You might claim you’re not a movie addict or you’re just not up to date with movies that are playing in the cinema at the moment … but you can’t claim that you don’t know quite a few movie quotes, which have become iconic. Not only quotes, even situations.
Imagine a bathroom and a shorthaired girl taking a shower. The shower curtain is floating in the background, and we are able to see a slight shadow moving from one corner to the other. Without further hints, how would you imagine this scene ends? Probably with a crazy murderer holding a knife in his hand, which is a renowned scene from Hitchcock’s movie, Psycho, which has been playing with our minds since 1960.
Mass media has produced a new kind of collective memory, and with endless repetitions of specific movies the world has internalized its content. To truly explore this claim I decided to gather a group of six people aged 19 to 52 and inform them they will participate in a relaxed focus group. Coming from different backgrounds and having different life styles, they seemed like a perfect group to discuss how television content influences the way they see the world and the way they act in it.
Starting our conversation with the holidays and the movies they watch on television during Christmas, I quickly got a common response: Home Alone. Everybody has watched it. Everybody has watched it more than once. In addition to remembering all the hilarious pranks Kevin used to get rid of the burglars, and his parents’ panic attacks, the movie had a further influence. All the people in the focus group occasionally deal with the thought that someone will break in into their apartments when they are away on holidays. Almost the same situation is repeated when you mention Chucky – the first thing that comes to people’s minds is a porcelain puppet. Not just any puppet, but a crazy-eyed, scary-faced puppet portrayed as a notorious serial killer whose spirit inhabits a doll and has become one of the most recognizable horror icons. The main legacy Chucky’s movies have left behind is fear of porcelain puppets.
When I asked about romantic movies and their influence on the women in the group, comments expanded into long self-explanations: “I always wanted to have a big white wedding with a prince almost entering on a horse. Then, at the age of 32 when I was actually planning the wedding somehow all of the insights I got from movies came to the surface … Thoughts running through my head were: I want to have 6 bridesmaids, I want to have an enormous garden for 200 people, I want my husband to sing at some point during the ceremony. I want, I want, I want … At that time I was bothering my fiancé to the extent that we got into a big fight and I realized it’s not worth losing a great man over so called perfect situations I’ve been monitoring on TV.” The other one confirmed: “I tend to either idealize men or look for a perfect match … and that’s probably why I’m still single”.
On the other hand the men in the group identify themselves with specific sitcoms such as Californication. Its main character, Hank Moody, is the perfect daydream for almost every guy on the planet: a hard-drinking, unrepentant womanizer who, when not busy bedding nearly every female character who crosses the screen, also happens to write brilliant novels. “With his easy-going, I don’t give a fu** attitude, his old Porsche 964 Cabriolet, and his collection of the best rock music he embodies everything I wanted to be during my puberty” claimed the first. The second man in the group confirmed this thought by saying: “It’s true. The main character is living a ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ life and in a certain stage of every man’s life you identify with him and occasionally find yourself in a situation when you do some ‘heavy’ stuff. Not to the same extent as Hank of course, but there are some things you can’t be really proud of.”
Identifying with television characters is a widespread psychological phenomenon, and according to people involved in a focus group, it influences their daily lives.
Child-oriented movies are more powerful than most television sitcoms or TV shows for children. Because the characters are more developed, people tend to become more emotionally bonded to these characters and stories, which take on a deeper emotional significance to the viewer. During our conversations, people in the group highlighted the fact that after watching cartoons in their childhood they started dividing people into two kinds; the good and the bad. Sure, they have learned there is more than just this simple generalization, but they still admit that right after they meet new people they put them on one or the other side. Let’s think of Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes and all of Disney’s movies from Lion King, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast to modern ones such as Shrek, Tangled and Frozen. The influence of cartoon scenes on collective memory is observable with children who are able to quote lines and songs. And all of these movies include strong and well-established “bad” and “good” characters.
Houston, we do have a problem not realizing how much we are being influenced by the TV content we mostly saw in our childhood. It has been proved that young children who have watched a large amount of television have been known to react in an unnatural way to certain situations, which has been known to lead to overreacting, because they remember seeing it in situations on television. Women have started to compare themselves with happy families, perfect love relationships and consequently have ruined their marriages due to the over-romanticized idealized television series they’ve been watching. The same thing is happening with men, just that they are going completely in opposite directions. These new kinds of collective memory, created by mass media, are leaving fingerprints all over us and admit it or not, we are living by principles the movies are feeding us.