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US moves in to bridle marketing of horror-violence movies to youth

27 March 2007: Horrified at the brazen marketing campaign of some of the horror-violence movies, the United States government is gearing up check Hollywood’s marketing of violent entertainment to the young.

The Federal Trade Commission of the US is putting the final touches on a follow-up to its September 2000 report on the marketing to children of violent movies, music and video games.

The follow-up, the first such assessment in three years, will examine the selling practices of a mainstream entertainment industry that has increasingly centered on themes of abduction, maiming, decapitations and other ghastly acts from which once the studios had kept away.

Seven years ago the film industry had narrowly avoided federal regulation of its advertising practices, as politicians, in the wake of the bizarre killings in the Columbine High School, called executives before a Congressional committee. However, it was eventually agreed to let the Hollywood police itself.

The effectiveness of the consequent marketing guidelines is now being tested by rougher movies, mostly made by minor moviemakers not bound by the strictures that apply to the members of the Motion Picture Association of America. And, a thriving Web culture has allowed the promoters of severely violent films like Saw or Hostel to disregard any concern about the age of the viewers.

If the new assessment were to find that the movie industry has violated or has outgrown its voluntary standards, it might throw the issue back into the political field ahead of a presidential election. Which means there would be calls for regulation.

Fans of horror movies date the genre’s current boom to October 2004, 2006 when the first of Lionsgate’s Saw movies, centered around a demonically inventive serial killer, opened to a surprisingly strong $18-million on its first weekend. The film spawned sequels and imitations.

Things become even more dismal when studios, which often attempt to block the underage from visiting their official sites for R-rated movies, opened the doors for set visits, early viewings, promotional contests and anything else that will attract fans.

The operators of several such sites said they had no way of knowing how many of their visitors were under 17, but said they believed the numbers were substantial.

In its 2004 report, the Federal Trade Commission had said that, in 36% of their attempts, its underage “mystery shoppers” were able to buy a movie ticket without an age check in theatres. Worse, 81% of the young buyers obtained R-rated DVDs without a check.



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