Red Band Trailers

Posted on May 24, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Most movie trailers shown in theaters are “green band” trailers. Even though the movies they advertise may be rated PG-13 or R, the trailers themselves have been approved for all audiences by the MPAA Ratings Board, as they make clear with an advisory at the beginning. But there are also “red band” trailers for R films, so called because they begin with a red background, that include mature material. These trailers are only shown before R-rated films, the idea being that since those films are for audiences 17 and older only, there is little likelihood that underage audiences will see them.
Of course, the Internet has changed all of that. Red band trailers are available online with the flimsiest of protections. All anyone has to do to access them is type in a name and birth date that match driver’s license records. A middle-schooler who knows his parents’ birthdays has everything he needs. In some cases, unauthorized versions of the red band trailers are added to blogs and myspace pages without any age restrictions.
This week’s “Saturday Night Live” had a commercial for the R-rated “Tropic Thunder,” starring teen favorites Ben Stiller and “Iron Man’s” Robert Downey, Jr., that invited viewers to access the red band trailer online and conveniently provides the URL.
Parents should make sure that their conversations with older children and young teens about their use of the Internet include discussions of family rules about material like red band trailers.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Burger King promotes inappropriate film

Posted on May 3, 2008 at 8:00 pm

It infuriates me when fast food companies promote PG-13 films by giving away tie-in toys to children. Burger King is now giving away toys for children as young as three to promote “Iron Man” a movie with “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence” (according to the Motion Picture Association’s rating board) and opens with a joke about the main character having sex with twelve different Maxim cover models. These toys are intended to get kids to want to see the film. They are also intended to encourage parents to think that the movie is appropriate for children. Oh, and the movie has some jarring and intrusive product placement when the main character says what he most wants when he returns home is a cheeseburger and we next see him holding something that says Burger King.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has called on Burger King to stop giving Iron Man toys to children. CCFC’s Director Dr Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, said, “When it comes to marketing to kids, Burger King wants to have it their way; linking its brand to a blockbuster film clearly trumps any concerns about children’s wellbeing.” You can let Burger King know how you feel about this issue by calling 305-378-3535 Monday-Friday 9-5 Eastern time.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Talking to kids about Miley Cyrus

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm

miley_cyrus3.jpgFifteen-year-olds make some poor choices. But while they may feel like the whole world is watching, usually it is just family and friends. Miley Cyrus is not just a fifteen-year-old. She is not even just a superstar, though she did have the top grossing concert tour in the country last year. She is also a brand. Over one billion dollars worth of merchandise featuring Miley and the character she plays on The Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana.” The success of those products depends on her squeaky clean image and parents have been reassured repeatedly that Miley is a sensible, responsible girl with grounded parents and that she will not create the embarrassment of former Disney stars like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens. But Miley has hit the headlines with some photos taken by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. By the tabloid Lohan/Spears standards and even the far lesser escapade of Hudgens, whose private nude photo for a boyfriend made it onto the Internet, the Cyrus flap is quite mild. The photo that has attracted the most publicity shows her bare back, holding a sheet up to her front.
Miley has apologized with a statement released by her publicist. “I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”
This is an opportunity for parents to talk to young children who are Miley fans — and to listen to what they have to say — about some important issues. First, make sure they know that everyone makes mistakes and it is how we respond to them that matters. We take responsibility for our actions (including apologies as appropriate), do our best to fix whatever we can, and learn to do better. Ask them why they think Miley made this mistake and what they think of the way she responded.
Let them know that it is all right for them to continue to like her. Loyalty to friends and family is an important value, and all of us need to learn to forgive and be forgiven for our mistakes. But it is also all right for them to like her less if they believe that she made some bad choices.
Remind them that they should never feel that they need to do what an adult tells them if it makes them uncomfortable — even if the adult is a famous photographer working for an important magazine. We want them to feel safe but we also want them to know that not everyone is as protective of them as those who love them. And let them know that bodies are nothing to be ashamed of, but a photograph that may seem perfectly innocent to the one whose picture is being taken may be seen differently, especially if the person in the photo is 15, not 10. In the era of Facebook and YouTube, a reminder that we have to think about what is in the minds of the viewers, especially strangers, and not just the people making the picture is a good idea as well.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Interview: Karen Osborne talks about treating Asperger Syndrome through Second Life

Posted on April 23, 2008 at 8:00 am

Karen Osborne is a research clinician at the University of Texas Center for Brain Health. Her background is in speech pathology. She is now coordinating the project that works on social skills and spoke to me about a new project that works with children and adults who have disabilities that impair their understanding of social cues and interactions, including Asperger syndrome, high functioning autism, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, and schizophrenia. They are using the online community Second Life to create an environment that gives these patients a way to test their social skills that gives them better feedback than previous treatments. It has been in development for two years and has been used with patients since last summer.
Tell me a little bit about your program and how it got started.
second-life-topper.jpgIn the past, therapists have worked with autistic children through role playing, stories, and rules. But the brain changes not by learning rules but by engaging in activities. Sandy Chapman had the idea to use virtual reality to immerse the patients in the environments that are similar to real life. It is not really role playing because they become the character. It adds a little more realism to the therapy aspect. In role playing it is hard to get past the fact that you’re playing with the therapist, but in virtual reality it is more like meeting for the first time and building a relationship.
Second Life has some wild corners. How do you control the environment?
Right now we’re using a private and secure island on Second Life with only people we let in. Patients can log in and be part of it. They get to create a character that represents themselves as closely as possible.

(more…)

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Interview Understanding Media and Pop Culture

School children force-fed avertising on the bus

Posted on April 19, 2008 at 10:00 am

The New York Times reports that a special radio channel has been installed in school buses. It plays music that kids like, and it plays commercials. The content is provided at no cost to the school district by RadioOne, which is only to happy to have a captive audience of young consumers.

Steven Shulman, who founded BusRadio with Michael Yanoff, said the company provided an “age-appropriate” alternative to local FM radio stations, with songs and advertising screened by an advisory committee of school administrators and psychiatrists.
In contrast, he said, his son once came home asking what Viagra was after hearing a commercial on the bus coming home from summer camp in Mashpee, Mass. BusRadio develops playlists from a library of 1,000 pop songs and will either edit out questionable content and lyrics or refrain from playing a song altogether. “It’s tough to find clean rap music, but we do,” Mr. Shulman said.school-bus-large.gif
Recent advertisers on BusRadio include Answers.com, the Cartoon Network, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The company does not accept advertising for candy or soda, or for toys that Mr. Shulman considers inappropriate, like video games with violent content, and it prefers advertisements that have a message. “We don’t want them to say, ‘Go out and buy $200 sneakers,’ ” Mr. Shulman said. “We want them to say, ‘Go and exercise, and use this gear if you want.’ ”

I appreciate this sensitivity (which is, I am sure, a commercial necessity), but do we really need to fill kids’ heads with mass media to and from school? Isn’t this time for social interaction and looking out the window and quiet reflection? Aren’t we teaching them that they should expect every minute of every day to be hooked into some form of media instead of learning how to make conversation and use their imagination? And do we really need to bombard them with more exhortations to buy more things?

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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