The 2010 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) examines the various implications that media depictions, of drug use, have on young persons. In its entirety, the report maintains the assumption that the rate at which children are exposed to drug-related ads corresponds with the likelihood that children will end up using the substance being portrayed. The AAP (2010) notes that despite tobacco adverts being banned, the manufacturing companies have resorted to underground marketing through Hollywood films in what is referred to as subtle adverts. Tobacco companies depict smoking as an inconsequential activity done by seemingly cool or antiestablishment teenagers. Another concern raised by the AAP (2010) is that aside from inducing tobacco use, tobacco use acts as a gateway to other drug usages.
The findings in the AAP (2010) report also show that alcohol is increasingly being marketed in children-oriented shows. Alcohol is predominantly shown as being a fun substance to consume, and the effects of alcohol consumption are often downplayed. The AAP (2010) states that by depicting alcohol frequently, media companies end up normalizing its use. The report goes on to note that illicit substances like marijuana are associated with humor in comedic movies which in turn results in a spike in the number of people who want to try out these substances. Similarly, the AAP (2010) laments at the laxity of online websites which allow underage persons to access adult material. Finally, the article concludes by offering solutions to various stakeholders on how to reign in on the runaway drug-related adverts.
Summary of Paper
This paper will examine the manner in which drug abuse is portrayed on the popular TV show, Shameless. Many drugs are used by the characters in the show, but this paper will focus on the way alcohol, cigarettes, and cocaine are depicted. The paper will then compare the way the substances are used by the actors in Shameless and their effects with the content available in the AAP (2010) report. The main findings in the compare and contrast exercise are that:  Shameless has many inaccuracies that misrepresent the actual nature of drugs.  The show glorifies and normalizes the abuse of alcohol and tobacco products.  Shameless fails to emphasize on the dangerous aspect of drug usage.
This paper also finds that the media can easily influence behavioral expectations among teenagers which influence the way they think drunk people should act. The TV show Shameless also risks undermining drug-related education. Also, this article notes that accurate media depictions of drug abuse are necessary because it is an ethical requirement and provides viewers with the ability to contrast the pros and cons of engaging in an activity. However, accurate depictions should not be done wrongly in a way that encourages drug usage. Lastly, this paper finds that AAP guidelines which touch on legislation, parental control, and garnering media support will reduce the exposure of children to inappropriate materials.
Drug Abuse Depiction in Shameless Versus Reality
One of the most abused substances on Shameless is alcohol. Alcohol is seen in almost all scenes from the characters homes to their workplaces. Liquor is depicted as if it were a soft drink since it is consumed at all times. In Shameless, alcohol is also the preferred drug when it comes to parties and other social engagements. By doing so, the show normalizes the drug. Furthermore, it creates the illusion that no fun is possible without the presence of alcohol. The AAP (2010) concerns itself with how teenagers are exposed to alcohol, but Shameless goes even further with the casual manner in which it depicts underage drinking as being something normal. All the characters in the show began consuming alcohol even before they turned eighteen and they have made drinking seem like a fun-filled activity. In reality, underage drinking causes 4,300 young people to die, and over 189,000 teenagers visit the emergency room each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016)
As noted by the AAP (2010), teenagers who grow up watching such shows are more likely to indulge in binge drinking. Since Shameless has plenty of scenes showing liquor abuse, it is likely to induce underage drinking and alcohol abuse especially since the actors seem to be unaffected by their overindulgence in the substance.
On the other hand, some of the depictions of alcohol usage on Shameless are in line with actual substance abuse data. For instance, the third season of the show features an ailing Frank Gallagher. His illness is caused by extensive liver damage which causes him to be jaundiced, pale, nauseated, unable to eat, and feverish. Eventually Frank slips into a coma before he is finally given another liver. The show waters down its life lesson by showing Frank drinking shortly after waking up from a week-long coma. It makes it seem as if one can get away with overdrinking.
Cigarettes are frequently used by the characters on Shameless even in schools. The character who smokes most, Philip Gallagher, is also the smartest and he shows a consistently rebellious attitude towards societal norms. This character is also good looking and is shown to have luck when it comes to attracting women. This gives the illusion that cigarette smoking is somewhat beneficial to the life of a person. The drug is given a cool factor. Aside from normalizing the drug, the shows portrayal of smoking glorifies tobacco smoking. Philip is used as a super peer to encourage other teenagers to smoke because many underage persons look up to celebrities. These super peers give teens a benchmark for how they want to act and how they want to be perceived by others. As noted by the AAP (2010), giving drugs a cool factor entices more teenagers to try out the substance. Also, according to the CDC (2017) tobacco companies spend tens of billions of dollars in marketing each year. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine that there are some teenagers out there who are hoping to use tobacco to be as cool and smart as the character they saw on television.
