 highest grossing films at the UK Box Office each year over a period of 20 years from 1989 to 2008.

Conclusion Alcohol imagery is extremely common in all films popular in the UK, irrespective of BBFC age classification. Given the relationship between exposure to alcohol imagery in films and use of alcohol by young people, we suggest that alcohol imagery should be afforded greater consideration in determining the suitability of films for viewing by children and young people.

As sure as night follows day, the gathering storm of temperance follows the blueprint of anti-tobacco. It is no coincidence that three of the authors of this study are from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. They have joined forces with water-drinking windbag Ian Gilmore of the Alcohol Health Alliance to produce a carbon copy of the studies that Californian quackademic Stanton Glantz has been excreting for years. It is, in fact, very similar to the study produced by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies last year, which involved many of the same personnel, but with smoking substituted for alcohol. As I said then...

And what have we learnt from this exhaustive study?

"Although smoking imagery and branding images in the most popular films have become substantially less common over the past 20 years, it is apparent children and young people watching films in the UK are still exposed to frequent and, at times, specifically branded tobacco imagery, particularly in films originating from the UK", Prof John Britton and colleagues write.

Dr John Britton—for it is he—is rapidly becoming the UK's answer to nutty professor Stanton Glantz. And if the answer is 'Stanton Glantz', the UK is asking the wrong question.

Once again, alcohol control and tobacco control are "learning from each other" (tickets for the conference are still available), and the outcome is inevitable: a campaign to censor films which show activities of which the health police disapprove.

But first, the shock findings...

At least one alcohol appearance occurred in 258 (86%) of the 300 films, with ‘alcohol use’ occurring in 215 (72%), ‘inferred alcohol use’ in 237 (79%) and ‘other reference to alcohol’ in 233 (78%).


The film with the greatest intensity of specific brand appearances was See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989, comedy, BBFC 15, USA) in which Budweiser appeared 13 times in bar scenes, branded neon signs and bottles of beer.

Alcohol imagery in a bar scene. whatever next?

The greatest number of separate brands occurred in Cocktail (1989, comedy, BBFC 15, USA), with 13 brands appearing a total of 39 times.

Different drinks in a film about making cocktails. Appalling.

Our finding of the high levels of exposure of children and young people to alcohol imagery in UK films, thus identifies an important and potentially avoidable influence on current and future alcohol consumption.

No, actually it hasn't. The 'study' merely shows that drinking and drink "imagery" appears occasionally in many of the top grossing films of the last fifteen years. It does not show, or even attempt to show, any link between said imagery and alcohol consumption amongst viewers of any age group. And, as the two examples given above indicate, many of the films in question are already restricted to those of 15+ or 18+ years.

Since there is no association between people watching See No Evil, Hear No Evil in their youth and later becoming alcoholics, there is no reason whatever for these latter-day Mary Whitehouses to demand that Hollywood depicts the world as they wish it to be, rather than as it is.

Since alcohol consumption is a common activity in everyday life, and bars, pubs and other alcohol retailers are an integral part of the urban environment in most Western countries, alcohol imagery in films is arguably an inevitable consequence of realistic depictions of life in these environments.

Bingo! That's exactly what it is. Now go away.

Alas, there is a "however"...

However, since branded or other alcohol imagery promotes alcohol use, there is a case for their inclusion in films to be a strong factor in age classification.

But you haven't demonstrated that alcohol imagery promotes alcohol use. Even if there was a link, it remains none of your business.

It's quite simple—it is illegal to sell alcohol to a person under the age of 18. It is not illegal for a person under the age of 18 to drink alcohol and it is certainly not illegal for a person under the age of 18 to see somebody drinking alcohol. If it's not illegal to see someone drinking in real life, why the hell should it be illegal for them to see it in a film? Watching people drinking, or seeing a sign for Budweiser, or smoking, is not going to disturb or unsettle the minds of younger viewers, even though it clearly disturbs and unsettles you. You, however, are profoundly abnormal and I fully expect the BBFC to tell you to mind your own business just like they did last time.

A BBFC spokeswoman, Sue Clark, said it had no intention of changing its policy. "These doctors are out of step with public opinion. We have asked the public specifically if smoking should be a classification or category-defining issue, and the response overwhelmingly was no, it shouldn't."

The board flags up overt smoking content through its consumer advice, the short sentence on all film advertising which warns about sexual or violent content, and also by setting out on its website the factors underlying its decision to grant a film a particular rating, she added. "It's then up to parents whether or not they stop their children seeing that film."

Get the picture? Leave us alone you prod-nose, pointy-headed, lemon-sucking puritans. Art is not there to be moulded into your propaganda.


Alex said...

In the report ...
"This work was funded by a PhD studentship from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, which is a UKCRC Centre for Public Health Research Excellence jointly funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, and the Department of Health, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration."
If BHF and Cancer Research UK can support this they plainly have more money than they know what to do with. I shall not be supporting them again.

Anonymous said...

I guess they're now waiting for the current Board to retire. Who appoints the BBFC?

I cancelled my small monthly contribution to CRUK about three years ago. I used their freepost envelope to explain why.

Anonymous said...

Chris,the lunatics have some collaborations I presume


Considering how popular sitcoms portray binge drinking ( Two & A Half Men,How I met your mother),

I consider it a matter of time that those joykillers will push for movies/series with the most impolitical correct thing to do would be eating a tomatoe instead of a carrot..

I am also wondering if they are going to hunt down all the placements in the movies,including drugs...

Anonymous said...

If seeing a drink or a cigarette (a) in a film influences the behaviour of the young then I have a question. What effect are violent and sexually exploitative imagery (b) in film and video games having on the young? We are being told that (a) is true whilst (b) is an issue of artistic freedom and has no influence on anyone. Has it occurred to anyone that both propositions simply cannot be true at one and the same time.

Anonymous said...

"Alcohol imagery in a bar scene. whatever next?" Ha-ha! It reminds me of that great line in Kind Hearts and Coronets when the priggish wowser Edith says: "Have had to have a word with the [pub] landlord about the amount of drinking that goes on there.”