New Years Media Messages: Packaging Boyhood Meets The Hangover

thehangoverDec. 29, 2009 Last night I watched ‘The Hangover’ rated R, which I’d heard described by several YOUNG teens (meaning unable to buy a ticket unless sneaking in via diff. multiplex theater) as ‘hilarious,’  and ‘over the top’ and wanted to see where the kid appeal was coming from and try to ‘relate’ to why this movie was a ‘favorite’ on many a Facebook page.

I’m not here to summon Dana Carvey’s SNL ‘Church Lady’ character from yesteryear or count the number of 100+ “f-bombs” or ‘That’s so gay/REtard vs. reTARD and paging Dr. Faggotslurs are in the film…

However, today’s our last Tuesday of featuring Packaging Boyhood for our Packaging Boyhood book drawing 12-31 (just leave a comment to enter to win) and The Hangover is absolutely ripe for media analysis on how they’ve chosen to ‘package’ manhood (as boyhood).

The Packaging Boyhood authors might view the movie’s plotline  as a mashup of their Chapter 5 (“Wanna Play? What Boys Do”) and Chapter 6 (“Rebel, Resist & Refuse“) as it’s got all of the elements and then some…

Toss in the segue to New Years celebrations and ‘par-TAY’ cues, plus the film’s dvd release and it’s exceedingly timely. Yes, yes, it’s a given that the movie is NOT remotely for kids, yet it’s also self-evident that they’re its biggest fans, given the ‘tender ages’ of KIDS reviewing the film on Common Sense Media’s user-generated forum alone. Similarly, any bachelor party-Vegas theme is bound to have ‘X-treme’  excuses for stupid/silliness and debauchery, after all, it’s a Todd Phillips film, (Road Trip, Old School, etc.) not a high brow Academy Award nominee.

Yet both of these ‘givens’ beg bigger empirical questions…

homer drunk

Are pop culture’s surround-sound binge-drinking blowouts impacting kids at ever-younger ages before they have the emotional acumen to discern ‘aspirational marketing?’

Do kids have the skills to see the persuasion tools and commercial cues that embed themselves and define what constitutes ‘coolness’ or ‘zany fun?’

Or is this all just developmental fodder like preteen potty-mouth that’s been a testing ground for adolescent vs. parental cussing limits for eons in ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ double standards?

‘Is it just ‘a given’ that boys will be exposed to drunken ‘rite of passage’ dorky acts where they end up acting like idiots, usually stranded (sans pants) in a cycle reminiscent of the digital FML embarrassing moments app?

Seems to me the 24/7 “surround sound” has created more of an “access” issue than a “parenting” one, because kids will inevitably find whatever media they want at friends’ houses, Tivo, online, Facebook ads, video games, whatever…no matter what parents ‘allow.’ THAT part IS a ‘given.’ 😉

Sure you can start ’em off with media literacy like 7 Myths Alcohol Advertisers Want You To Believe …But there’s a bigger media conundrum at the core…

If media icons like Homer Simpson or Family Guy or South Park, are all supposedly more of the ‘adult swim & college humor’ demographic (same with The Hangover and most of the cable reality show fare) then why, why, WHY are we now turning G-rated cartoons, movies and programs into more and more ubiquitous booze-soaked humor and sophisticated innuendo?

This is a content & accountability issue, not just a ratings/label warning game.

And it’s certainly not any ONE media outlet, mind you; we’re talking Pixar, Disney, Nick/Viacom, Dreamworks: Toy Story, Aladdin, Spongebob…you name it…Time and again tipsy talk and adult humor is peppered throughout the G-rated writing which parents nervously hope “goes over kids heads”…

jelllo shotsAgain, WHY?

Are 21st century kids so yawningly bored and urbane that they need ‘altered states’ marketed to them with innunendo about ‘jello shots’, ‘babes-n-burger shots’ and alcopops on Facebook and such?

Or is this just make-a-buck-media and marketing execs driving that short-sighted gravy train into a brick wall yet again?