In reality, tobacco smoking is very harmful to everyones health and should not be used at all. Smoking impairs the normal functioning of all body organs and causes addiction (CDC, 2017). It is this addictive nature of cigarettes that is hidden behind the multiple scenes where Philip has to inhale the toxic fumes, but this message is not passed across to viewers. Other characters use cigarettes as a stress reliever. In reality, cigarettes do not relieve stress (Bellack, Hersen, and Kazdin, 2012). Such depictions perpetuate myths about smoking and focus on the wrong aspect of the drug. Instead of showing the negatives which matter, the supposed positives are shown.
Some of the characters on Shameless engage in the inconsequential consumption of illegal substances. For instance, Fiona Gallagher who is the legal guardian to all of her siblings snorts cocaine but manages to keep her life on track. She uses such illicit substances and still wake ups in time to prepare breakfast. Such actions go contrary to expectations where persons should experience withdrawal symptoms after using such hard drugs. Furthermore, the character does not show any signs of dependence on cocaine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016), cocaine it is a powerful and addictive drug with a high potential of being abused. However, it is not medically unknown for people to use cocaine and not become addicted (Bellack et al., 2012). The problem arises when cocaine is presented as a party drug and associated with fun. As noted by the AAP (2010) when illicit substances are related to humor and fun, people are more likely to want to try to use it.
Marijuana is also normalized. However, unlike in the AAP (2010) article, it is not associated with fun. Instead, it is shown as a relaxant used by the characters. Some episodes in the third season depict marijuana farming as a potential economic activity. No adverse effects of marijuana are shown in the show. Marijuana is not as harmful as cigarettes or alcohol, but it does affect the cognitive functions of young persons (Bellack et al., 2012).
Shameless does get it right on some issues when it comes to illicit substances. For instance, the dangers of cocaine consumption among children. In one scene Fiona leaves a sachet of cocaine on the counter and her brother (who is a toddler) consumes it. The child goes into a coma, suffers brain damage, and Fiona ends up being sentenced to prison and later rehabilitation. Also, Frank who is a dysfunctional alcoholic has a very peculiar lifestyle. His alcohol dependence makes him detached from his family, easily angered, a pathological liar, a burden and an unreliable member of society.
Implications of Drug Abuse Depictions on Shameless
One of the consequences of the type of careless drug abuse promotion that is seen on Shameless is that it will end up creating behavioral expectations. Teenagers will learn drunken behavior (how to act when intoxicated) from the media. As such, the reckless actions of delinquency, violence, and verbal abuse that are commonplace on the show will become the norm. The show is not just normalizing the use of alcohol; it is also setting the benchmark of how one should act while inebriated. Shameless is a show whose characters show very little restraint when it comes to breaking the rules and the moral lines. And when young people get their life lessons from such a show it is only a matter of time before they begin emulating the set example.
When teenagers begin to adapt to the behavioral expectations shown in the series, they are likely to encounter undesirable consequences. Some of the consequences are even visible on the show albeit watered down by all the fun depictions of drug abuse. Drugs alter the normal functioning of the brain, and they affect a persons decision-making capacity. Thus, when young people are encouraged to indulge in drugs, they increase the chances that they will commit unlawful acts such as vandalism and assault. Others may even be on the receiving end of the same unwanted acts such as rape.
Two, the way drugs are presented on Shameless can potentially undermine the type of anti-drug education offered to students in their classes. As seen in the AAP (2010) report, companies like Camel managed to increase their sales through product placement. On the other hand, programs such as the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) have failed. Thus, it cannot be hard to imagine that there may be a potential link between the failure of drug education programs and the manner in which popular TV shows portray substance use.
Type of Message and Target Audience
The message being conveyed to the audience is that the use of drugs is very much normal and that one can walk away from any unwanted side effects or in the case of Frank Gallagher, a new liver can solve all your problems. Additionally, Shameless shows a lifestyle where written and unwritten rules are designed to be broken and having drugs helps in the process of delinquency. The show is rated TV-MA meaning that it is intended for persons over seventeen years old. However, such labeling restrictions do not mean that children below the set age of seventeen cannot watch the show especially in an era where almost everything is accessible online. Instead, it gives advertisers a platform to market their products knowing that even younger persons will have access to it and will be swayed by the ads.
Accuracy of Message
Media portrayals should be accurate and precise. Media productions have a lot of influence on society. Shows and movies are designed to provide...
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