Accuracy in Media

The American people have had a chance to see the best of their young people in action in the war with Iraq. If you look over the stories about the war dead, you see their ages ? some of them only 18 or 19, many of them in their early 20s. But there’s another group of young people, captured in a new film called “The Real Cancun,’ whose idea of sacrifice is limiting their booze intake to eight shots of tequila. The film follows a group of young people having booze and sex on a beach in Mexico. It’s a sad commentary on our society that such a film was made, and that it’s considered a moneymaker.

It just so happens that the weekend of the film’s release in theaters across the country, the wives of the governors of Ohio and North Carolina teamed up to focus attention on the problem of childhood drinking. April was Alcohol Awareness Month. They released a column noting that a government report found that 25 percent of 9th graders ? 14 and 15 year-olds ? admitted they had engaged in binge drinking in the past month. That’s five or more drinks in one session. The percentage of traffic deaths that are alcohol-related is around 40 percent. In 2001, that was over 16,000 deaths.

But binge drinking is celebrated in “The Real Cancun.” USA Today’s description of the film says it “features dozens of scantily clad and uninhibited folks, inane conversation, [and] binge drinking?” Another review said the film is characterized by perpetual drunkenness and casual sex. One count showed the use of 69 F-words and its derivatives, with one scene showing an entire crowd yelling out the F-word in unison.

The film is R-rated for strong sexuality, nudity, language and partying. But on ABC’s 20/20, it was depicted as cute and entertaining, and the 16 students in the film as potential Hollywood stars. The only dissident note came from film critic Joel Siegel, who said it was comparable to filming a ride on the New York subway and calling it reality. Incredibly, one parent of one student performer was interviewed, and this mother said that while it was somewhat “uncomfortable” seeing her child getting drunk and having casual sex, “it really didn’t bother me that much, they were just having fun.” This sent the message that parents shouldn’t worry about the impact of the film. Nothing was said about the behavior being immoral. It’s just good fun.

For those who like what they see, they can go to the Web site for the movie, which features a cocktail guide and drinking games for young people. One section invites young people to share their stories about Spring Break. It says “Share your own tales of decadence and debauchery. If you can actually remember them, that is.”

“The Real Cancun” is released by New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner. It is supposed to be a big-screen variation of MTV’s “The Real World” produced by that show’s creators. But it seems to be fizzling at the box office, taking in only $2.3 million in the first week to finish in 10th place. If it’s a bomb at the box office, perhaps AOL Time Warner will get the message. Money is the only thing they seem to understand.

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