Media producers advertise in publications for adolescents, screen trailers for restricted movies on TV at times when kids are likely to be watching and recruit teens and children (sometimes as young as seven) to evaluate story concepts, commercials, trailers and rough cuts—even for R-rated movies. Film and video game industries also target children as young as four with toy tie-ins for adult-rated movies and games. Therefore, even if a specific movie is unsuitable for children to watch, toys, t-shirts and other merchandising tie-ins are not considered unsuitable to purchase.
The marketing of adult entertainment to children has been, and continues to be, an ongoing issue between government regulators and various media industries. In a report released in 2000, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took movie, music and video games industries to task for routinely marketing violent entertainment to young children. Subsequent reports have shown that although advances have been made – particularly within the video game industry – there are still many outstanding concerns relating to the frequency that adult-oriented entertainment is marketed to children and the ease with which many under-age youth are able to access adult-rated games, movies and music. Specific areas where the FTC called on entertainment media to improve on include: restricting the marketing of mature-rated products to children; clearly and prominently disclosing rating information; and restricting children’s access to mature-rated products at retail.
Violent content is heavily marketed to kids online as well. In response to concerns about inappropriate content on YouTube, Google launched YouTube Kids in 2015; while the app is certainly more curated than the main YouTube site, violent and disturbing content still slips through, from bizarre videos of Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen armed with automatic weapons to violent gameplay footage.
As for the music industry, all five major record labels continue to advertise albums with explicit or violent content on television programs and in magazines that have substantial followings of children and youth under the age of 17. While violent content is one of the warnings found on the Recording Industry Association of America’s Parental Advisory Labels, music with violent lyrics can still be advertised in spaces where young people might see it. On music streaming services, youth are free to choose between the edited and explicit versions of the song.
While profiting from and adverting violence, media are increasingly being used to advertise guns. The TV and movie industries have a long-standing relationship with the gun industry, with gun manufacturers providing free ‘prop-ified’ weapons, consulting on their use and sometimes paying for their brand to be featured. Appearing in a successful movie or TV show can boost a brand’s sales and keep them steady for decades. On social media, influencers sport handguns and camouflage bikinis as a way of “taking the inherently ugly, seemingly undersigned world of weaponry and making it beautiful.” While it may still be unclear whether violent video games cause aggression, gun manufacturers pay to have their products featured in them and the U.S. military has concluded that they are an effective recruiting tool, whether in the form of “training games” like America’s Army or sponsored streaming sessions on YouTube or Twitch.
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