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So there was a mass shooting during a Batman movie and, goddamn it, it turned out the killer owned a Batman mask and called himself “The Joker.” By now, several talking heads have come to the conclusion that the movie somehow triggered the massacre, or whatever. You know the game at this point — sadly, we’ve seen this whole cycle play out more than once.
As always, this knee-jerk reaction by old, scared talking heads will predictably result in most of our audience scoffing and saying that movies can’t influence people to do anything, because movies are make-believe and every non-crazy member of the audience knows how to separate fact from fiction.
Well, the thing is … that is equally wrong. But not for the reason the talking heads think.
#5. No, You Can’t Separate Fact from Fiction
You’ve seen Braveheart, right? You know that’s based on a historical event — the movie makes it clear that Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, was a real guy who really lived in Scotland back in the horse and castle days. You also know that Hollywood spiced things up for the movie — the real Wallace probably never assassinated a dude and then jumped his horse off a balcony in slow motion.
So if you don’t mind, just quickly tell me which parts were fiction. Without looking it up.
Probably the part where more than the six people directly in front of him could hear what he was saying during that speech.
Like the evil king they were fighting — was he a real historical figure, too? What about Wallace’s palooka friend, Hamish? Or the crazy Irish sidekick? Were those real guys? That part where Mel Gibson’s main ally (Robert the Bruce) betrayed him and sided with the English in that big battle (aka the turning point of the entire story)— did that really happen? What about the bit at the end, where Wallace has sex with that princess, revealing that the future king of England would actually be Mel Gibson’s son? That’s the most historically important thing in the whole film, surely that was true, right?
You don’t know, do you? But who cares, right? It’s not like that impacts your life at all. It’s just historical trivia. OK, now consider this: After Jaws hit theaters, we nearly drove sharks to extinction with feverish hunting, to the point that their populations may never recover.
“Fetch my spear gun. These bastards will pay for what they did to Quint!”
Every single person who saw that movie knew that it was fiction, and that those characters were just actors. They probably knew that, in real life, there isn’t a shark big enough to eat your boat. But, when the genius scientist character in the movie agreed that killing the shark was the only way to prevent dead tourists, we assumed that part was true. The same as we assumed you could really blow up an oxygen tank by shooting it.
So, we killed all the sharks, based on what the make-believe movie told us.
Ah, but that’s one oddball isolated incident. Hey, did you know that after Top Gun, Navy aviator recruitment skyrocketed by as much as 500 fucking percent? Or that the number of kids taking martial arts classes exploded after The Karate Kid? Or that the popularity of the CSI TV shows has resulted in a glut of students going into forensic sciences? Or that I could cite examples of this until you hit your monthly bandwidth cap? How many of you left Fight Club thinking you knew how to make napalm? Which of us haven’t forced a baby to do that wanking motion after watching The Hangover?
“Dude, it’s not funny. You made him do the Nazi salute so much, he does it on his own now. Not cool.”
I know what some of you are already saying: “So, what, because some gullible people do what movies tell them, that means a Batman movie made that guy shoot up the theater? So I suppose watching Bridesmaids made us all start shitting in sinks.”
No. You’re intentionally reaching for examples where it doesn’t happen, and ignoring all of the ones where it does — even if some movie straight up told you to become a mass murderer, it’d be working against a lifetime of society pounding the opposite message into your brain. The point of this article isn’t to pin violence on movies. The point is that it’smuch bigger than that. Because …
#4. Stories Were Invented to Control You
This isn’t some paranoid conspiracy theory — it’s a fundamental part of how human culture came about. Ask yourself: Why do we go watch superhero movies? After all, variations of these stories about brave, superhuman heroes predate recorded history. We used to tell them around campfires before written language even existed.
They were created as a way to teach you how to behave.
Thousands of years ago, when your ancestors were living in tribes and hunting gazelles for food, nobody knew how to read. Even if they could, paper wasn’t a thing, parchment was rare and precious. They had no written historical records, they had no educational system that could devote years to teaching history to the kids.
This was a problem. Once humans started forming civilizations, the guys in charge didn’t just need the next generation of children to know how to fish and hunt, they needed citizens who would fall in line and fight for the tribe. That meant the kids needed to understand the big picture: why preserving the tribe is important, why we hate the tribe across the river, why our tribe is better than that tribe, why it’s important to go off and fight in the next war no matter how scared you are.