What impact will all this have on public health costs, early sexualization, normative benchmarks, imbibing cues and all that good ol’ mental and physical stuff as it lands sideways on preteens and younger?

Moreover, what can we as youth advocates  do about it?

Spoiled BratsFrom the tween ‘dating’ chatter of the early years of Disney’s Suite Life of Zack & Cody (the twin boys’ antics made many kids feel ‘lame’ if they weren’t “going out” by about age 9 fergawdsakes) to the Barbie/Bratz dolls and their various trashy iterations with hot tub sets and cocktails it seems absurdly stressful and angst-inducing to be dialing down demographics and expectations with innuendo and winks and nods to both genders in G-rated scripts…especially when they’re watching The Hangover by tween years already! sheesh.

WHY do media and marketing execs feel it’s fair game to usurp childhood?  Moreover, why are we as a global society allowing it as kids’ health and well-being is sold off in the name of short-sighted profit and long-range societal health costs?

No one should get a hallpass here…and media literacy is only a small part of the accountability solution.

teen drinkingThe National Survey on Drug Use and Health, claims males age 12 or older report higher rates than females for all measures of alcohol use and abuse, including binge drinking and alcohol dependence…again, all those guys as  ‘wolf packs and stripper scenarios’ are not exactly falling on deaf ears, ya know? Even just after Packaging Boyhood was published the Guardian in the U.K. reported girls 11-15 are now as susceptible as boys to underage drinking, even in Muslim cultures…Australia’s Sunday Times goes so far as to call it “engulfing” and modern society’s most important ‘feminist issue’ while  placing it all back in the laps of parents. Surreal.

Sure, there’s talk about pop culture cues of disinhibition and girls’ So Sexy So Soon desires to keep up with the pressure-cooker media dichotomy as Rachel Simmons addressed in her new book Curse of the Good Girlbut there’s always some ‘expert’ talking about parents setting more and more boundaries.

Gee, thanks, all; some parents may appreciate the armchair quarterbacking, but there’s industry accountability sorely lacking here.

It really DOES come down to a ‘chicken or the egg’ argument that most parents are tired of navigating in undermined and overwhelmed battle fatigue to combat media and marketing’s influence.

How (and again, WHY) should parents keep getting handed the mop and rag to clean up the mess media/marketing is making?


The Marin Institute has a novel idea…

They’re taking a policy-driver approach, unveiling massive ad evidence, citing new research studies, taxing ‘alcopops’ and working with youth for prevention. (list of state by state alcohol control boards/youth concerns here) Interesting in that it parallels arguments about tobacco, junk food, and other ‘I shouldn’t have to pay for YOUR problem’ vice taxes…

Other sites like Vanessa Van Petten’s Radical Parenting from a youth perspective offer pragmatic counter-marketing tips like this somewhat misleading/provocatively titled ‘Teaching Your Teen How To Drink” (ahem, I used some of those tricks in my own teen years to keep boozers off my back)

teen brain dev alcohol

I’ve been known to use peer to peer outreach and counter-marketing tactics, including ‘show and tell’ realities (visual above is from a great site called Breaking the Cycles which gets into the nitty gritty of teen brain development and alcohol) And more often, I tend to place younger sibling’s health into the media conversation…

Youth tend to take a very strong, firm, protective stance when it comes to drinking and sexualization impacting their OWN sisters and brothers! It’s heartening and inspiring to see teens rally and ‘rage against the machine’ in a backlash to make change…often they know all too well the toll this culture has taken on their own lives.

greek cupI also use the ‘been there done that’ cautionary peer tales which are by far the most gripping and effective as it’s REAL, upclose and personal. No avatars here.

