We live in a time when many young people engage in high-risk drinking. There are many factors that contribute to one’s decision to consume alcohol; however, recent research indicates that popular culture—advertising, movies, television shows, radio, etc.—has a significant influence on young people’s attitudes toward drinking. In an effort to translate the latest analysis of media, culture, and alcohol into an accessible format, the nonprofit Media Education Foundation has released a new video—Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies & Alcohol.
Award-winning media critics Jackson Katz and Jean Kilbourne examine how popular culture, by glamorizing and romanticizing excessive alcohol use, supports the notion that high-risk drinking is simply part of the college experience. In the world of popular culture, particularly in the world of media products aimed at young people, high-risk drinking has no negative consequences; in advertising, movies, television programs, and popular music, drinking is linked almost exclusively to good times, fun, spontaneity, and great sex. And while most of us know there is a negative side to alcohol, it is difficult to take the problems associated with high- risk drinking seriously, when the cultural representations we see of alcohol suggest that these negative consequences don’t even exist.
Interviews with health professionals—Alan Calhoun, Director, Medial Care, UMass-Amherst; Sally Linowski, Associate Director, Health Education, UMass- Amherst; and Ojae Beale, Program Director, Rape Crisis Services, UMass-Amherst —illustrate the negative effect alcohol is having on the lives of college students, from poor academic performance and addiction, to sexual assault and rape, to physical trauma and even death. Though our cultural representations of alcohol may suggest otherwise, the negative consequences of alcohol do indeed exist. Additionally, they affect men and women differently. In its analysis, Spin the Bottle looks at how gender and our definitions of masculinity and femininity, shape our expectations around and experiences with alcohol, particularly with respect to sex, sexuality, sexual freedom, and sexual assault.
Throughout the video, students, young men and women from four different colleges, discuss the drinking culture on their campuses and reflect on their own experiences with alcohol—these are perhaps the video’s most poignant voices. They discuss how the cultural messages they hear about alcohol, gender, sexuality, and what it means to be a college or university student, affect their lives. These young people express a desire to bring about change, and suggest that students themselves are ready to challenge the notion that high-risk drinking is a necessary part of the college experience.
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