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For years, liberals have been telling us that screen scenes depicting gratuitous sex, sadism, nihilism, despair, violence, militant secularism, and blasphemy have little or no effect on the opinions and behavior of viewers. Those who make these claims are some of the same people who worked with relentless abandon to stop a cigarette company from using Joe Camel in its advertisements. They claimed that the cartoonish character would appeal to young people and encourage them to smoke. Outrage is expressed when a movie shows a character using tobacco products without any negative consequences.[1]

In the 2009-released He’s Just Not that Into You, the American Medical Association lodged a complaint with Time Warner over “disturbing images of specific cigarette brands in this youth-rated movie,”[2] even though the film does not show anyone smoking. There are shots of Natural American Spirit Lights and the claim by the AMA that there is a “highly recognizable red Marlboro carton.” Melissa Walthers, director of the health advocacy group’s effort to reduce teenage smoking, stated, “It doesn’t really matter if the story line is negative or not in terms of the impact on kids.” It’s the presence of the images that matter. These glanced-at images are enough to send the AMA into an anti-smoking frenzy.

The National Cancer Institute concluded in its 684-page report on The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use that “The total weight of evidence—from multiple types of studies, conducted by investigators from different disciplines, and using data from many countries—demonstrates a causal relationship between tobacco advertising and promotion and increased tobacco use.”[3] The film industry can’t have it both ways. Their hypocrisy is as transparent as that of the tobacco industry. Michael Medved writes:

It is the height of hypocrisy that the same network executives who accept—and demand—this lavish payment for the briefest moments of broadcast advertising simultaneously try to convince us that all their many hours of programming do nothing to change the attitudes of the audience. In short, they have adopted the outrageously illogical assumption that a sixty-second commercial makes a more significant impression than a sixty-minute sitcom.

On the one hand we’re told that an hour of television programming does nothing to shape the sentiments of the public, and on the other we’re asked to believe that the brief spots that interrupt this program are powerful enough to change perceptions of anything from canned goods to candidates. The underlying idea appears to be the bizarre notion that the average viewer ignores or shrugs off the televised entertainment he has chosen to watch, while sitting up in his chair and paying close attention only when the commercials come on.[4]

Of course the content in films—from fashion to morality—influence people in the same way that paid commercial advertising influences people. Michael Moore wouldn’t have made Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911 if he didn’t believe that opinions can be formed by media. “Nabisco paid $100,000 to have its Baby Ruth candy bar shown in The Goonies.”[5] Was it Nabisco’s intention to help the film company or sell more candy?

Probably the most famous product placement story is how Reeses Pieces got an advertising boost from a loveable alien. “Stephen Spielberg asked the makers of M&Ms if they would grant him permission to use their product in the 1982 film E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, but was turned down. Spielberg then turned to Hershey’s Food Corporation. Hershey’s wanted their signature candy “Hershey’s Kisses” to be used. After some negotiations, an agreement was made to use Reeses Pieces which resulted in an increase of “some 65 percent after their candy got screen exposure.”[6] Today, it’s expected to see products placed in films to help sell the products:

Exxon paid $300,000 for its name to appear in Days of Thunder, Pampers paid $50,000 to be featured in Three Men and a Baby, and Cuervo Gold spent $150,000 for placement in Tequila Sunrise, according to Danny Thompson, president of Creative Entertainment Services, in a 1993 New York magazine interview. As for how effective the practice of product placement is, that same article quotes Joel Henrie, a partner at Motion Picture Placement, as saying: “Look what happened to Hermes scarves after Basic Instinct, Ray-Ban sunglasses after Risky Business, and suspenders after Michael Douglas wore them in Wall Street.”[7]

The majority of today’s films are a steady drip of transformational worldview beliefs that wear away at older values that have resulted in what Daniel Patrick Moynihan described as “defining deviancy down.”[8] The sad thing is that Christians have done very little to counter their impact except by incessant criticism. It’s too bad that a long time ago Christians relegated film and television to the secularists. We’re now paying a heavy price.

[1] Smoke Free Movies. Also see “Movies and Smoking Since the Motion Picture Association of America’s May 10, 2007 Tobacco Policy Announcement”:
[2] Brooks Barnes, “Cigarettes in New Film Stir Anger at Studio,” The New York Times (February 25, 2009)
[3] Ronald M. Davis, et al., eds., The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008), 11–12. The report also states the following: “Media communications play a key role in shaping tobacco-related knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and behaviors among individuals and within communities. . . . Tobacco advertising has been dominated by three themes: providing satisfaction (taste, freshness, mildness, etc.), assuaging anxieties about the dangers of smoking, and creating associations between smoking and desirable outcomes (independence, social success, sexual attraction, thinness, etc.). Targeting various population groups—including men, women, youth and young adults, specific racial and ethnic populations, religious groups, the working class, and gay and lesbian populations—has been strategically important to the tobacco industry.” (11–12).
[4] Michael Medved, Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 251.
[5] K. L. Billingsley, The Seductive Image: A Christian Critique of the World of Film (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 78.
[6] Billingsley, The Seductive Image, 78.
[7]Taking it E.T.
[8] Daniel Patrick Moyniham, “Defining Deviancy Down,” American Scholar (Winter 1993). For a counter see Andrew Karmen, “‘Defining Deviancy Down’: How Senator Moynihan's Misleading Phrase About Criminal Justice Is Rapidly Being Incorporated Into Popular Culture,” Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2:5 (1994) 99–112

Article posted June 9, 2009

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