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Is Transformers a True Box Office Success Or an Exploitation of Childhood?

Paula Slade
June 29, 2009

Seeing headlines from various news media over the last few days that report overwhelming box office figures of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and knowing that a controversy is brewing surrounding this film, makes one pause and question whether this PG-13 movie reflects cinematic excellence; the number of screens on which it has been launched (along with seasonal timing), or that sales were predisposed by product placement tie-ins.

If it is the latter reason, it is unfortunate, as the film’s success is being carried on the backs of children who have been inexorably bound to Hasbro’s Transformer toys, commercials for the film, and product placements.

Most critics’ panned Transformers, yet ticket sales for the film are poised to make box office history. What is it that is fueling this frenzy?

It’s time to take a good hard look.

The on-line site, Common Sense Media, the non-profit, non-partisan national organization that empowers parents and caregivers with decision-making tools regarding media choices, prior to the film’s opening, posted a thorough review and rated the film “iffy for ages 13 to 15.”

Almost immediately after the movie’s release, collective reviews from parents and educators, as well as children, began to pour into the website, and not surprisingly, parents voiced similar concerns as to the violent and consumerist nature of the film, and its age appropriateness.

Alternatively, the majority of children who had seen the film weighed in by recommending the movie for even lower age groups, and giving it four stars versus the adult assessment of two.

Even the Internet Movie Data Base (IMBD), the definitive information source for movies and television, placed an entire cautionary page for parents and caregivers to review.

The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), the non-profit national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents, and individuals, whose mission is to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers, voiced concerns in a letter to Chairman Jon Leibowitz of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “urging the FTC to stop the marketing of violent PG-13 movies targeted to children. CCFC cited over 2,700 ads shown on children’s television stations for four of this summer’s violent PG-13 blockbusters, which included Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood and a CCFC Steering Committee member cited within the letter, “Research shows that children are more affected by the violent acts they see on the screen than adults and that they are less able to understand them in the context of character, motive, and plot. Because of this, children are especially vulnerable to the desensitizing effects of violence in entertainment.”

She added, “Marketing violent PG-13 movies on children's television stations is harmful to children and confusing for parents. When PG-13 films come with toys and Kid’s Meal promotions, parents think these films are fine for children to see but they are not."

To read the letter in its entirety, follow this link.

Not too long ago, Transformers would have easily been given an “R” rating (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) and it seems the rating system has broadened the assessments in the PG-13 category more than most parents are comfortable with.

Until better regulation and monitoring can be obtained, Common Sense Media has provided an excellent informational page that parents and caregivers can use for opening a dialogue with children concerning the age-appropriateness and consumerist qualities of the film entitled: “Help! My G-Rated Kids Want to See PG-13 Transformers.”






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