How Entertainment Can Influence Thoughts and Actions
"It's just entertainment. It doesn't affect me." That common viewpoint especially among young people is naive at best. While it almost goes without saying that few people will allow something they see or hear in media to turn them into killers or rapists, for better or worse, it's clear that media does have the power to influence our thoughts, actions and behaviors. Consider a few examples:
- The Harry Potter series has cast a spell worldwide. In Britain, a broom maker reported a spike in sales, explaining, "Children have seen them in the film and ask their parents to buy them one." The Hexenschule, a European school of witchcraft, credits J.K. Rowling's boy wizard with increased enrollment. Elsewhere, American schools have adapted the high-flying game Quiddich for use in gym class, and a young woman in Spain burned her house halfway to the ground while attempting to brew a potion like her Hogwarts heroes.
- In June 2006, the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that teens who absorbed sexually explicit entertainment the most frequently were up to 2.2 times more likely to have had sexual intercourse by ages 14 to 16 than those who had been exposed the least. [medialifemagazine.com, 3/22/06; Journal of Adolescent Health , 3/06; Reuters, 4/3/06]
- In December 2003, the legal defense team of Lee Boyd Malvo (the 18-year-old convicted as one of the Washington-area snipers) argued that violent media was used to desensitize the teen to killing. Lawyers showed the jury clips from movies and video games that were allegedly used to "brainwash" Malvo. They included a scene from The Matrix wherein characters Neo and Trinity gun down policemen. Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist, testified, "Exposure to entertainment violence desensitizes people to violence, makes it seem more acceptable. These people have more violent thoughts and actions." This phenomenon occurs in millions who feast on violent fare, even if they don't take that desensitization to murderous extremes.
- During the Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt, audiences were shown the photo of a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy cared for by Childreach, an actual nonprofit organization. Donations to Childreach soared. The humanitarian group, which recruits U.S. sponsors for children in developing countries, had been receiving three sponsorships per day on its Web site. When the film went nationwide, that figure rose to 80.
- How do you spike popular interest in battered, broken, bloody corpses? Make them the centerpiece of a TV show. Since the 2000 debut of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," colleges and universities have noticed a large increase in the number of students taking forensics classes. And some insiders are fingering CSI as the inspiration. A representative from Manhattans Pace University credits the CBS series as a major force in its decision to add new undergraduate and grad-school degree programmes in the field. And The American Academy of Forensic Sciences says that 25 people per week are calling regarding forensic careers, a five-fold increase. [EW.com, 8/14/02]
- A study funded by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine has found that the more cigarette marketing teens see in retail stores, the more likely they are to pick up the habit. Sandy Slater, who led the study, dogmatically commented, "Restricting these marketing practices would reduce youth smoking." Researchers evaluated the effect of point-of-purchase advertising on a nationally representative sample of 26,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders from 1999 to 2003. [AP, 5/8/07 c&e]
- The scene in Mission: Impossible 2 of Tom Cruises mountaintop experience involving instructions received via his sunglasses caused Oakley sunglass sales to soar to $100 million in the quarter following the movies release up 39 percent from the same quarter the previous year. Not a bad return on a $100,000 product placement investment! (Robert Smithouser. Movie Nights, Tyndale House, 2002)
- In 1988, a Dallas morning deejay asked his listeners to send him $20, without giving them a reason. Within a week, the radio station had received over $240,000. (Stan Campbell and Randy Southern. Mind Over Media , Tyndale House, 2001)
- "All too many people read novels or see films and think they're experiencing reality. ... According to the Barna Group, 24% of those who read The Da Vinci Code said it 'aided their spiritual growth and understanding.' In other words, one in four of its readers believe the book's thesis (as opposed to its story line) is true." columnist Don Feder, referring to how Dan Brown's controversial book has influenced some readers [grasstopsusa.com, 5/16/06]
- A brief candy cameo in E.T. The Extraterrestrial immediately sent sales of Reeses Pieces into orbit. Sales increased 65 percent after the films release. (Robert Smithouser. Movie Nights , Tyndale House, 2002)
- Wham-o, Inc. is convinced that movies can have a powerful influence on children. That's why it sued the makers of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star for irresponsibly depicting its Slip 'N Slide toy in the movie. A character throws himself onto a dry Slip 'N Slide, leaving his chest covered in welts. Later he greases it, causing him to slide uncontrollably into a fence. A Wham-O spokesman expressed concern that children might copy that "reckless" behavior and severely injure themselves.
- Following the 2004 release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ , detectives from Richmond, Texas, reported that a repentant man who had just watched the movie confessed to killing a woman two months prior. Police had concluded that the woman, Ashley Nicole Wilson, had committed suicide until Dan Leach, 21, told authorities that he had murdered her. On a more upbeat note, after a showing of The Passion in Colorado Springs, Colo., a theatergoer announced, "I'm a pastor. If any of you would like to know more about Jesus Christ and how He is important in your life, come up front." More than a dozen people accepted his invitation. There's no telling how often similar scenes occurred in cinemas coast to coast.