Bringing in a recovered teen to share stories/Q&A realities is always the most compelling imho so far…

This book and site: From Binge to Blackout has a solid book club/reading guide for discussion and a poignant first person mother/son story to be told which serves as a solid springboard…

Still, drinking norms are becoming more pervasive in media emulated by ever-younger ages, with elementary school kids rushing into puberty and ‘pounding a few’ (even if it’s rootbeer) and 4th graders flirting on MySpace pages or imitating older sibs on Facebook…

Kids have ENOUGH challenges and stresses without media producers glamorizing frat boy hazings, partying ‘players’ and cads, binge-drinking rich kids, or ‘cat’s away’ stereotypes of clueless parents and sneaky kids in young tween sitcoms or cartoon mode...To me, that’s ‘seeding’ behavior, not mirroring it…

Think I’m exaggerating and it’s not so endemic to younger ‘wannabes?’ Here’s Packaging Boyhood authors Lyn Mikel, Mark Tappan, and Sharon Lamb, with more:

packaging boyhood“…The party-hardy atmosphere is everywhere they are – from about age 5 and up.

We’re not talking about the ubiquitous beer commercials during Monday Night Football, the crazy liquored-up antics on VH-1 or MTV reality shows, or even the champagne drinking players in rap videos.

We’re talking cartoons, G-rated films, and tween TV.

Whether it’s the Poison Apple Pub in Shrek or the cool bar on the beach where the Madagascar friends hang out, socializing in animated films often means drinking. And just like it is in real life, over-indulging leads to trouble-making and stupid behavior.

Elliot the deer and Boog the bear, two buddies in the animated film Open Season, trash a country store after getting “drunk” on candy bars. Buzz Lightyear drinks too much “tea” in Toy Story, and his friend Woody tries to sober him up. In his movie, SpongeBob SquarePants has a terrible hangover from his ice-cream bender of the night before.

But why let the elementary school set have all the fun? Nothing says cool to a “tweenager” more than a good out of control party.

TV shows targeting tweens help kids imagine being a mythic teenager; you know, the guy who has the hot babes and the fun parties, who hangs in clubs, dorms, and other places where there are no pesky, dopey, intrusive, nagging parents; the guy who has no homework or after school job and who doesn’t actually work hard at anything.

That’s why the boys in The Naked Brothers Band, a Nick show about a group of precocious preteens living the rock star dream, do their best to imitate the kinds of problems parents are trying to control.

In their first movie, a mockumentary of their rock star rise to fame, then six-year-old bad boy drummer Alex develops a lemon-lime soda addiction. When their original band breaks up, he binges in a bar scene, chugging like a frat boy, and ends up in a luxury rehabilitation Soda-holics at Sea program.

suitelife on deckThen there’s bad boy Zack on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, a show about twin tweens living it up in a luxury hotel (the new version of the show has them living it up on a luxury cruise ship—more babes in bikinis!), who sets up his own underage dance club in the hotel lounge.

The boy “bartender” pushes sugary soda to shy, nice girl, Barbara, and after chugging root beer – “Hit me again!” – she takes her hair down, whips off her glasses and starts dancing suggestively while the crowd shouts, “Go Barbara! Go Barbara!” It’s a nerdy boy’s dream when she staggers to Cody and kisses him hard on the mouth.

Most of these preteen shows feature 8-14 year olds running their own lives in a world created for them by adult writers who know how to create a pseudo-sanitized version of Entourage.

All the themes, expectations, and desires are there—but it’s okay because the drinks they’re chugging aren’t really alcoholic and the come-ons and references to hot girls don’t really lead to the party-house bedroom. But there’s no missing the staggering around and slurred speech or the wild, loose behavior as anything but an imitation of the real thing.

So what’s a parent to do? Watch these shows and movies with your son. Help him understand what’s really being sold with those funny antics and silly situations, and discuss the behavior you see.

Here are a few “typical boy” behaviors to look out for in his media:

Kool-Aid or soda chugging in ways that suggest chugging a beer

Doing “jello shots”, even when it’s just jello

Getting crazy, acting goofy or doing stupid things after drinking sugary sodas or some other beverage

Sharing woes or drowning troubles in a bar or saloon; “living a party” social life in clubs, dorms, or on the beach, chilling with sodas or drinks in beer mugs, champagne flutes, or cocktail glasses.

