Less than a month after publishing an attention-getting report in conjunction with Ohio State University about how PG-13 films generally have more gun violence than those rated R, the Annenberg Public Policy Center has issued another report about potentially objectionable content in Hollywood movies. The straightforward title “Violent Film Characters’ Portrayal Of Alcohol, Sex, And Tobacco-Related Behaviors” is fleshed out in a brief abstract up top: “Content analyses seldom examine how violence is portrayed with other health risk behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and sex. This study presents an innovative way to characterize onscreen violent content and demonstrates the extent to which risk behaviors co-occur within films.”
The study considers 390 films from 1985 (chosen as a starting point as the first year during which the PG-13 rating was implemented) to 2010. You can read about the sample selection process in the whole report, available as a .PDF here. Essentially, the study “coded movies for the presence of at least 1 main character who was involved in violence and either sex, tobacco, or alcohol use within a 5-minute movie segment and throughout a film.” There are a lot of stats and correlations to browse, e.g. violent characters had “explicit sex” in 16.6 percent of R-rated movies and 7.8 percent of PG-13 films.
The study concludes that “youth, particularly those with impulsive sensation-seeking tendencies, may be at elevated risk for unhealthy behaviors as a result of their media exposure to problematic content.” Because PG-13 films are often no better than R-rated ones as far as exhibiting “risk behaviors,” the study concludes that the findings “also raise serious concerns about the effectiveness of the MPAA rating system for allowing potentially harmful co-occurring content in youth-accessible films.” Through spokesperson Kate Bedingfield, the MPAA has responded that “the purpose of the rating system is to reflect the standards of American parents, not set them—the rating board tries to rate a film the way they believe a majority of American parents would rate it. Societal standards change over time and the rating system is built to change.”
Talking to The Hollywood Reporter’s Paul Bond, study co-author Amy Bleakley said “risk behaviors” were scored regardless of whether the good or bad guy was the perpetrator. “That's definitely a limitation that we could look to build on going forward,” she said. That was an issue when evaluating Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, co-author Dan Romer told Variety’s Dave McNary : “There’s kind of a James Bond effect, in which violence is glamorized in combination with other behaviors we otherwise try to discourage in youth.”