Sex and violence still tops despite cultural, political attitudes

Americans who are stricter about their religious doctrine are actually more likely to see films rated R for violence than those who are less conservative.

That’s according to a MarketCast study presented at Wednesday’s Integrate ’05 conference, co-sponsored by Variety.

The study, which examined whether political and cultural attitudes affect what movies people watch, found that the habits of Red State fundamentalists aren’t that different from Blue State types.

The analysis was based on a survey of 1,000 Americans and presented by MarketCast president Joseph Helfgot, vice president and general manager Henry Shapiro and managing director Karen Hermelin.

“Our data has shown that most people, even the most religious, are quite satisfied with their moviegoing,” Shapiro said. “They like what they see.” He added that MarketCast commissioned the research to offer balance in an increasingly rancorous public debate.

“This isn’t just civic boosterism, we’ve put money and time into this research because we were tired of listening to the chatter that was drowning out the real message and clouding the issue,” he said.

“Clearly, this level of noise is being generated by a vocal and organized minority that is disproportionately impacting the debate,” he added, “to the point where the thread gets picked up as fact and fed back and amplified by politicians, reporters, commentators, even some industry executives.”

While the study confirmed that a sharp divide on moral issues exists in the country, it found entertainment choices are largely made separately from moral decisions.

Cultural conservatives, the report concludes, are “participating in American culture at virtually the same levels as the rest of society.”

Contentious issues

Unsurprisingly, the study revealed that Americans sharply divide on contentious issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

The most reliable predictor of where people stand on these issues, however, was how intensely religious people consider themselves.

In the study, 32% said they were “very religious,” while 45% said “somewhat religious” and 23% were not religious.

The religious and nonreligious people in the study were nearly indistinguishable in their attitudes about their own individual moviegoing experience.

The two groups only disagreed on broader questions of “the movies” in general and their place in culture.

Moviegoing habits were fairly uniform across all groups, with more than half of the respondents, no matter how religious they consider themselves, saying they see between two and 11 movies a year.

And while those who are very religious were the most likely to criticize Hollywood and the movies in general, they were just as satisfied with the films that they did see.

According to the study, 92% of all respondents agreed that people had the right to see whatever movies they wanted to, 91% said they enjoyed going to the movies, and 75% said they go to theaters to be entertained, not for moral messages.

When it came to more general cultural judgments about the entertainment industry, concerns were primarily shared by those who are very religious. For instance, for the general population overall, 43% agreed with the statement, “The movie industry is partially responsible for the moral decay of our society.”

But that finding was primarily a reflection of the 55% of the very religious who agreed with the claim; less than 30% of those who are not religious said the same.

The disconnect between attitudes about the entertainment industry and consumers’ actual behavior — that is, moviegoing, DVD rentals and television viewing — was illustrated by MarketCast’s analysis of who watches R-rated films.

For the study, the org identified 12 movies rated R for strong violence and 12 rated R for sexual content and then asked people if they had seen at least one film in each list.

Gender split

Not surprisingly, they found that men were more likely to have seen the violent R-rated films than women (27% to 19%). People were also less likely to have seen the R-rated films the older they were. For instance, among people 17 to 24 years old, 46% had seen the sexual R films and 34% had seen the pics rated R for violence.

Among people 45 to 54, the numbers were 18% and 15%, respectively.

Comparing people by how religious they were, the differences were smaller. Of those who said they are very religious, 25% had viewed the sexual content R-rated films and 19% had seen the violent pics.

Among the nonreligious, the numbers were 33% and 28%.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in the study, though, was when MarketCast measured for doctrine within religion. Those who were the most conservative in their religious beliefs were actually more likely to have seen the violent films than those who characterized themselves as more liberal. While 18% of those who were liberal in their doctrine had seen the violent R-rated films, 29% of the conservatives said they had seen these violent movies.

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