It will be nearly impossible to protect him from a “drinking is a rite of passage for boys” media message, so start these conversations early. Put his natural powers of observation to work, teach him to question advertising, and help him know when to say no to this version of “boys will be boys” behavior.

Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., Sharon Lamb Ed.D., and Mark Tappan, Ed.D. are authors of Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes. They also serve as Shaping Youth advisory board members for our nonprofit.

Okay, my turn for media literacy tidbits.

I’d argue that even if your child’s ‘favorite film’ is a purposely ‘over the top’ fun fests like The Hangover there are ‘teachable moments’ if you open your mouth beyond the nag…

Examples from The Hangover?

The whole ‘roofies’ and Rufalin conversation is a perfect segue to talk about what ‘date rape drugs’ can do, how a teen’s body reacts and what kids can do to guard against ’em. In essence, turn it into a ‘what if’ mode…

This teen advice piece on behavior modification makes sense to me, especially since I was a ‘goodie goodie’ teen w/a father heading up the Naval Investigative Service, so a prime target for ‘spiking.’

How to protect yourself from tainted drinks:

1. Don’t accept open drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) from others who you do not know or do not trust; this includes drinks that come in a glass.

2. When in bars or clubs always get your drink directly from the bartender and do not take your eyes off the bartender or your order; don’t use the waitress or let somebody go to the bar for you. (ok, that’s a bit extreme, guess it depends on where you are/who you trust)

3. At parties, only accept drinks in close containers: bottles, cans or tetra packs.

4. Never leave your drink unattended or turn your back on your table.

5. Do not drink from open beverage sources like punch bowls, pitchers or tubs.

6. Keep your eyes and ears open; if there is talk of date rape drugs or if friends seem “too intoxicated” for what they have taken, leave the party or club immediately…

Common Sense Media’s ratings/reviews always has a Families can talk about… section for each film, (e.g.the ritual of the bachelor party, etc.) but in The Hangover, they don’t address the ‘roofies’ OR the other subtle but dominant threads winding throughout the relationships in the film…LYING and deception.

That’s a particularly hot spot of mine, as I feel kids are getting muddy with stereotypes depicting spouses as, er ‘witches’ and solutions-based thinking to ‘block and bury’ in sneak mode…(whether it’s the faux pregnancy on Glee, etc.)

Anyone in an adult relationship knows trust IS the pivotal link to intimacy, because without it, you’ve got squat. If you can’t be yourself around someone for fear of reprisal or typecasting, there are much bigger issues there…(as the ‘whupped’ character resolved at the end of the film) Again, talk about it with open ended inquiry…

mlcHere are more resources you can use to further the media literacy/alcohol dialogue (again, a comment or two, not a LECTURE)

Marin Institute (alcohol industry watchdog w/great teen data & policy initiatives)

Breaking the Cycles-Changing the Conversations (specializing in research/brain dev on alcohol related issues, including underage drinking)

CSM’s Alcohol in the Media tipsheet

CCFC’s Links List (see list of orgs under Media Literacy/parent rscs)

CAMY (Center on Alcohol  Marketing & Youth) ads and factsheets

And…a great compilation resource for everything from articles to lesson plans, Frank Baker’s Media Literacy Clearinghouse including the recent Marin Institute video ABOUT ALCOHOL ADS ON FACEBOOK

Alcohol ads play up masculine appeal
NFL games on TV: full of alcohol and other inappropriate ads
Alcohol Ads Common Among Cable Shows Watched by Teens
Alcohol ad self-regulation not working, as ads target younger drinkers
How drinking is depicted in prime time TV shows
Media ignores health consequences of drinking/driving among young celebrities
Alcohol Product Placements linked to increased youth drinking
Alcohol, sex ads get prime TV time
Alcohol ads tempt more kids to drink
Ads influence our drinking binges

