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Skin Cancer Foundation Hits MTV's Jersey Shore With an FTC Complaint

MTV's Jersey Shore television series and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino’s “GTL: Gym, Tan, Laundry” mantra has prompted the Skin Cancer Foundation to take further action to stop pro-tanning messages.

Although the Skin Cancer Foundation's Senior Vice President, Deborah S. Sarnoff, has sat down in 2010 with the cast of MTV's hit show on magazine show Extra to discuss the dangers of tanning in an effort to put an end to the "GTL" motto, which was later followed by intervention with the network’s executives in 2012, the Skin Cancer Foundation has now taken legal action, urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to hold MTV accountable for promoting “cancer-causing behavior.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation yesterday filed a formal complaint with the FTC, asking that the FTC use its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to investigate MTV’s Jersey Shore television series and related promotional initiatives. The complaint was filed with the FTC by Sanders Ortoli Vaughn-Flam Rosenstadt (SOVR) LLP, on behalf of The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Specifically, the foundation says that in the years since the show premiered, tanning beds, a known carcinogen, became a disturbingly integral part of Jersey Shore’s narrative. The foundation claims the series consistently portrayed tanning as acceptable and harmless, potentially influencing its young viewers to engage in a dangerous activity. Though the series recently wrapped up, the foundation claims the show will live on through spin-offs and repeats, “continuing to expose an impressionable audience to disturbing behaviors with no disclaimer.”

The complaint alleges that MTV utilized a complex web of programming, advertising, promotion and merchandising to glamorize and endorse excessive tanning as socially enhancing and beneficial, through use of the cast’s “Gym, Tan, Laundry” ritual, without disclosing the related health risks, which the foundation claim is deceptively influencing viewers to engage in a cancer-causing activity in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The Skin Cancer Foundation is demanding that MTV, at the very least, include a warning about the risks of skin cancer with the show, its advertising, promotion and merchandising.

“While experts have long suspected a link between skin cancer and tanning beds, it was not until a few years ago that we had research studies definitively showing a connection. The fact is, tanning beds cause skin cancer,” says Perry Robins, president and founder of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “As the series progressed over the years, displays of tanning behaviors grew in frequency along with the cast’s influence over viewers, to the point where the expression ‘Gym, Tan, Laundry’ became a national catchphrase. The repeated and ongoing references to tanning as a harmless activity are dangerous and hazardous to the public’s health,” Robins adds.

In February 2010, after season one, the foundation staged an intervention that aired nationally on the television show Extra, which resulted in the cast members pledging to change their behavior. Despite this pledge, frequent and persistent tanning references were made by cast members throughout the life of the Jersey Shore series, says the foundation. It adds that, “The coverage quickly grew beyond neutral storytelling and developed into thematic, recurring promotion of tanning.”

The foundation audited season three of Jersey Shore in its entirety, and episodes one, two, three and six of season five. It says it identified 186 visual or verbal references to tanning in just these 17 episodes. This includes 12 specific mentions of “G.T.L.” (“Gym, Tan, Laundry”) and 48 images of tanning (including a photo of a tanning parlor in the opening credits of each episode) in season three alone. In just the four episodes of season five that the foundation reviewed, there were 77 total references to tanning, including 11 mentions of G.T.L. and 20 images of tanning beds.

Additionally, the foundation claims that MTV’s online games and promotions encourage fans to live the Jersey Shore lifestyle by purchasing G.T.L. products. Also, it says, aside from the occasional sunburn, “The cast never seriously discusses the risks of tanning or the danger associated with tanning. For example, in Episode 13 of season two, cast member Paul DelVecchio ‘Pauly D’ enthusiastically nominated himself ‘Most Likely to Get Skin Cancer.’”

These findings prompted the foundation to initiate a September 2012 meeting with MTV executives, where the organization requested that MTV include a warning with each episode and in conjunction with the sale of items and activities that promote tanning. The foundation says that "MTV refused," prompting the foundation to file a formal complaint with the FTC in the hope that the commission would require the use of such a warning.

“The foundation has struggled with the disappointing messaging of this show for years. MTV should accept some responsibility for informing viewers about the hazards of the activities promoted in its programming. If a warning regarding tanning’s health hazards is added to each episode and just one person heeds it, this endeavor is worthwhile,” says Robins.

The complaint is available at SkinCancer.org/jersey-shore.

 

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