“Why don’t we all just pick fruit and have sex together? Oh, they worship a baby-eating rape-demon? Well that changes everything.”
Now, to do this, they could either A) bore the kids to death with a years-long recounting of the history of the tribe, which nobody has probably written down anyway or B) tell them a cool story. They could tell the thrilling tale of Kolgor the Valiant who, when the evil neighboring tribe came to slay all of the women and children, stood alone and fought bravely through the night, with four arrows in his chest, until the enemy retreated in terror. You want to be like Kolgor, don’t you, little one? Otherwise, he will have died in vain.
Clearly “B” is the one that is going to stick in the kid’s brain. It doesn’t matter that the story is either fiction or grossly exaggerated — it gets the job done, it makes the kid conform to be the kind of citizen the tribe needs him to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — your tribe may very well be better than the one across the river, your real history is probably full of real heroes whose sacrifices were just as important as, if less romantic than, Kolgor the Valiant’s. The tribe didn’t go with the fictional version because they were liars, they went with it because it was the only way for the “truth” to survive.
So while we use the word “myth” these days to mean “a lie that needs to be debunked,” often the myths were simply more efficient versions of the truth. They’re easier to remember, they don’t take as long to tell and they eliminate a lot of the messy ambiguities that can confuse the point. Also, they won’t bore the listener to tears.
“Hey, instead of history notes, I wrote down 716 words that mean ‘dick’.”
The point is, this is why stories were invented — to shape your brain in a certain way. A guy named Joseph Campbell wrote whole books about it, you should read them. These basic stories, these myths of the hero overcoming the odds, the great man who sacrifices himself for the greater good — they’re what make civilization go. In a society, the people and the buildings and the roads are the hardware, mythology is the software.
And while your ancestors had their heroes that they heard about around the campfire, you have Batman, and Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. And yes, the movies you watched this summer serve the same purpose as those ancient myths. Sometimes this is super obvious (clearly Rocky IV and The Day After Tomorrow are trying to cram a message into your brain with the subtlety of a sweatpants erection). But what’s the message behind James Bond? Or Iron Man?
“There isn’t one!”
That literally isn’t possible.
That’s like saying this sculpture is nothing more than men hugging the thighs of another man, their thumbs gently grazing his testicles.
You see …
#3. The Writer of a Story Always Has an Agenda
Quiz Time: What do these hugely popular hero characters all have in common?
Frodo from The Lord of the Rings
Finn from Adventure Time
Got it yet? They’re all orphans.
And that’s why all orphans wear capes.
That’s kind of weird, right? Do you think that’s a random choice? Do you think the writer just flipped a coin? Or do you think there’s an emotional button that is being pushed there, the writer reaching around the logical part of your brain and triggering something inside you without you knowing it?
That sounds devious, but those little subconscious tricks are Fiction Writing 101 (we covered a bunch of them here). It’s a scary power to entrust someone with, if you think about it. Especially if you, as the audience, don’t pay close attention to what they’re doing. You leave the theater a different person than you were when you came in. It’s a difference in millimeters, sure, but you’re going to watch a thousand hours of the stuff in the course of a year. It builds up.
“I think it’s high time I punched a robot and stared at some titties.”
“What, so you’re trying to tell me there’s some hidden agenda behind the Transformers movies? It’s freaking robots punching each other!”
No, there is no intentional hidden agenda (well, maybe a little), but there is certainly a set of assumptions that the filmmakers are passing on to you. In the case of Transformers, the assumption is that combat is beautiful and exciting, that military hardware is sexy, that destruction is gorgeous and fun and completely free of consequence. And, most importantly, that the solution to all conflict is to be more masculine, powerful, aggressive, confident and destructive than the bad guys.
“But the people already think that! These movies are just giving us what we want!”
Business Stomp … Rated R.
Right, but why do you want that? You think you came out of the womb thinking that military hardware was cool? If you grew up in a real war zone, and didn’t have movies and TV, would you have the same opinion?
