Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sherlock ‘Chip’ Holmes to the Rescue

Over the last couple of weeks or so, there’s been an interesting mini-debate of sorts taking place via the Shooting People Screenwriting bulletin along the lines that exposure to film and TV images can have (supposedly) a corrupting influence.

Here’s Alan McKenna:

It seems exposure to violent images predisposes us to greater tolerance of violence. Not a lot of doubt I'm afraid.

And here’s Allen O’Leary:

I've come across some interesting research lately about TV watching and behaviour. Take a read of this http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/09/25/risky.behaviors.tv.may.be. (...)

Precis: If you haven't had the experience of a risky sexual behaviour and you watch programs that show that risky behaviour you are more likely do it later REGARDLESS of whether the consequences of the behaviour are shown to be bad in the program.

That's very interesting indeed and implies there is a critical failure in programs that supposedly model bad behaviour as an 'educational' device - they could back-fire horribly...

And here’s Elisabeth Pinto:

My conclusion... was it was nigh-on impossible to make an anti-war film even if the film explicitly set out to do so. Not for physiological reasons per se but because of the nature of film narrative (which may amount to the same thing). By giving a sense of control over events (A happens, followed by B, followed by C etc), it is only too easy to project yourself into the action in a positive way. Which you end up doing because film romanticises and mythologises everything. And we all know how human beings yearn for myths...

With all due respect to these good people, I’m convinced that they are all totally, utterly wrong. But instead of merely stating that they’re wrong and leaving it at that, armed with my Psychology A level, I’m going to dig about and unearth some evidence as to why. In the meantime, here’s I.C. Jarvie from his book Towards a Sociology of the Cinema:

While people believed (believe?) that film and television do influence their children, and that if the programming is bad, then their children will be, too. Studies such as those done by Himmelwit (TV and the Child, London, 1958) and Schramm (TV in the Lives of Our Children, Stanford, 1961) reveal that this is untrue. Film may influence us toward good or evil, but if it does, then the way we are is much more complicated than what it seems to be on the surface, and it could even possibly be counterintuitive.

11 comments:

John Soanes said...

Oddly enough, just yesterday I read this law report, in which psychologists etc stated that studies did not suggest that there was a link between TV violence and criminal behaviour and/or aggression... dunno if that necessarily helps the discussion, mind.
J

Lucy said...

My kids watch TV violence - no problems there. Honest.

One thing I've always wondered: if what you see doesn't influence you at all, then come TV advertising works?

Chip Smith said...

Usually when things of this type get to court they're thrown out, and rightly so in my opinion. I haven't seen anything that convinces me that TV/film violence influences behaviour, and even the studies that 'prove' it are very easy to debunk (are always are).

Chip Smith said...

Lucy - I'm not sure that it does, to be honest. I don't think you can categorically state that ALL TV advertising works - some of it does, sure, but I think there's more to the question of 'influence' than we like to think (ie, there are a huge variety of motivating factors, not just one).

What wound me up about the Shooting People debate is that the issue was treated in such a simplistic way. I don't think that 'influence' is something that can be switched on and off just by watching TV - if it was, wouldn't we all be driving round in Sinclair C5s? ;-)

John Soanes said...

The problem with the whole argument - from either side - is that there are so many other factors at play; TV may well be one of a number of factors, but the others are more social and political, which is less easy to point at - you're unlikely to hear many politicians saying 'young people today see violence as a solution to disagreement because we the House voted in favour of an unjustified war' or anything so self-aware and involved. Blaming TV's like pointing at some other or external evil that's at fault, and is far easier than looking into the more nebulous and less easily-soundbited topics at play in society.

And Lucy, I'm not so sure advertising does work, really. But don't get worked up about whether it does or not, just relax. Take a break. Have a Coke and a Smile. Just do it.

J

Chip Smith said...

I don't think the media exhibits any kind of strange, hypnotic power over its audience, which is sort of the opposite to where the Shooting People debate was going. As John said, there are a huge amount of factors at play - some even in direct contradition to each other - that makes the whole question of 'influence' a hugely knotty and difficult issue. It's not really something that can be solved by saying, 'TV and film affects behaviour - end of story.' This way of thinking often provies a rationale for censorship, which is never good.

Chip Smith said...

Or 'contradiction' even! Doh.

Adrian Reynolds said...

Well, here's the thing...when it comes to the influence of media on behaviour, people get all kinds of defensive about it impacting on violence. Yet there is a form of television which undoubtedly affects behaviour, and which billions are spent on every year for precisely that reason. That industry is advertising, and there is no doubt at all about its impact. So, if people can be influence to purchase Product A instead of Product B, or vote for Candidate X rather than Candidate Y, is it so far fetched to suggest that other forms of influence might be possible..?

Chip Smith said...

I think my point here is that it's not SOLELY about the influence that TV supposedly has - there are a wide variety of influences that are also brought to bear as well, such as habits, traditions, interests and personal relationships. To try and pin it all on one pervading 'influence' is wrong, in my opinion. Advertising falls under the same heading, and of course we all know that all advertising is not necessarily successful.

I'm not saying that TV doesn't influence - I just think it needs to be looked at in a wider context without assuming that it's the sole 'influencer'.

Adrian Reynolds said...

Agreed: there's a whole bunch of factors involved. But I think the undoubted success of advertising demonstrates that tv does impact behaviour. As one big ad spender said (paraphrased) 'I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. Trouble is, I don't know which half.' Also check out Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' for the story of how Superman's early screen adventures helped to bring down the KKK...

Chip Smith said...

You've just reminded me, Adrian, that I need to get my copy of The Tipping Point back from a friend of mine I lent it to some time ago (Blink is excellent as well).

Back to the point, I think GOOD advertising works - but again there are a host of other issues that impact upon consumption patterns, which is why advertising is such an imprecise, even subjective 'science'. The recent Brit film THREE AND OUT is a case in point perhaps - it had a huge advertising presence, but the box office returns were minimal...