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Publication case study - Miss Svenson's Classroom Detention

A drink can is classified

A member of the public thought this energy drink should be banned or restricted due to the images and wording on the can.

This drink can, Miss Svenson's Classroom Detention, was submitted for classification by a member of the public in late 2011. The person felt the image on the front and the wording on the back of the can should not be seen by children because of the sexual messages it implied about women, and teachers and students.

The applicant was concerned that the drinks were prominently displayed at children’s eye-level beside fruit juices and ice-blocks, and that the graphics and text on the can:

  • Were pornographic and sexually explicit, and therefore harmful for a child to see, particularly with regard to their emotional health and social development
  • Were degrading to women and harmful to children, encouraging men and developing children to view women, particularly female teachers, as sexual objects
  • Communicated to children an idea that society condones suggestive clothing and poses
  • Were degrading to teachers
  • Referred to unethical and illegal sexual activity between teachers and minors.

The drink cans were controversial at the time, with the National Council of Women and the Minister for Women’s Affairs calling for the energy drinks to be removed from shelves.

Why can a drink can be classified?

A drink can comes under the definition of 'publication' and so it can be examined and classified.

Under New Zealand's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, a publication can be "paper, or any other thing that has printed or impressed upon it, or otherwise shown upon it, 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements or words." This means a can that has images or words on it is able to be classified.

What we classify

About the drink can

Miss Svenson’s Classroom Detention was widely available in dairies across the country

The submitter had found the drink can on display in a busy dairy located "next to a 500-pupil primary school with three other local schools nearby". She had unsuccessfully tried to raise issues about the display of the drink can with the dairy owner.

The can uses sexualised imagery and humour to appeal to consumers

Miss Svenson’s Classroom Detention was an energy drink produced by the Mad Drinks Factory (the company is no longer operating).  The company produced a number of energy drinks. Many of their energy drinks used bright eye-catching names and images.

The front of the can bears the name of the drink, which looks like chalk written on a blackboard. Next to this is a colour cartoon of a woman with long, blond hair and exaggerated cleavage under her tight, cropped white blouse. She wears a very short skirt, affording a glimpse of her white underpants. She also wears knee-high white socks, and yellow high-heeled shoes. She holds a cane rod. In addition to the title, the front of the can also bears the text '500mL', 'high strength energy drink', and 'the Mad Drinks Factory' with a humorously goggle-eyed logo.

The drink's name and two small inset images are in a band running around the top of the can. These images are cropped depictions of the character's cleavage.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision, 2012

The back of the can has an oval inset image of the character, showing her face, breasts, and torso. The text is crudely sexual, with spelling intended to humorously imitate a stereotypical Swedish accent. Miss Svenson, depicted as a school teacher, talks about taking pleasure from doing "da spanky spanky" with her big vwooden cane" when she catches boys "playin peek-a-boo at my peeky bits".

Classification considerations

The Classification Office considered the use of sexual humour to be a marketing tool.

Miss Svenson's Classroom Detention uses images and words in a humorous way to market their drink. The maker states the drink is not intended for children. However, the stylised image on the can and the wording are designed to appeal to a younger male audience:

…both the intention and effect of the material is one of ribald humour. The material is not a serious endorsement of sexual conduct involving any actual teacher and pupils. Links to real-world scenarios are highly tenuous. This reading is reinforced by the use of hackneyed caricature in both images and text as part of a comedic, highly simplistic, and stylised cartoon…The purpose of the material is to appeal to consumers’ humour, and is a marketing ploy. It is deliberately provocative for the purpose of selling a beverage.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision, 2012

The Classification Office acknowledged the words and picture on the can were degrading to women

The Classification Office agreed with the submitter that the overall effect of the can was degrading to women generally, and to school teachers in particular. However the intent was to be humorous rather than hostile or cruel.

…The light, entirely jocular intent is not disguised in any way, a reading reinforced by the comical style of the graphics and text. The material reinforces offensive stereotypes about women, school teachers, and Swedish people. However, it is not intended to be malicious or sinister, which most consumers will realise; most people will see it merely as a ribald and risqué marketing ploy.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision, 2012

It decided that while display of the can might cause 'offence' it did not cause 'injury to the public good'

The Classification Office agreed with the submitter that the drink can was offensive when displayed amongst other ordinary grocery items, but this was not sufficient reason to ban or restrict it.

The question as outlined by the FVPC Act is not one of offence, but of injury. The references made by the graphics and text on the can are intended to be entirely jocular, and are a marketing ploy. Most consumers will appreciate this. The drink can does not promote or support, nor tend to promote or support, the exploitation of children for sexual purposes.

The sexual references are ambiguous, and lack any explicit detail. The Classification Office acknowledges that the presentation of the female character is sexualised, and that there are veiled, mild sexual allusions in both image and text. The female character has a revealing costume, and her pose is provocative. This is of limited degree; there is no genital or breast nudity shown, nor sexual activity presented in any graphic detail, nor any detailed or graphic activity described. The material is therefore unlikely to provide younger viewers or consumers with a premature introduction to the mechanics of sexual activity. The depictions on the can are not outside the bounds of what children might occasionally be exposed to in a public place, or through publicly available visual media.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision, 2012

Why classification works the way it does

Miss Svenson's Classroom Detention Drink Can was classified as unrestricted in January 2012

The Bill of Rights Act gives an advertiser the right to freedom of expression when designing things like a drink can, and it gives the distributor the right to supply that drink can to the public so long as the unrestricted availability of the content on the can is not harmful to the public. It also gives the public the right to view this material, even if it is offensive to some people. 

… the drink can does not deal with the discussed matters in a manner that makes its unrestricted availability likely to be injurious to the public good to a degree that justifies a limitation on the freedom of expression under the NZBR Act. As such the rights and freedoms in section 14 can be read consistently with the FVPC Act and are not impeded in any way.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision, 2012

Classification Office's classification decision for Miss Svenson's Classroom Detention (PDF, 1025KB)

Case studies - books, music and other stuff

Detail of Miss Svenson on the drink can, with large breasts and wearing a revealing outfit

...the advertising on the energy drink flies in the face of our efforts. We strongly urge those retailers selling the product to take it off their shelves.

National Council of Women president Elizabeth Bang, speaking to The Gisborne Herald. This line of drinks was eventually removed from sale due to public pressure, rather than a ruling from the Classification Office.

Useful links

Other controversial drink cans

Image of associated energy drink cans that caused controversy: Rasta Blasta the Ganja Masta and Miss Helen's Massive Melons
These associated drink cans also caused controversy: Rasta Blasta the Ganja Masta and Miss Helen's Massive Melons