I’m not saying Michael Bay is a secret tool of the military industrial complex trying to brainwash you into supporting the next war, no more than the makers of Jaws were trying to wipe out the sharks — they were just trying to make a scary movie, and Michael Bay is just a dude who likes explosions. It doesn’t matter why the message is there — it soaks into your brain either way. This is what everyone misses when debating this stuff — one side says, “Hollywood is trying to brainwash you!” and the other side says, “Michael Bay isn’t smart enough to brainwash an armadillo!” and they’re both missing the point.
This is why, when some people point out how racist the Lord of the Rings stories are (i.e., orcs are evil by virtue of being born orcs, dwarfs are greedy because they are dwarfs, Aragorn is heroic due to his “blood”), it’s both correct and unfair. It’s correct because, yes, that is the way Tolkien’s universe is set up — nobody in the stories hesitates to make sweeping generalizations about a race, and they’re always proven right when they do. Frodo’s magical sword didn’t glow in the presence of enemies, it glowed in the presence of a certain race (orcs). Go write a movie about a hero with a gun that glows in the presence of Arabs. See what happens.
“Seriously, Sting? That’s profiling. And I won’t allow my cutlery to take part in it.”
But it’s also unfair, because Tolkien clearly didn’t sit down and think, “I’m going to increase the net weight of racism in the world in order to firmly establish white dominance! And I’ll do it with elves!” He was just writing what he knew. Of course a guy born in 1892 assumed that Nordic races were evolved and graceful, that certain other races were born savages and that midgets love axes. Hell, he could have been the least racist person he knew, and he’d still be the equivalent of a Klansman today. Whether or not the agenda was intentional is utterly irrelevant.
I can’t emphasize this enough — there is no conspiracy. Yeah, you’ll occasionally have a movie like Act of Valor that is transparently intended to boost military recruitment, but 99 percent of the time, the movie’s “agenda” is nothing more than a lot of creative people passing along their own psychological hang-ups, prejudices, superstitions, ignorance and fetishes, either intentionally or unintentionally. But they are still passed on to you, because that’s what stories are designed to do. Michael Bay feels a certain way about women, and about the role of women in the world, and you will leave his movie agreeing with him just a little bit more than when you came in.
“Dude! There was a homeless family of four living in there!”
Knowing that, it’s even scarier to consider that …
#2. You Were Raised — and Educated — by Pop Culture
Quick quiz: If you get arrested by the cops, how many phone calls are you legally allowed?
One, right? “I want my one phone call” — somewhere there’s a suspect saying that exact phrase to his arresting officer. He may even insist that it’s in the Constitution.
And this is when the cop has to explain that it’s an urban legend, and that he’d already know that if he read Cracked. This criminal, and you, only believe the “one phone call” rule because you saw it in movies and cop shows.
In fact, pretty much everything you know about the criminal justice system came from actors on a glowing rectangular screen. Have you ever been called for jury duty? Did you sit through the morning training session where they have to carefully explain that real trials are not like TV shows?
That’s why movies are so effective at shaping your personality: because you subconsciously assumed that large parts of these fictional stories weren’t fiction. Sure, you knew True Lies was a silly Schwarzenegger action movie, and you knew that, in real life, nobody could really ramp a dirt bike off a Washington, DC, skyscraper. But you didn’t know that the city doesn’t even have skyscrapers at all. Even though the movie was fiction, you didn’t doubt that part, because you had no reason to.
No, seriously, that’s DC’s flatass skyline. You can’t ramp shit there.
Now take this one step further, and think about how many other aspects of your life you’ve only experienced via Hollywood. If you’re from a rural area, how do you know what it’s like to live in the city? Or vice versa? If you’ve never been to Paris, where does your mental image of it come from? Some of you reading this very article loved The Sopranos because its depiction of the mob was so much more “realistic” than all those stylized movies that came before it. How do you know it’s more realistic? What are you comparing it to? All those real mobsters who come over at Thanksgiving?
The reality is that vast piles of facts that you have crammed into your brain basement were picked up from pop culture, and for the most part, you don’t realize that’s where the information came from. This is called source amnesia, and I’ve talked about it before — you know that giraffes sleep standing up, but you’ve long forgotten whether you heard that fact in school or in a tour at the zoo, or saw it in a cartoon. Either way, you will treat that fact as true until something comes along to counter it — this is the entire reason MythBusters is still on the air.
And why they have become rich by telling people shit that seems to require just basic common sense.
