Booze News: Garv gets on his soapbox

>> Thursday, February 23, 2012

Greetings, fellow inebriates,

A two-year study published this week in the British Medical Journal suggested that teens who watch an abundance of movies featuring alcohol were twice as likely to start drinking and 63 percent more likely to binge drink than peers that watched fewer liquor-laden films. The research project surveyed 6,500 U.S. kids 10-14 and compared several possible factors that might influence them to drink, including their movie viewing habits.

While the study found that the greatest influence on both teen alcohol use and binge drinking was high consumption of alcohol by one's peers, "high movie alcohol exposure" ranked third as a factor in alcohol onset and ranked fourth in the progression to binge drinking. The study concluded that Hollywood had a greater influence on teen drinking than factors such as unskilled parenting, alcohol availability in the home, and parental alcohol use.

To quote Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, "Really?"

I'm sorry, BMJ. I don't buy it. People have been trying to blame society's ills on the movies for as long as cinema has existed; but the truth of the matter is that Hollywood reflects society far more than it influences it. Media images can impact behavior, positively or negatively, but that impact is usually minor unless a person has a previous inclination in that direction (or deeper mental issues). From the study's findings, one could just as easily conclude that kids interested in boozing are more likely to watch movies featuring fermented fluids, rather than that they are prompted to drink from watching such movies.

Some of the statements in the study are simply out-of-touch with reality. Take for example:

"Movie exposure may facilitate onset through providing examples of persons drinking and promoting the belief that alcohol use is common and acceptable. The effect of movie exposure on progression, we suggest, derives from the fact that alcohol use in movies is typically modelled in positive situations, without negative effects, and often shown with alcohol brands, which consolidates both the adolescent's identity as a drinker and brand allegiance."
I have to wonder what movies the researchers believe depict alcohol use mainly in "positive situations, without negative effects." I can't think of any recent movies that display drinking in a purely positive light. The Hangover? Knocked Up? Superbad? Young Adult? None of those films shied away from the negative aspects of overindulgence of alcohol, and those are just examples of recent comedies. Recent dramas depict alcoholism in an even more negative context.

The study also states that:
"Product placement in movies is forbidden for cigarettes in the USA but is legal and commonplace for the alcohol industry, with half of Hollywood films containing at least one alcohol brand appearance, regardless of film rating. To the extent that alcohol product placement serves to increase prevalence of movie drinking scenes, limits on movie alcohol product placement could also reduce MAE (movie alcohol exposure)."

Product placement? Can they honestly think that anyone is fooled by product placement anymore? Today's teens are more media savvy than any previous generation. When kids today see the characters on Chuck chow down on Subway sandwiches, they don't think, "Gee, I bet those subs are tasty." Instead they see product placement for what it is--a little extra advertising revenue.

On personal note, I grew up on a steady diet of soused cinema. From the age of five, I've enjoyed the booze humor of W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin; and it wasn't long after that I discovered Dean Martin, The Thin Man series, and National Lampoon's Animal House. Yet, I didn't down my first alcoholic drink until I was 20, and I remain a moderate drinker to this day.

While my own experience is purely anecdotal, it does point out one important factor of which the BMJ researchers seem unaware--alcohol in the movies is nothing new. From the soused slapstick of the silents to the speakeasies of Prohibition gangster films to the saloon scenes in ubiquitous 1950's Westerns, alcohol has been a major component of every popular movie genre. There is actually less boozing on display in modern films than there was during the golden age of Hollywood. Furthermore, when drink is depicted in today's movies, it is usually shown in a more negative context than in the past. If teen binging is on the rise, that trend runs counter to the direction the film industry has taken in their depictions of drinking.

I don't mean in any way to diminish the problems of binge drinking or alcoholism. I know that alcoholism is life-threatening and can cause tremendous strife for both those afflicted with the disease and for those close to them. However, I don't believe it does any good to blame the problem on the movie industry. Wouldn't it be more constructive to tackle the true underlying problems of alcoholism, such as depression, peer influence, heredity, personal attitudes towards one's self, and thrill-seeking, than to look for a convenient boogeyman?

Oh well. This too shall pass. It was once believed that comic books would turn kids into juvenile delinquents and that watching the Three Stooges would transform youngsters into eye-poking lunatics. Sooner or later, the public will find another scapegoat on which to pin their problems.

That's all for now. This soapbox is starting to wobble a bit.

Cheers,
garv

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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