More Resources from MLC/Frank Baker on Alcohol Advertising
Alcohol Advertising & Youth
Alcohol Ads & Youth
Alcohol Advertising: Fiction Vs Fact AAP
Alcohol Marketing & The Media (Australia)
Center of Alcohol Marketing & Youth- Ad Gallery
Alc Marketing & Youth on the Internet
Stealing Share (see Beer study)
MADD Stats & Resources
Ad Alert (Marin Institute)
Alcohol Ads-Univ.of Minnesota
Alcohol Ads & Youth
Alcohol Ads On The Internet- CME
Effects of Alcohol Ads on Underage Drinking-NIH
Alcohol Ads, Consumption and Harm (Booze News)

Toys Encouraging Alcohol Use By Children

Finally, here’s Media Education Foundation’s Spin the Bottle video clip produced by Jackson Katz & Jean Kilbourne…

It’s one of Shaping Youth’s ‘teen staples’ for parent education/student film fests on this subject in the community via free viewings at our house parties. (see sidebar under film clapboard for what’s playing now!)

Also, here’s Media Education Foundation’s Spin the Bottle 69pp study guide to get things rolling too.

Visual Credits: Drinking silhouette, Getty images; Jello shots/eHow: homemade jello with your kids; Art Attack’s Spoiled Brats vs. MGA’s Bratz TM lawsuit visual via Michael Atkins’ blog



  1. Hi Amy, I watched that movie also and – not that I was expecting it from this kind of flick – groaned at the pathetic stereotyping of women in the movie. I didn’t even think about the teen drinking aspect. The quote you have given from packaging boyhood is interesting (maybe something I should read, considering I have 3 boy of my own)

    About the drink spiking – my own mother of 60+ had her glass of wine spiked at a la-de-da outdoors food and wine festival in Adelaide. It could have been the barman taking offence to one of her cheeky quips, but as she has a disability the few spiked sips of wine affected her for weeks. She also found the police not to be very helpful, and I had to use the interwebs to send them a note (caught their attention) It really made me aware of drinking in a public place and how careful you need to be, no matter your age.

  2. wow, Jasmin…your mother? sheesh. My pithy mom has sardonic wit that could crown her quip queen of the octagenarians so if loose lips are the troublemakers, I’m surprised she’s made it this far unscathed! Clearly it’s a serious issue, so don’t mean to make light, as you’re right, people don’t even think about the ‘mixed bag’ of med concoctions that could already be in the human body causing reactions that could impair for life.

    I’m still running Health2.0 profiles on BOTH of my parents using the startup entity that I found at the conference awhile back…so really, there is no ‘profile’ for spiking the punch bowl so to speak…

    Which, as you’ve confirmed can be MUCH more complicated than symptoms of a ‘hangover’—thanks for sharing her story.

    As for the stereotypes? meh, I knew it would be that way, just didn’t know how “over the top” and caricatured… Something I’m paying more attention to in terms of my own years of desensitization, as I barely wince sometimes when I really SHOULD be slack-jawed at the absurdity. (some of that is being so used to the ad industry environs of sophomoric humor a la AdRants, etc. ya know?)

    Anyway, thanks again, Jasmin…and with 3 boys? Heck, I’m giving you MY copy of the book. Clearly you need it more than I do…and I can ask my dear advisory board folks to replace mine! So send me your snail mail (seriously, the least I can do for your Worldchanger efforts!)

    Here’s to healthier media in 2010. Hugs, A.
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Pop Culture on Parade: JibJab’s Hilarious Manic Media Montage =-.

  3. You are a kind woman! I’ll send you my snail mail address.
    By the way, you might be interested in this collaborative project, 365 authors share a day in their life this year
    .-= Jasmin´s last blog ..Three Ways to Count on Interruptions =-.

  4. Hey Amy – the entire rating process and issue of accessibility is pretty much moot these days. XBOX movies and on demand movie services are pervasive and DON’T ask for ID and the parents don’t appear to monitor what comes off the wire. So now, I am the NAG having to ask, “what are you guys watching over there…or better still, you watched what last night?”


  5. Green Options Media-Amy Jussel Thank you for taking the time to inform us. The information in this post I have found to be very useful and will bookmark your site to gather any further relevant content.

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