How do movies or television influence people’s behavior?

Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.

This question seems simple enough, but it certainly opens up a debate among movie and television enthusiasts and viewers. While most people would agree that watching either form of media does little to change their behavior, there are others who point to certain television shows or movies that have changed their lives. For example, many people claim that in the 2010 HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’ (GOT) they gained a better understanding of how the world works and, therefore, how they should live their lives. Others might cite the films ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Fight Club’ as influential in their desire to change their lives for the better. However, these anecdotal examples fail to convey why specific addictions or behaviors are changed or how such behaviors are changed.

There is some truth to the notion that watching certain movies or television shows can influence one’s behavior. Nevertheless, the influence is subtle and indirect. A viewer of television or movie content is more likely to adopt a new behavior because of the content of the program itself rather than because of the content consumed. For example, viewers of ‘Game of Thrones’ may be influenced by the complex interpersonal relationships that the characters display, or by the intense plots and situations the characters face. The viewer may gravitate toward these characteristics because he or she wishes to develop stronger relationships or, conversely, avoid developing them out of fear of experiencing similar situations. However, the viewer is far more likely to adopt these behaviors because he or she watches the show. Not because the show itself promotes such behavior, but because the viewer has similar values and beliefs.

Meanwhile, the movie or television show itself is rarely responsible for altering viewers’ behavior. Most movies or television shows have catchy music, a catchy premise, or strong characters. These draw viewers in, and viewers often become engrossed by these elements of the program, not because of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior shown in the story, but because they are drawn into the story itself. A viewer may, for example, become addicted to the action-packed plot of a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie, not because of the driving behavior of characters in the film, but because of the adrenaline-pumping action. The viewer may adopt poor driving habits because the action in the film causes him or her to want to drive fast, not because the driving behavior depicted in the film influences the viewer’s behavior.

Movie or television content can affect the behavior of viewers who, for whatever reason, lack interest in the content of the program. Television and movie advertisements are often designed to appeal to viewers, and advertisements that portray the content in a positive light can influence the viewer’s purchase behavior. For example, a viewer who sees an advertisement for a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie may be more likely to purchase the car featured in the movie than if the advertisement had focused on the importance of driving safely. However, the viewer is more likely to purchase the car because of his or her interest in the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, not because of any inherent good driving behavior.

Similarly, popular movies may create a cult following. These fans have no qualms about dressing up as their favorite characters and emulating their behaviors. However, it is difficult to say that these fans’ behaviors are changed because of the program. Their behaviors are changed because they identify with the main characters or, in the case of the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies, they like the driving behaviors portrayed in the films.

Movie and television content can influence the behavior of viewers, but it changes their behavior because they identify with the characters, not because of the behaviors portrayed.