cinematic persuasion n.
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Cinematic Persuasion

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  1. “Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings. Mainly happy endings.” Griffin Mill (in Robert Altman’s The Player, on what a movie needs to make money). Cinematic Persuasion

  2. Cinema’s Power to Persuade • Movies are a form of entertainment • They are also a business (show business) • they are also a form of persuasion • Movies reach large numbers of people • potential for mass influence • Movies are told in a narrative form • stories possess an aura of believability

  3. Cinematic influence • “All serious evaluations of movie and television versions of American life suggest that pop culture portrays a world that is far more violent, dangerous, sexually indulgent…than everyday American reality” (Medved, 2002) • People may not expect to be persuaded during a movie • “willing suspension of disbelief” • Movies can persuade intentionally or unintentionally • intentional persuasion • accidental influence • Social responsibility versus artistic freedom

  4. Movies and social modeling • Young people aged 15 to 24 are the most frequent movie goers. • Only 1 in 4 movies portray no risky health behaviors (positive examples include Castaway and Sixth Sense) • The movie industry rarely portrays negative consequences of risky behavior (such as HIV, pregnancy, DUI, etc.) Harold & Kumar In Escape from Guantanamo

  5. Social modeling: thank youfor smoking • Smoking rates in cinema are disproportionately higher than for the public at large (Omidvari, et al 2005). • Over the past six years more than half of the movies geared toward children feature characters smoking. In more than a quarter of the movies, actors light up cigars (AMA, 2008). • Teenagers are significantly more likely to start smoking if they watch movies featuring stars who smoke cigarettes (Dalton, 2003) • 89% of smoking is initiated during adolescence (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1996) •

  6. Movies and risky behavior • More negative social modeling • Unsafe sex: • 98% of movies with sex scenes make no mention of safe sex (Gunasekera & Chapman, 2005):. • Drug and alcohol use: • Movies with cannabis (8%) and other non-injected illicit drugs (7%) were less common than those with alcohol intoxication (32%) and tobacco use (68%) • Buckling up: • seat belt usage in movies is quite low, typically between 10-30% (Jacobsen, Kreuter, Luke, & Caburnay The national average is closer to 70%.

  7. Positive social modeling occurs too • Finding Nemo normalizes disabilities • Nemo has an underdeveloped “lucky” fin • Nemo’s father suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome • Dory has short-term memory loss • Bruce the shark is in a 12 step program • A squid has incontinence (cannot retain its ink)

  8. Cinema and social change • Films often advance cultural awareness and social change • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner • Easy Rider • Thelma & Louise • Brokeback Mountain

  9. How movies persuade: stealth advertising • Product placement- the practice of inserting brand name items into the movie scenes is commonplace • (lists placements in movies) • Types of placement • Visual • Spoken • Usage • Apple has placed products in more than 1,500 TV shows. • Apple is just as popular on the big screen, showing up in hits from "You've Got Mail" to "How to Lose a Guy in 10 days."" • Films are carefully crafted, detailed works of art

  10. How movies persuade: Promoting viewer identification • Stories in films overlaps with viewers’ own experience, so they can relate to the message in the movie • viewers identify closely with characters who face a crisis or adversity • example: Movies like Rudy and Seabiscuit champion the little guy.

  11. How movies persuade: exporting American culture and values • American movies export Western cultures and values around the globe • Movies are one of America’s three leading exports • Negative side- foreign audiences are not too thrilled with the emphasis on materialism, sex, and violence in the movies. • Positive side- movies can embrace values such as freedom, equality, and human rights

  12. How movies persuade: exporting American culture and values • Fashions, hairstyles, lifestyles are often imitated • Movies are vehicles for advertising

  13. Movies and violence • Movies often serve as guides for social behavior • viewers often act out, model, imitate what they see on screen • Research on violence in video games, television, movies, and the Internet found that those exposed to movie violence demonstrated more pro-violence attitudes (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004). • 26 per cent of adults still have "residual anxiety" many years after viewing horror movies in childhood.

  14. Movies and violence • Hollywood routinely recruits teenagers and children (some as young as nine) to evaluate its story concepts, commercials, theatrical trailers and rough cuts—even for R-rated movies. • The FTC studied 44 restricted films meant for adults, and discovered that 80 per cent were targeted to children under 17.

  15. Cultural and Gender Stereotypes • Hollywood frequently typecasts minorities, cultural groups, and women, overweight people, the elderly, and other groups into limited roles • Legally Blonde perpetuates the “dumb blonde” stereotype • Shallow Hal gives people permission to make fun of fat people • Jackie Chan fills the image of the martial artist who is sexually/romantically awkward • Arab American community refers to the “Three Bs” syndrome. Arabs in movies and on TV are: • bombers • belly dancers • billionaires.

  16. Hollywood blazes a path • Oscar winning actor,Morgan Freeman, brings a sense of authority, dignity, and gravitas to the roles he plays. • He played the role of president of the United States in the movie Deep Impact (1998) and the role of god in God Almighty (2003). • Is it possible he made the idea of an African American president more “thinkable”? • Dennis Haysbert and D.B. Woodside also played the Commander in Chief in the Fox TV series 24. • Can Obama’s election be seen as a case of “life imitates art”?

  17. Cultivation Theory • Cultivation Theory predicts that heavy exposure to movies and TV may cultivate attitudes more consistent with the media version of reality than with reality itself. • “Heavy” viewers have a more distorted view of the world than “Light” viewers • Heavy viewers develop a view of a “mean, scary world” • Movies and TV provide biased, stereotyped depictions of reality, which can distort the beliefs of heavy viewers

  18. Based on a true story? • Plotlines and details may be “loosely based,” or may be based on false assertions • Amityville Horror: “The truth …was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” ( • Texas Chain Saw Massacre: “there was no real family of cannibalistic chainsaw murderers slaughtering people in Texas, nor any actual series of chainsaw-related killings.” (

  19. Documentaries • Bowling for Columbine: documentary or “mock-umentary”? • Supersize Me: documentary or “shock-umentary”? • Beware of docu-dramas • Time compression • Composite characters • Re-shot footage (example, reaction shots filmed at a different time)

  20. Resistance to Cinematic Persuasion • Do not let your guard down • Realize “it’s only a movie” not real life • Be aware of product placements • Assume the director will opt for a good narrative over accuracy • Be informative and seek knowledge