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September 1996, Week 3


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Dave Trautman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 19 Sep 1996 09:14:59 -0600
text/plain (91 lines)
Subject:   Effect of film on people (long)
Simone L. Fary" ([log in to unmask]) asked:
"When Hollywood persents a positive role model, inspiration/educational topic
etc. it is often quick to self-congratulate, which implies a belief that
movies have an impact on how people think and feel.  Yet when it comes to
violence or a negative depiction then all of a sudden movies have no impact.
What do you think?"
To which Michael Plott ([log in to unmask]) responded:
"...I find it particularly significant that the tobacco industry, which is a
*very* powerful lobby, is restricted (in the U.S.) from using film to
advertise their products."
For which I have the following comments.
There is an influence.  Just as others have suggested.  How much bearing this
influence has on a person is mitigated by other influences.  Someone with
access to a wide variety of ideas about life, people, themselves, and fantasy
gets influenced by the sources of these ideas.  If the sources are narrowed
and the ideas reduced to simplistic, stereotypical, and "safe" ones the
influence is the same.  I am not qualified to suggest a narrowing of ideas
results in racist opinions.  But the narrowing of the mind (however it
manifests itself) is a problem educators battle with vigor.
That advertising is "restricted" in any way is a signal from elected
authority that it recognizes the lifestyle influences they are meant to
persuade with.  The persuasion in advertising is to respond and purchase.
The persuasion in film (hopefully) is to respond and reflect.  "Star Wars"
made as many persuasive arguments in favour of "good" against "evil" as any
movie before it.  "Grand Canyon" is as much about racism and the gulf between
people, families and groups as it is about the lives of the people portrayed
in it.  The reason these messages are not restricted by legislation is
because they do not cause an undue influence on the habits and behavior of
their patrons.  Tobacco and alcohol seem to have an influence on behavior and
The restrictions on movie advertising would be a good case in point.  As much
as some industries are not allowed to put advertising before some audiences
(and readers), promotions for motion pictures are scrutinized for appropriate
content in the markets and audiences those messages will be "beamed" to.
When motion pictures begin causing audiences to behave badly and develop
unhealthy habits Hollywood will be asked to answer for them.
In many homes the modelled behaviors are a contradiction to the morals being
parroted.  There is a certain appeal, to young minds in these unfortunate
situations, of the consistency and predictability of the messages in
entertainment which can comfort them in small ways.  But when the comfort and
pleasantness become more attractive than their real families or real lives
the influence can be said to be too strong.  In this instance we would fail
to recognize the absence of mitigating influences.
In our enthusiasm for film (as well as other forms of entertainment) we
sometimes forget the level of comfort it provides.  When we are uncomfortable
with what a movie has shown or are made uncomfortable by what messages a
movie may present (or become concerned by what a filmmaker seems to be
endorsing) we are thinking, reflecting, or critiquing.  This is a good
influence.  Entertainment which makes us comfortable can be a dangerous
influence.  Art which makes us uncomfortable, or forces us to think about
things, moves us forward; advances the culture.
As audiences learn to reflect on what they see, the stories will change
accordingly.  As audiences become unconcerned about stereotyping, narrow
visions, sequel-izing of previous hits, and the re-packaging of childhood
stories then movies will lose their positive influence.
This, I believe, is not just true of movies.  Mike's concern for frames of
reference is valid for all other media.  What is "talk radio" doing to the
perception of radio as entertainment?  The state of journalism seems in
crisis because of the influence of marketing and "entertainment" values on
the reporting and gathering of relevant news.  I may be expanding this beyond
the scope of motion pictures, but the range of influence is so enormous as to
require consideration from all angles.
"Lion King" did what Disney has always done.  Whether it reflects
contemporary views or projects troublesome ideas is a worthwhile discussion.
That Simone has identified the contradictions inherent in the industry
regarding positive and negative roles points to the larger concern for
contradictory messages, and portrayals in a variety of media industries
(including games), which presents a challenge to our diverse and constantly
evolving culture.
Thanks for the chance to soap box.
Dave Trautman
University of Alberta
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