Thursday, November 12, 2009

OJ with Breakfast? Repent!

America’s self-anointed food police have a new punching bag in their obesity crusade: fruit juice. We’re not making this up. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a growing number of dietary do-gooders are now pointing their fingers at juice as a culprit for fattening waistlines:
The inconvenient truth, many experts say, is that 100% fruit juice poses the same obesity-related health risks as Coke, Pepsi and other widely vilified beverages. … [I]t's time juice lost its wholesome image, these experts say.

"It's pretty much the same as sugar water," said Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher at the University of Minnesota. In the modern diet, "there's no need for any juice at all."

Is this new target in the obesity blame game any more legitimate than activists’ perennial demonization of soda? Nope. As the Times notes, a 2008 review of 21 studies found that 15—over two-thirds—did not support the theoretical link between juice and weight gain. But dietary activists still single out soda despite a wealth of academic research finding that soda isn’t a unique cause of obesity, so don’t expect the grape juice naysayers to be quieted in the face of actual evidence.

It’s worth noting that “Twinkie tax” creator Kelly Brownell isn’t jumping on the opportunity to call for a government War on Fruit Juice. According to the Times, Brownell is “loath to provoke the tens of millions of Americans who consider their morning juice sacrosanct.” Read: Brownell won’t target fruit juice yet, but after fruit juice’s public image is dragged through the mud and turned into “the new tobacco,” all bets are off. For now, Brownell is sticking to his soda tax song-and-dance out of purely political considerations, not ideological ones.

We have to ask: What’s next? Raisin rations? Warning labels on avocados? Red-light / green-light stickers in the produce aisle? Paging Alex Padilla…


Violent video games won’t corrupt anyone

Just like comic books and video nasties before it, Modern Warfare 2 is besieged by ignorant screams for censorship

Whether you’ve picked up a joypad in your life or not, you must have noticed that this week is a big one for videogame aficionados. Modern Warfare 2 (MW2), the sequel to an ultra-realistic military game that sold 15 million copies worldwide, has been greeted with midnight launch events, massive queues and rapturous critical response.

But not everyone is happy. Voices have been raised in protest — the familiar voices that have, over the years, condemned as scandalous and repulsive everything from novels to comic books, from horror films to rock music. It is a baptism of fire that, it seems, every new medium must suffer as it rises from niche pastime to mass entertainment.

The inclusion in MW2 of a scene that re-creates a horrific terrorist attack on a crowded airport has led to outraged headlines. The Labour MP Keith Vaz attacked the game for its “brutality”: his was a textbook piece of grandstanding, complete with the claim that he merely wished that we would think of the children.

But plenty of thought has been given to the children. MW2 carries a BBFC 18 rating. Its box sports the 18 symbol in three places, the one on the front being twice the normal size. “Contains strong, bloody violence”, the text warns, and the rating is more than a guideline: retailers cannot sell it to children.

And they certainly should not. The airport scene is unquestionably unpleasant. It puts the player in the shoes of an unwilling participant in the slaughter of innocents. It’s stomach-churning and nasty, a bleak and incongruous sidestep in a game that otherwise progresses with the pace and bombast of a Hollywood action movie.

But it is no more graphic than countless other scenes in movies and TV shows such as 24. Adults are expected to understand that not everything labelled “entertainment” must necessarily be “fun”. Creative works can, with equal validity, be harrowing, upsetting and depressing.

Decades of research, often funded by groups with a vested interest in proving the “evil” of video games, have failed to prove a link between game violence and real-life violence. Is the issue, then, that we still consider video games to be for children, regardless of that huge, red 18 rating sticker?

The average age of a game player in the UK is about 28. MW2 will probably be played by more than two million adults here — and both government and game publishers have taken measures to protect children from its content. But responsibility must lie with parents, and little can be done if a parent decides to buy an 18-rated game for their ten-year-old.

Bad parenting should not be an excuse to throw the shroud of censorship over compelling, intelligent experiences created for adults.


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