OK, so who cares if gas tanks don’t really explode when you shoot them? So what if a lot of your interesting party trivia isn’t accurate?
What, you don’t think this same principle goes for the important stuff?
When you went on your first date, you had a picture in your mind of what that should look like — how both of you should behave, what type of activities couples do together, which one of you should pay, etc. Where did that picture come from? Did you take a dating class in elementary school? Did your parents sit you down and tell you? Bullshit. You saw it in a TV show, or a cartoon, a solid decade before you were even old enough to drive.
“One day, I’ll meet the right grotesquely muscled deliveryman and settle down to a life of kissing on top of washing machines.”
If your parents were poor, where did you get your idea of how rich people live? Where did you get your concept of what success looks like — how successful people dress, or what they drive, or how they decorate their apartment? Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood — the only reason you’ve heard of Armani suits is because the 1980 movie American Gigolo launched the brand. The reason you think smoking is cool is because you’ve seen a thousand handsome, smooth leading men smoke cigarettes.
“Not me. My friends and I all dress and think alike out of sheer coincidence.”
In other words, fictional stories shaped your entire world. You will instinctively reject this idea because you hate the thought that anyone but you has made you who you are. But every single point of data will prove you wrong.
“Bullshit! I just watch movies and TV shows for fun! It’s escapism, it lets me turn off my brain and relax while things explode behind Samuel L. Jackson!”
Right, but why does that relax you? Why have you been trained to feel a release of stress when you see a bad guy explode? Why do you prefer that world over your own?
Let me put it another way. “Escapism” and “fantasy” are fun because they let us leave this boring old world and go to a world that we would prefer to live in. And we are defined as a people by those fantasies — after all, we will spend our whole lives trying to make the real world look like the fantasy. Science fiction came first, space travel came later.
Of course, their original thoughts on the matter were pretty stupid, but you get the point.
Mythology still drives us, and defines us. Now stop and ask yourself who we’ve entrusted to write it for us.
Which brings us to the heart of this whole matter …
#1. Everything in Your Brain Is a Story
Let me ask you this:
Why was it so easy to rally Americans around the idea of winning World War II, to the point that we were willing to ration and sacrifice and send an entire generation off to war, when it’s so hard to get us worked up about other things like curing cancer or fixing global warming?
I’ll come back to it in a moment.
So, knowing the history of stories and all that stuff I talked about above, it makes sense that our brains are built to try to process everything we see as a story. We want all of our information packaged this way — it’s the way data has been fed to us for the last thousand generations, it’s how you’ve been absorbing it since the first time your parents read you a bedtime story. And every story needs to have two elements: a defined set of good guys and bad guys, and a neat structure with a beginning, middle and end.
“Can anyone tell me why they were telling the man to squeal like a pig? Anyone?”
The fact that we need everything fed to us like this, and have trouble getting interested in a situation without it, actually makes solving some problems almost impossible.
For instance, the answer to my question above is that we cared about World War II because it was a story: it had villains (Hitler and the rest), it had heroes (the Allies), it had a distinct beginning, middle and end. Cancer doesn’t have any of that — there’s no one guy we can blame for cancer, and “winning the war” against it is actually a series of tiny incremental advancements that may never result in “victory.” Global warming is even worse, because there it looks like the villain is us.
So as a society, our entire process for figuring out and solving problems involves clumsily trying to make a story out of them. When we follow a complicated subject like politics, we need that distinct hero and villain, so we’ll ignore the shortcomings of our guy and amplify the shittiness of their guy, to make them fit that mold. When we hear about a war, it’s almost impossible to think of it in terms of multiple factions all acting in self-interest — we need one side we can root for, usually under the guise of the underdog young rebels overthrowing the evil old empire (i.e., the Arab Spring).
“Look, all I want to know is which side is Han Solo.”
Likewise, we lose interest if our news story doesn’t have a clear beginning, middle and end (in the biz they call this the “narrative bias”). Are American troops still in Afghanistan? How is that going? Do you even know? When’s the last time you checked? We were all on board for the first act of the story (the 9/11 attacks) and the second act (the military goes in and deposes the Taliban), but then the third act (the troops come home to victory parades and everything is back to normal) never came. So, we just kind of forgot about it.
