Tuesday 30 January 2018

The anti-drink lobby's war on reality: Geordie Shore edition

Some more puritanism dressed up as academia for you, this time from Alcohol and Alcoholism...

Alcohol Content in the ‘Hyper-Reality’ MTV Show ‘Geordie Shore’

Three tax-spongers from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Research (UKCTAS) watched an entire series of the Newcastle-based reality show Geordie Shore and were - as the stars of this show might say - 'proper radge' to find numerous depictions of alcohol use.

All categories of alcohol were present in all episodes. ‘Any alcohol’ content occurred in 78%, ‘actual alcohol use’ in 30%, ‘inferred alcohol use’ in 72%, and all ‘other’ alcohol references occurred in 59% of all coding intervals (ACIs), respectively. Brand appearances occurred in 23% of ACIs. The most frequently observed alcohol brand was Smirnoff which appeared in 43% of all brand appearances. Episodes categorized as suitable for viewing by adolescents below the legal drinking age of 18 years comprised of 61% of all brand appearances. 

Shocking stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

Alcohol content, including branding, is highly prevalent in the MTV reality TV show ‘Geordie Shore’ Series 11. Current alcohol regulation is failing to protect young viewers from exposure to such content.

Note the focus on 'young viewers'. I am not familiar with Geordie Shore but from what I've heard it is not exactly a children's programme. It is broadcast on MTV at 10pm and Series 11 is rated 18 on DVD. When I looked at the official website I found a selection of video clips with titles such as 'WTF! Gaz and Abbie neck on in naked hot tub party', 'Chloe's boob flash and char confession' and 'Scott finger blasts Chloe'.

It is, however, the use of alcohol that troubles our trio of researchers. They watched all 425 minutes of Series 11 and kept a count of every example of 'actual use, implied use without actual use, paraphernalia without actual or implied use, and brand appearance (real or fictitious)'.

Imagine having that much time on your hands. Imagine being paid to do it (the funders for this crucial scientific research were British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health).

The fruits of their labour can be seen below. As you can see, there is a fair bit of alcohol use and 'inferred alcohol use' in between the fighting, swearing and shagging in Geordie Shore.

I'm sure you're as keen as I am to know what inferred alcohol use, so here's a handy chart.

The authors then go through every permutation of their findings in autistic detail before announcing that...

The findings of this study demonstrate that the occurrence of alcohol content (verbal and imagery) and alcohol brand appearances is highly prevalent in ‘Geordie Shore: The Complete Eleventh Series’ (GS11).

I expect a fan of the show could have told us that without being given money by the British Heart Foundation, but now it's official.

Similarly, our previous research found alcohol, including branding, to be the prevalent in contemporary music videos...

The life of a 'public health' scientist, eh?

Only one question remains: 'SO WHAT?!' And the authors spend the rest of their article telling us why we should give a hoot.

The study also found that alcohol content and alcohol brand appearances occurred in all episodes of the series deemed suitable for viewing by young people below the age of 18 years. The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 years.

The age at which you can buy a drink is 18 years, yes. Watching somebody else have a drink, on the other hand, is not age-restricted - and only a lunatic would suggest it should be.

Just because you're not allowed to do something doesn't mean that you're not allowed to watch somebody else do it on television. This basic distinction seems to have gone over the heads of our friends at the UK Centre of Tobacco and Alcohol Research.

This is an important finding...

It really isn't.

...because the drinks industry should be adhering to its own self-regulatory codes of practice which aim to prevent exposure of their products to an underage audience.

The drinks industry doesn't produce Geordie Shore, though, does it? As far as we know, no alcohol company has any involvement with it.

However, the regulation of alcohol advertising in the UK has already been criticized for systematically failing by producers and agencies exploiting the ambiguities in the codes (Hastings et al., 2010).

Regardless of whether that's true - and if you're citing Gerard Hastings it probably isn't - Geordie Shore is not covered by alcohol advertising regulation because - guess what? - it's not advertising. It is a reality TV show about twenty-somethings in Newcastle and - guess what again? - the reality is that they drink.

The authors then list various companies' code of conduct for advertising as if it's got anything to do with the real or inferred use of alcohol in reality TV shows:

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the leading global brewer, produces and sells over 200 beer brands globally (AB InBev, 2015). It owns two brands that appeared in this study; Corona and Budweiser. They have a voluntary marketing code that states ‘we are dedicated to promoting smart consumption and reducing the harmful use of alcohol’ (AB InBev, 2016) The code does not apply to television programmes that use their products without express permission to do so, which may have occurred in GS11. Drinks distributer Diageo is the global leader in alcohol beverages (Diageo, 2017). It owns five alcohol brands recorded in the data: Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Tanqueray and Cîroc. Diageo state that marketing will only be placed ‘where 71.6% or more of the audience are expected to be older than the legal purchasing age’ (Diageo, 2016). Clearly this is not guaranteed in GS11. Heineken UK and Bacardi Limited, the owners of Grey Goose, make similar claims in their corporate responsibility policies (Grey Goose, 2015; Heineken, 2015).

All totally irrelevant to the matter at hand.

It is unclear whether the drinks manufacturers have paid for brand advertising in GS11, in which case several codes of practice have been clearly violated...

'It is unclear whether' translates as 'There is no evidence that', so I think we can dismiss that option and move on to the more likely conclusion:

...or if this is a form of de facto advertising where brands are unofficially advertised without the alcohol producer’s knowledge...

Bingo! Now we're getting somewhere. The participants drink alcohol in real life and so that's what the programme shows.

...in which case it is surprising that the companies have not objected and demanded withdrawal of their products.

I guess they could request that the labels be covered up, but it would make them look like control freaks for no benefit to anybody. The viewer would still be exposed to 'inferred drinking' and 'on-screen drinking to excess, with related drunk and disorderly behaviour and sexual encounters', which is what the researchers are supposedly concerned about.

Finally, and as usual in 'public health' studies these days, the conclusion is devoted to a shopping list of new laws and regulations that the authors want to introduce.

...enforcing new policy measures to help protect adolescents from alcohol imagery in the media is essential. Given that 60% of GS11 episodes were awarded by the BBFC and age rating of 15 years, it appears that the existing age classification policy is not protecting young people from alcohol imagery and its potentially harmful effects. 

As mentioned above, you have to be 18 to buy the DVD of Geordie Shore. The authors are talking about the ratings of individual episodes, some of which are rated 15. This is enough for them to play the think-of-the-children card.

In any case, there is no age limit on exposure to 'alcohol imagery'. Alcohol advertisements can be shown at any time of day on British television, except during children's programmes. Geordie Shore is on at 10pm at night, as I mentioned above but the authors mention do not at all (they merely say it is on during 'primetime'.)

The BBFC should award reality television programmes, which include excessive alcohol content and which promote excessive drinking and/or brand placement, an age rating of 18+ years.

The BBFC will not give something an 18 rating just because it depicts heavy drinking. They are not nuts. They did not cave in to Mary Whitehouse and they are not going to cave in to a small band of anti-drink zealots. They have patiently explained why they are not going to start giving 18 ratings to films that depict smoking and much the same applies to drinking. We do not ban films that depict murder just because murder is banned. Similarly, we do not give adult ratings to programmes that depict drinking, smoking or gambling just because you have to be an adult to do these things yourself.

A fairly simple concept to grasp, I would have thought. Now be gone with you.

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