Young People Ask . . .
Does It Matter Which Movies I See?
‘MOVIES don’t really influence me,’ claims one teenager named Karen, ‘because I go to movies to get shocked and scared, just to be entertained.’ Many youths make a similar claim of being immune to the influence of films. Young Georgia, however, disagrees. Having seen a number of R-rated movies, she says: “You never forget those scenes . . . The more you think about them, the more you find yourself wanting to do what you’ve seen.”*
Movies are immensely popular among youths. In one recent year, 36 percent of the more than 113 million who lined up at movie houses across the United States were in their teens. Millions more are enjoying films in the privacy of their homes by means of videocassettes or cable-TV movies. Of course, all of us need relaxation and entertainment from time to time. Such diversion can refresh and stimulate the mind. For many youths, seeing a movie is one way to accomplish this and fill an otherwise dull afternoon or evening. But just which movies will you view? Does it really matter?
Movies—The Current Trends
“Hedonism, sexuality, violence, greed, selfishness.” According to child psychiatrist Robert Coles, these are the values predominating in most movies being produced today. Research spearheaded by Dr. Vince Hammond similarly concluded that “most of the films shown in the industrialized countries contained at least some violence, with many being rated violent or highly violent.” Hammond’s researchers surveyed 1,000 films from a variety of countries. Their conclusion? “The production of violent films is a global problem.”
Particularly popular among youths are horror films, portraying satanic possession, rape, and bloodletting by the most diabolical of means. As Dr. Neil Senior, quoted in Seventeen magazine, put it, these films “portray everything that every family would not want to have happen to them.” Yet, many youths line up to see them.
There has also been a marked increase in sexually explicit films. And according to one university professor, “the biggest consumers of sexually explicit videos in Canada are young people between 12 and 17 and it may be warping their attitudes about sexual behavior.”
The movie industry does not seem to be too concerned, however. Variety magazine reports that films featuring graphic violence and sex are on the increase, while wholesome, family films are hardly being made at all. Is it possible, then, that viewing unsavory films might affect you negatively?
The Assault on Your Eyes and Ears
Movies amount to a powerful assault on the senses. Jesus said that “the lamp of the body is the eye.” (Matthew 6:22) And what you see can have a profound effect upon you. As one encyclopedia put it, “the mind follows the eyes.” Normally, your mind controls what your eyes choose to focus on and see. But when you focus on the larger-than-life images that move across the big screen, you can virtually surrender your mind to the will of the moviemaker. Some become so engrossed in a film that they may need a firm nudge in the side to break the spell cast by a movie.
“The hearing ear” also strongly influences your thoughts and deeds. (Proverbs 20:12) The mesmerizing visual images and spoken words are reinforced by music that can stir the emotions, generating fear, excitement, anger, passion. As a result, films can convey such a sense of realism that some viewers have difficulty separating the real from the make-believe.
The Assault on Your Mind and Morals
The perspective or viewpoint of a movie can also greatly influence your reaction to it. Moviemakers thus try to make viewers identify with the characters portrayed—even when the hero is a criminal or a sadistic, power-hungry person.* If you are not careful, you may find yourself rooting for a criminal!
Consider how one audience reacted to a recent horror spoof involving a razor-fingered maniac who slashed his way through a series of scenes. They cheered the bloodletting killer on! Led along by the mind-manipulating camera, the audience seemingly lost its sense of values—and all compassion for the victims.
How contrary this is to the Bible’s admonition not to rejoice over another’s disaster! (Proverbs 17:5) It is a direct contradiction of Jesus’ Golden Rule—to ‘do to others as you want them to do to you.’ (Matthew 7:12) Furthermore, can cheering on murder be compatible with the Bible’s urgings to be “tenderly compassionate”? (Ephesians 4:32) Does it not amount to aligning oneself with “the congregation of evildoers”?—Psalm 26:4, 5.
You might feel, however, that the effect of a movie is temporary, short-lived. And admittedly, you are not likely to begin slashing everyone in sight because this was portrayed in some movie. However, a New Zealand newspaper reports that there is “growing evidence linking violent films and videos with violent behaviour by some of those who watch them.” The book Adolescence likewise referred to many studies of the relationship between “TV violence and aggressive behavior” and acknowledged that there is “mounting evidence” of a link between the two.
There have also been news reports of gruesome and reckless acts committed in response to scenes in movies. One youth, for example, died from injuries suffered in attempting a handstand on the hood of a speeding pickup truck. He had recently seen this stunt performed in a popular movie. So it is not entirely unreasonable to suggest that a film might affect your actions.
More often, though, films exert a far more subtle influence. For example, do not many of your peers endeavor to talk, dress, and groom themselves like certain screen idols? Is this not evidence of strong movie influence? In other cases, watching the wrong movies appears to have an eroding effect upon a youth’s moral values. Researcher Dr. Thomas Radecki thus claims that prolonged exposure to violent movies “leads to an increased desensitization toward violence.”
The Bible says: “Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one, and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” (Psalm 11:5) Could a steady diet of violent films affect your attitude toward violence? Could you begin to find violence entertaining, even amusing? And is it even possible that you could find yourself more prone than before to settle problems and differences with force? Well did Proverbs 10:23 say: “Crime is the entertainment of the fool.”—New American Bible.
And what of your Christian morals? Could exposure to graphic sex and nudity push into the back of your mind the wrongness and sad consequences of premarital sex? Could it erode your ‘hatred of what is bad’?—Psalm 97:10.
Writer Jane Burgess-Kohn tells of the experience of a girl named Jeanie. After “watching a very sexy movie” with her date, Jeanie admitted to becoming “turned on” to the point of engaging in heavy petting. However, she was not able to stop there. “I’m sorry to say,” confessed Jeanie, “that night I was easy to persuade to have sexual intercourse. I still don’t know what happened that I lost all sense of reason. I didn’t even particularly like the guy!”
Unquestionably, then, movies have the power to influence your heart, your thoughts, and your behavior. Should you not therefore be selective about what you watch? A future article will discuss this.
In the United States, no one under 17 is supposed to be admitted (unless accompanied by a parent or a guardian) to any film rated R, or restricted, by the Motion Picture Association of America. Such films generally contain graphic violence, foul language, or graphic sex and nudity. All too often, though, the restrictions are not enforced, and youths are allowed admittance.
An experiment reported in Science News showed that viewers tend to be profoundly affected by what they see “regardless of how fanciful the show seems” as long as they ‘closely identify with a TV or movie character.’
[Blurb on page 11]
“You never forget those scenes . . . The more you think about them, the more you find yourself wanting to do what you’ve seen”
[Blurb on page 12]
There is “growing evidence linking violent films and videos with violent behaviour by some of those who watch them”
[Picture on page 10]
Caught in the spell of a movie, audiences often cheer on murder, theft, and sexual immorality