Now here’s the key: This innate urge to shoehorn every single piece of information into a story format is very well known to the people who run political campaigns, or write advertisements, or cover news stories. So, when there is a crisis, they know you need a bad guy. No problem can simply be the result of a flawed system or a bunch of factors that are nobody’s fault (or, God forbid, the result of anything we did — we’re just the audience!). No, there has to be a villain we can pin it on.
Tim Jorgenson of Grand Rapids, Michigan — we’re coming for you.
That’s why, to this day, we’re still trying to figure out who “caused” the economic collapse, as if we’ll find a cabal of a dozen shady bankers in a room who made off with all our money, rather than a flawed system that millions of investors and consumers drove into the ditch because of a steadfast refusal to think five minutes into the future. Look at the last few wars again — we can’t get past the idea that terrorism will end if we just blow the shit out of the bad guys. Why? Because that’s the way it works in the movies. In Star Wars, when the Emperor died, all evil died with him. The same with Sauron, and Voldemort. If we kill/imprison all the drug kingpins, the drugs will go away. Right? Guys?
You can find this in your personal life, too. If something goes wrong at the office, somebody has to get blamed. Everyone goes into ass-covering mode, because they know the bosses will need a villain in their story. When you take on some personal project (a new job, losing weight, whatever), you expect the same three-act structure that you’d see in a movie (see problem, take it on, experience your darkest moment, eventually triumph), and you get depressed when it doesn’t happen (that “triumph” part often never shows up). Why are people always so obsessed with the apocalypse? Because every story has an ending, and the idea that the human “story” can just drag on forever, aimlessly, never progressing toward any particular goal, is just unimaginable. We can’t process it.
The reality is, it will probably still look like this, long after we’ve been exterminated by the robots we designed to protect us.
And our expectations of what these real world stories look like, and how they should play out, are programmed into us by pop culture.
So, yes, for the fucking love of God, movies matter. TV shows matter. Novels matter. They shape the lens through which you see the world. The very fact that you don’t think they matter, that even right now you’re still resisting the idea, is what makes all of this so dangerous to you — you watch movies so you can turn off your brain and let your guard down. But while your guard is down, you’re letting them jack directly into that part of your brain that creates your mythology. If you think about it, it’s an awesome responsibility on the part of the storyteller. And you’re comfortable handing that responsibility over to Michael Bay.
It’s just something to keep in mind, that’s all.
David Wong is the Senior Editor of Cracked.com and has this important message about the giant spider that might be living in your mouth.
For more Wong, check out 5 Ways to Spot a Bullshit Political Story in Under 10 Seconds and 6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying.
“All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!” — Sgt. Apone, Aliens
Originally published by HarperPrism in 1996, Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual serves as a guide to the equipment and procedures of the United States Colonial Marine Corps – those bad-ass Space Marines from the Aliens franchise. Written by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, a revised edition of the technical manual has been re-released by Titan Books today as a tie-in to Ridley Scott‘s upcoming science-fiction film, Prometheus.
The book is packed with sketches, diagrams, technical schematics, and plans, taking a detailed look at the weapons, vehicles and ships of the USCMC, and the men and women who use them.
This thing is detailed – frighteningly so. Even as a die-hard fan of theAliens series, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information in Brimmicombe-Wood’s book. If you’ve ever wanted to cosplay as Hudson, Hicks, or Vasquez, this book would serve as an excellent reference for making custom USMC armor and props.
I mean, if you absolutely must know what kind of ammunition an M41A Pulse Rifle uses (“10 millimeter explosive tip caseless. Standard light armor piercing round, why?”), then Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual is for you. It contains expansive descriptions and blueprints of the UD4L Cheyenne dropship and the ‘Conestoga’-class spaceships (The Sulaco), both featured in James Cameron‘s Aliens.
The manual also includes a series of transcripts between Weyland-Yutani executives as they discuss theories on Xenomorph DNA and how the species could be exploited as a biological weapon. As Ripley would say,“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”
Many elements introduced in the book, including weapons like the M83 SADAR (Shoulder-launched Active-homing Disposable Anti-tank Rocket), have since appeared in expanded universe Alien and Aliens vs. Predatorcomic books, novels, and video games.
