It’s All About Profit

The story got only a brief mention in the New York Times -- a three-paragraph article buried on an inside page. To me, it's a big story -- and a disturbing one. The article reported, "Magazines popular with teenagers like PeopleRolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated tend to have more advertisements for liquor and beer than other magazines, and that suggests that the alcohol industry may be indirectly appealing to under-age drinkers." A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that "for every million more readers ages 12 to 19, a magazine had 60 percent more advertisements for beer and distilled liquor." I don't think it's a question of "indirectly" appealing to underage drinkers at all. I think the alcohol industry knows exactly what it's doing -- just like the cigarette industry did with its now infamous "Joe Camel" image. Problem drinkers don't usually start in middle age. It's when you get a kid hooked at age sixteen that you've got him for life. And it's easier to get him hooked at an age when his paramount concern is to be "cool," to fit in with everyone else. In their relentless drive for more and more profits, both the alcohol industry and the magazine industry have completely forgotten their responsibility to society and to children. Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that it's received so little attention. In an interview with PBS's Frontline a couple of years ago, Professor Mark Crispin Miller observed, "In a thoroughly commercialized environment, there is very little incentive to be careful of the sensibilities of particular segments of the audience. Thirty years ago, a certain kind of commercial approach to children would have been unthinkable . . . [But] we're all far more jaded about advertising than we used to be . . . So [advertisers] tend to do things that are more outrageous than anything they would have tried thirty years ago." We're so "thoroughly commercialized" -- so caught up in materialism -- that we've forgotten that the most basic human instinct is to protect and guide our children. Greed seems to control the conversation, and even parents don't weigh in on behalf of their kids. Well, you and I are not going to prevent magazines from printing beer and liquor ads or from using sex to sell beer, liquor, and just about anything else. And, since the ads are on billboards as well, we're not going to be able to prevent our kids from seeing them. We can, however, prepare our kids by helping them understand the worldview that underlies most advertising. It's a materialistic worldview that's selling hedonism. The company that makes the advertised product just wants our money and is willing to promise us just about any pleasure in order to get it. There was a time when advertisers yielded to the opinions of parents, but no longer. Since kids have money, kids are the market, and the opinions of parents are less important. This makes it all the more urgent to talk with your kids about advertising and the worldview behind it and to warn them where this kind of exploitation can lead. The really "cool" answer is to see through this advertising blitz and just say "no." For further reading: Craig F. Garfield, M.D., et al., "Alcohol Advertising in Magazines and Adolescent Readership," Journal of the American Medical Association 289, no. 18 (14 May 2003): 2325. Full article costs $9 to retrieve. Adam Marcus, "Magazines Shower Teens with Alcohol Ads," ABC News, 14 May 2003. Steve Jordahl, "Teen Mags Targeted with Booze Ads," Family News in Focus, 16 May 2003. "Summary: Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising," CAMY. "Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune in Underage Youth," CAMY, April 2003. Visit the website for the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) for more information on this topic. "The Merchants of Cool," Frontline, PBS, 2001. Kimberly Erickson, "Youth Facts: Alcohol and Youth," Institute for Youth Development, 1 October 1998. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Charles Colson, Answers to Your Kids' Questions (Tyndale, 2000). Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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