Hollywood under fire for targeting violent films at teenagers

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The Independent Culture

A year-long US government investigation into Hollywood's marketing of violence is expected to conclude that the entertainment industry has deliberately and aggressively lured teenagers and younger children towards graphic material supposedly reserved for adult audiences only.

A year-long US government investigation into Hollywood's marketing of violence is expected to conclude that the entertainment industry has deliberately and aggressively lured teenagers and younger children towards graphic material supposedly reserved for adult audiences only.

The report, commissioned in the wake of last year's shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, is likely to renew an anxious debate about the role of film, television and video games in fomenting real-life violence. It could also prompt new calls for regulation of the entertainment industry, which for the moment largely regulates itself.

According to leaks published in The Washington Post, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, to be published next month, shows that R-rated films - which teenagers are supposed to see only in the company of an adult - are routinely advertised during television programmes with a large under-age audience. Producers of violent video games have also been found to advertise in magazines aimed at the teenage market.

Perhaps most damningly, the government investigators have unearthed internal marketing documents from movie studios in which violence is acknowledged to be a useful hook with which to capture the youth market.

It is unclear what the impact of the report might be, particularly in the middle of a presidential election campaign in which both major parties have assiduously avoided Hollywood-bashing for fear of alienating voters and West Coast campaign contributors. It will, nevertheless, be the centrepiece of congressional hearings on violence in the entertainment industry, scheduled for next month, and will put pressure on lawmakers to consider regulation of movie advertising, if not of the movies themselves.

Already, a group of 60 psychologists have written to the American Psychological Association lambasting their fellow professionals for offering Hollywood producers advice on how best to market their products to children of all ages - something they call an "abuse of psychological knowledge".

Film studio executives and producers could be called to testify before Congress - under subpoena if necessary - much as they were during the McCarthyite anti-Communist witch-hunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Curiously, the committee holding the hearings will be chaired by another presidential player in this year's campaign, Republican Senator John McCain.

FTC reports have a mixed record in bringing about change in marketing practices. RJ Reynolds, a tobacco giant, cancelled its Joe Camel cartoon three years ago after the FTC accused it of marketing cigarettes to children. An attempt to stop the manufacturers of sugar-laden cereals advertising to young children in the late 1970s was initially successful, but the legislation enacted was overturned after two years under pressure from food industry lobbyists.

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