I’m sure Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual will make an excellent companion to the Aliens: Colonial Marines video game for PS3 and Xbox 360, which has been described as a true sequel to Aliens and takes place just after the events of the third film, Alien 3.
At $11.49, Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual is an absolute must-have for any Aliens fan – and with all the detailed information Xenomorph biology and Weyland-Yutani operations, it’s perfect for those of us who can’t wait for Ridley Scott’s kinda-sorta Alien prequel, Prometheus, to hit theaters on June 8.
Titan Books has given Geeks Of Doom the exclusive on several images in the book, so be sure to check that out, too: Exclusive: Designs From ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual’.
While our friends across the pond might roll their eyes at my 2-months-2-late review of this brilliant three-part mini-series, I’m doin’ this for all those not attached to the recent releases at the BBC ever-controversial Channel 4 who appreciate the dry wit and drearily harsh outlook of British productions. You know, geeks like me :)
What we have here today is a review of a trilogy called “Black Mirror” that came out this past winter on BBC Channel 4. Created by the man who brought us the zombie-legend (though I’m guessing most haven’t seen it and therefore I will be following up with an article about it soon) “Dead Set” which blended the infamy of “Big Brother” with the originality of “28 Days Later”. Backed with established directorial power, the Brits did their usual thing and relied less on “star power” to move this mini-series and rather compiled a cast of actors based on talent rather than Oscar and Emmy count. While the story lines do not much up at all across the three episodes, what is common is the dystopic view of society’s future if things continue the way they’re going with a specific nod to technology and social media. The show considers a world driven and controlled by public demand and popularity; a caged existence where the only escape is to work like a drone forever or steal fame from another’s grasp; and, a future where no memory has to ever be forgotten but where no crime can ever be forgiven. Excusing my dramatic retelling of the tri-plot lines, the series is truly a masterful look at where we might end up one day.
First up let’s talk sexy: “The National Anthem” as the primary installment is lacking in all sense of the word, “15 Million Merits” as part two has a handsome protagonist played by Daniel Kaluuva but his shyness steals from that although his female counterpart Jessica Brown Findlay is gorgeous in every sense of the word, and then there’s the finale “The Entire History of You” who finally features a main hottie in Toby Kebbell who’s mysterious ancestry adds up to one hot British man. Next, let’s consider acting: spot on. The roles are all extremely dramatic in their own way and especially as you wind your way to the final and most painful episode you feel for every suffering actor on the screen: and they are ALL SUFFERING… it’s that kind of series.
The cinematography is specific and often contained. Except for some city-panning shots in the first piece the episodes are pretty sedentary in locale, however that does not mean limited in beauty or effect. Particularly with “15 Million Merits” and its wondrous if not slightly hoaky CGI, there is a lot of compelling predictions of what the future might look like. Finally, the writing itself. I loved it. The characters are dramatic but you can really understand they’ve been pushed for so long and so hard that it only makes sense they explode and implode as they do. The story lines are original enough to capture your interest even if you’re not a sci-fi buff but rather someone who has an opinion on society’s direction. Though moms and dads everywhere are likely pointing to this series as a reason to consider twitter and facebook as the devil, there is some value to the cautionary tale held within: stay human, people… it’s all that connects us.
Directly below is the smartly edited trailer for the series as a whole and below that I’ve posted the episodes’ trailers should you want to pick and choose between which you’d like to see. Though, I honestly think anyone would love all three and they’re best viewed as a whole. Well, that’s all I can do, the rest is up to you: but trust me, you’ll love em’.
“Black Mirror” (Three Part Mini-Series)
“Part One: National Anthem”
“Part Two: 15 Million Merits”
“Part Three: The Entire History of You”
In one experiment, just telling a man he would be observed by a female was enough to hurt his psychological performance.
Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman. In many cases, the potential suitor ends up acting foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly and according to new findings, it may not be.
Researchers have begun to explore the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women. A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even w hen men simply anticipateinteracting with a woman who they know very little about.
