How Films Impacts Mass Culture and How It Has the Power to Shape Public Opinion

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Film, the seventh art, is the art of our time per excellence. Invented in the twentieth century, it did not substitute any other arts: painting, theater photography, music or literature; film lends itself particularly well to reflect, sometimes to anticipate, the air of time. It can bring to light many aspects of the culture of an era. But more than being a mirror of its time, film has been and remains a formidable vector of cultural influence for countries that make the choice to use it well. Unlike other entertainment means, film continues to show insolent economic health with nearly a dozen movies that have reached the billion USD of revenue. And as a mass media, it has also become a medium of propaganda and influence in the twentieth century, a privileged too, for the communication of certain State, which, by desire of need have celebrated their own model. In this respect, the operation of the Marshall Plan, which made it possible to reconstruct Western Europe after the Second World War, is revealing. The cultural component of the Marshal Plan, particularly using film, was a vector for disseminating American culture and values in Europe; the confirmed purpose of which was to divert Europeans from all Marxist temptation and to make them more accepting of the resulting economic domination such as the economic component of the Plan and the Bretton Woods agreements. Additionally, films showcasing American society in the best light, helped European viewers adhere to the American model and consume products from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Though, we will see in more detail how film influences culture by functioning as a soft power directed by nations who wish to spread their culture in the world; how it impacts mass culture and how it has the power to shape public opinion.

The process of cinematographic influence is quite old; before the war Joseph Goebbels has already understood all the advantage he could derive from this already immensely popular medium. Films like The Triumph of the Will were, as early as the 1930s, models of propaganda. However, it is in the USSR with S.M Eisenstein that the cultural influence via the cinema would know its first big hours. Important director, also poured into propaganda with world like Battleship Potemkin, he knew how to evolve towards a cinema more focused on the influence through the denunciation of vices of power.

Nevertheless, the USSR and USA who, as we know, also clashed with each other through culture, this engaged in a merciless cinematographic struggle where on each side of the wall we could see the same films, only the nationalities of the heroes being reversed. This strategy of influence by the cinema continues today as evidenced by the violent controversy that took place in South Korea when in 2006 the government, following American pressure, decided to lower the quotas of diffusion of Korean film to obtain the signing of a bilateral investment treaty. Until then, Korean cinema remained one of the most dynamic in Asia with a very marked and immediately recognizable aesthetics as well as an abundance of ideas of synopsis (I highly recommend). In the other hand, Hollywood remains of course the center of the cinematographic world and the most powerful machinery of cultural influence. However, other states start or resume using film as a vector of influence. China has financed since the early 2000s a number of quality films to promote its history ands culture such as The Forbidding Kingdome (2008) that successfully benefited the Chinese soft power. Russia itself is starting again in this area, following the success of China, with films like Admiral (2008). Soft power expresses itself through all possible vectors because the goal, which is admitted but not displayed, is to seduce a population to make it easier to accept the adoption of a certain social as well as an economic way of life. The cinema, an industry that does not seem to know any economic crisis, is still today the best ally of states whishing to pass a message designed to smooth or enhance their image.

Our way of thinking and seeing the world is certainly conditioned, whether through education, culture, beliefs or the influence of external sources. Among these external sources, some are common to a large part of the Western world, be it the fairy tales that form the base of the childlike imagination on which man develops, or the fables and their morals learned from childhood, which formed us somehow for the real world, sometimes showing us a harsh reality. The twentieth century mass arts such as film have an even greater influence on us. Certainly, some films have been watched by millions of people, hitting their imaginations and becoming references for everyone. Often these films reflect concepts and school of thoughts that have existed for a long time; filmmakers just give a new adaption for their time period. The screenwriters usually take existing myths for their films: the myth of the cave, the creation of the world, the theme of the resurrection or the apocalypse. They are reused in movies for the general public, coated with special effects and played by famous actors. These films attract thousands of spectators, most of them coming not for the philosophical content but for the entertaining spectacle. In this sense, cinema is closer to the theater: spectators come to laugh or cry and often come out more educated and often indoctrinated, filled with patriotic values and respect for their nation. Though, film has more power than theater on minds and culture, especially nowadays, the realism of the images and special effects make affects us more than theater. These worlds created by cinema influence our culture because like any myth they become a reference for our reality.

Lastly, there are various means used in the cinema that make the public adhere to the system of ideas defended by the film. After the viewer leaves the cinema, his judgment on the ideas and problems shown in the film surely evolve; he was influenced by the vision of the director and the screenwriter. For instance, in order to change the public’s opinion in his favor, the filmmaker uses their emotions and guides them in favor of the system of ideas he defends. To do this, he seeks to create an emotional bond between the heroes of the film and the viewer. The cinema has the power to get us out of ourselves, to make us go inside the storyline in order to take the sides of the hero. This phenomenon, common to all the arts, that one could name empathy or assimilation of the character by the spectator is more important in the cinema. We can assume that this is due to the extreme realism of projected images, unlike reading.

In addition, the cinema is a collective experience, and emotions are multiplied when many of us feel them at the same time. The screenwriter creates heroes that will resemble the audience, or who will be idealized models for them (like superheroes). The audience will assimilate to these characters, which allows room for manipulation; in fact, the audience can even assimilate to a hero that does not necessarily share the same ethics as them and unconsciously adopt the hero’s point of view. One example is Stanly Kubrick’s movie Orange Mechanical, released in 1971. This film tells the story of Alex DeLarge, a young English delinquent passionate about gratuitous violence and Beethoven. The film makes us sympathetic to this character despite his immorality and we feel throughout the film compassion for him. The filmmaker wanted to show the absurdity of depriving a man of the right to choose between good and bad and satirizing a totalitarian society seeking to organize itself according to scientific standards. But the film, misunderstood at its release was judged by some as homage of violence, which provoked a wave of gratuitous violence across England, forcing the director to withdraw the film for fear of revenges. One might think that this wave of violence is due to the influence this film had on the youth, distorting their reasoning and making them believes that violence was normal and entertaining. Thus, the scenario of a film influences the public’s opinion and changes their way of thinking.

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