FTC report: good as far as it goes

Posted: Sep 21, 2000 12:00 AM
Concerning the Federal Trade Commission report on the entertainment industry's marketing of violent products to children, a few observations: 1. Although no one should be at all surprised by the report's salient finding -- that this marketing is more the rule than the exception -- its details still manage to startle here and there. Much of this effect derives from the FTC's access to corporate marketing memoranda. It proves just how deliberate, and just how disingenuous, Hollywood really is. As much as entertainment companies like to double-talk the public, they're pretty forthright in private. Take the marketing plan for one electronic game, which stated that the official target audience was "males 17-34 due to M (for Mature) rating" but then added, "The true target is males 12-34." An Associated Press article, released the very day the FTC report was unveiled, tells of another entertainment-industry deception. A Nintendo vice president says her company has been "very careful" to market its M-rated first-person-shooter game, "Perfect Dark," to "adults and adults only." Not only that, but Nintendo claims it has forgone, in the AP's words, "its usual television advertising in promoting 'Perfect Dark,' instead relying on ... the Internet and ... print." Wrong and wrong. Ads for "Perfect Dark" have appeared on prime time television since May; moreover, they've run on several shows that appeal to children, including UPN's "WWF Smackdown!" and "Moesha" and the WB's "Felicity." 2. A marketing technique most of us don't think much about is movie trailers. Maybe we should. As the report establishes, even though "the major theater chains ... have adopted policies to limit trailer placement to within one rating of the feature presentation," that means kids at PG-13 movies can see trailers for R films. That's bad. This is worse: "The theaters appear to grant exceptions to the 'within one rating' policy." For instance, the last "Star Wars" movie, the PG-rated "Phantom Menace," was "regularly preceded by trailers for such films as ... 'South Park,'" which was rated R but was raunchy enough to merit an NC-17, and "The General's Daughter," an R picture which contained an extremely graphic and disturbing rape scene. 3. The report says that "MTV, with its core demographic of 12-24, was the largest advertising cable outlet for almost every motion picture the Commission examined ... Indeed, the younger the target audience, the more the studios tended to advertise on MTV." So, on MTV, if it's not a brainless, vulgar video or smut like "Undressed," it's a promotion for a film you would refuse to allow your seventh-grader to see. Is there much doubt anymore that MTV is the most obnoxious basic-cable channel in America? 4. Al Gore continues his you-Hollywood-types-are-awful-but-boy-do-I-love-your-money tightrope walk. How long before he falls? It's not likely to happen before Election Day, since the mainstream press is giving him a free ride. Seemingly, he's established that there is no controlling authority over hypocrisy, either. Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson tried hard to push Gore. A few hours before the Democrats' Sept. 14 multimillion-dollar musical fundraising shindig at New York's Radio City Music Hall, Nicholson, standing outside the concert venue, wondered, "With whom does (Gore) stand ... the parents whose young kids are having their minds polluted and their souls corrupted by Hollywood, or the powerful Hollywood elite who put money in his pocket?" To which, according to the New York Times, "Gore aides and spokesmen for the entertainment executives emphasized that Mr. Gore and (running mate Joseph) Lieberman had criticized (ITAL) only the industry's marketing techniques, not the content of its products (ITAL)." (Emphasis mine.) If we are to accept this -- and how (ITAL) can (ITAL) we accept this? -- claptrap, we must conclude that Gore favors ultraviolence. Where, oh where, are the media referees on this one? 5. While devastating, the FTC study is still limited in its scope. It deals with movies, music and electronic games but not television program content, and it focuses only on violence. But certainly the pervasive sexuality of the entertainment media is at least as great a scandal. An example is the little-known (for now) animated Internet series "Lil' Pimp," about a pimp who's ... nine years old. I say "for now" because over the summer, the creators of this sordid, foul-mouthed show, Mark Brooks and Peter Gilstrap, made a deal with Revolution Studios, headed by former Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth, for a "Lil' Pimp" feature film. Brooks and Gilstrap seem unaware that many may be outraged by the subject matter of their series. Brooks told Entertainment Weekly, "It's almost like 'pimpin'' doesn't mean" anything, to which Gilstrap added, "It means 'player' or 'cool guy.' It's not like, 'I have a stable of women who have sex for money.'" Actually, that's exactly what it's like. The premise of "Lil' Pimp" is absolutely appalling, and indicative of a cultural sickness at which an FTC report could only hint.