Sanne Nauts and her colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands ran two experiments using men and women university students as participants. They first collected a baseline measure of cognitive performance by having the students complete a Stroop test. Developed in 1935 by the psychologist John Ridley Stroop, the test is a common way of assessing our ability to process competing information. The test involves showing people a series of words describing different colors that are printed in different colored inks. For example, the word “blue” might be printed in green ink and the word “red” printed in blue ink. Participants are asked to name, as quickly as they can, the color of the ink that the words are written in. The test is cognitively demanding because our brains can’t help but process the meaning of the word along with the color of the ink. When people are mentally tired, they tend to complete the task at a slower rate.
After completing the Stroop Test, participants in Nauts’ study were asked to take part in another supposedly unrelated task. They were asked to read out loud a number of Dutch words while sitting in front of a webcam. The experimenters told them that during this “lip reading task” an observer would watch them over the webcam. The observer was given either a common male or female name. Participants were led to believe that this person would see them over the web cam, but they would not be able to interact with the person. No pictures or other identifying information were provided about the observer—all the participants knew was his or her name. After the lip reading task, the participants took another Stroop test. Women’s performance on the second test did not differ, regardless of the gender of their observer. However men who thought a woman was observing them ended up performing worse on the second Stroop test. This cognitive impairment occurred even though the men had not interacted with the female observer.
In a second study, Nauts and her colleagues again began the experiment by having each participant complete the Stroop test. Then each participant was led to believe they would soon be taking part in the same “lip reading” task similar to the first study. Half were told that a man would observe them and the other half were led to believe that a woman would observe them. In reality, participants never engaged in the task. After being told about it, they completed another Stroop test to measure their current level of cognitive functioning.
Once again, women’s performance on the test did not differ, regardless of whether they were expecting a man or woman to observe them. But men who had been told a woman would observe them ended up doing much worse on the second Stroop task. Thus, simply anticipating the opposite sex interaction was enough to interfere with men’s cognitive functioning.
In today’s society people frequently interact with each other over the phone or online, where the only way to infer somebody’s gender is through their name or voice. Nauts’ research suggests that even with these very limited interactions, men may experience cognitive impairment when faced with the opposite sex. Although the studies on their own don’t offer any concrete explanations, Nauts and her colleagues think that the reason may have something to do with men being more strongly attuned to potential mating opportunities. Since all of their participants were both heterosexual and young, they might have been thinking about whether the woman might be a potential date.
The results may also have to do with social expectations. Our society may place more pressure on men to impress women during social interactions. Although this hypothesis remains speculative, previous research has shown that the more you care about making the right impression, the more your brain gets taxed. Such interactions require us to spend a great deal of mental energy imagining how others might interpret our words and actions. For example, psychologists Jennifer Richeson and Nicole Shelton found that Caucasian Americans who hold stronger racial prejudices face similar cognitive impairments after interacting with somebody who is African American. In these situations, individuals who hold strong prejudices must try hard to come across as not prejudiced. In a different study, Richeson and her colleagues found that less privileged students at elite universities experience similar cognitive impairments after being observed by their wealthier peers.
Overall, it seems clear that whenever we face situations where we’re particularly concerned about the impression that we’re making, we may literally have difficulty thinking clearly. In the case of men, thinking about interacting with a woman is enough to make their brains go a bit fuzzy.
Daisy Grewal received her PhD in social psychology from Yale University. She is a researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she investigates how stereotypes affect the careers of women and minority scientists.
In my early to mid 20’s, I paid my bills as an “extreme” sports photographer. Mostly BMX bikes along with a little snowboarding, skateboarding, and wakeboarding. I went to a pile of xgames and contests and got my first taste of really being a working pro. I can still remember the feeling I got the first time I walked into a news stand and opened up a magazine to see my published photos. It was a fun job for sure, but I eventually moved onto other more stable (and lucrative) work. Anyone who is interested can read a bit more about that time in my life in this “featured member” article here.
While my primary output was still images, I also ended up doing some video work. Mostly because the effort to carry a second camera wasn’t that big of a deal and since we were already out shooting, I could “double dip” as it were and make some extra cash. Plus, I have to admit, it was a lot of fun and a new challenge to learn how to deal with moving pictures rather than just finding the single “moment” as with still photography. In any case, I had footage in a couple different “video magazines” and a few, what were for the time, big-budget sponsor videos. It never became much more than a neat change of pace and an extra paycheck for me, but I enjoyed it immensely just the same.
At the time, everyone was using 3-CCD miniDV cameras like the Sony VX1000 or the Canon GL2. We mostly all had Century fisheye lenses screwed onto the front and some sort of low-angle carry-handle setup to give everything that “extreme” look. Depth of field? Almost infinite. Selective focus? Never heard of it. High definition 1080p video? Still a decade away for the average person. High frame-rate for smooth slow motion shots? Nope. You either dealt with the jerkiness or got real familiar with time-warping plugins for After Effects. Little did we know that in a few short years, the consumer/prosumer “video camera” market would be all but wiped out by the most unlikeliest of products, the DSLR. Nowadays, we all expect 1080p video coming out of our DSLRs. But in 2001 the idea was pretty far fetched. But the future becomes the present and here we are ten years later with DSLR video being used in everything from journalism to Hollywood.
Which brings me back to extreme sports video. Aside from the photojournalists who quickly jumped on the possibility of making two paychecks with one camera, almost no group of users was faster to accept and use the new video functions of the DSLR than extreme sports photographers/filmers. Here was a device that you probably already owned anyway, if you were a professional. And not only did it give you stunning video quality via a sensor size unmatched in anything that didn’t have a five figure pricetag, but it used the lenses you already owned and allowed you a completely new tool that previously had been the sole province of the “big boys”. That tool? A shallow depth of field. Previous cameras like the VX1000 or GL2 had tiny 1/4” sensors and thus, had huge depth of field when used with standard focal lengths. Only at the extreme telephoto end of the zoom could you get any sort of a semblance of a shallow depth of field, and then you were zoomed in so far that you’d have to be standing on the other end of a football field to make your shot. The DSLR video revolution changed all that and gave the filmmaker with a Canon 5D MkII the same depth of field options as the guy holding a Panaflex Millennium XL2. With a high end computer and a rack of RAID drives, the low end filmmaker was given a gift from heaven with the advent of DSLR video.
So what has been the result of that gift? The fact that almost every extreme sports video out there today has footage from a DSLR camera. Yes, you will still see a few HD video cameras, but those are dying out fast. And yes, you will see some high end digital solutions like the RED camera systems (and even some 35mm film cameras) on the big budget movies from Nike or Red Bull. But even those high end movies virtually all use some amount of footage from DSLR’s.
Don’t believe me? Check this out. Hitachi’s G-Technology division makes RAID solutions and hard drives aimed at these types of filmmakers. They, along with the amazing production powerhouse Brain Farm Digital Cinema, put together “Hellbent: the 10 best action sports films of 2011”. These range from (comparatively) small budget films like ‘Battle Los Angeles’ from Mutiny Bikes to the $400,000 filmed-across-5-continents masterpiece ‘All.I.Can’ from Sherpas Cinema. While one had the budget to include footage from some high end digital video solutions and the other was completely filmed on the DSLRs, both used footage from Canon 5D and 7D cameras and both films are wonderful to watch. The same can be said for almost all of the 10 films listed.
All in all, I can think of nothing in recent years that has done more to advance the cause of high end low-budget filmmaking than the advent of DSLR video capabilities. It is something that we, as still photographers, should not ignore. Both for the professional possibilities and the simply joy of learning something new. Video has always been a fun diversion from photography, something to let you see the world in a slightly different way through a viewfinder. But now, it can be a “fun diversion” that has amazing image quality and uses the gear that you already own. Get yourself a decently fast computer, a couple drives or a RAID array (I’m sure Hitachi would love it if you checked out their G-Technology line), and find a basic HD video editing program for whatever operating system you have chosen. Then get out there and see what life is like when you have more than just one single “moment” to capture.
Here is the ‘Battle Los Angeles’ film from Mutiny Bikes as an example of something filmed entirely with DSLRs. There is a bit of swearing, drunkiness, and gross pranks. It’s very mild overall, but maybe don’t play it at work if you are in a sensitive workplace.
Text and photos © 2011 Josh Root.
If the Terminator had the ability to just turn himself into a cruise missile and wipe out Sarah Connor’s city, there’d be no movie. In other words, to make sci-fi stories work, the writers often have to add completely arbitrary and pointless limitations to whatever futuristic technology turns up.
But in the name of plot and drama, they sometimes wind up giving the people of the distant future gear that doesn’t even work as well as ours does now, in the boring old present. For instance …