Movies and Conduct: A Payne Fund Study

Chapter 10: Schemes of Life

Herbert Blumer

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THE reader who has followed our previous discussion anticipates perhaps a treatment of the influence of motion pictures on ideas and attitudes. One would expect that movies would be effective in shaping the images which people form of their world and in giving form to the schemes of conduct which they come to develop. Motion pictures depict types of life which are unfamiliar to many people and consequently shape their conceptions of such a life. Further, many of the situations and kinds of conduct which are treated are shown very attractively. In witnessing them some people may develop longings for these forms of life. What is presented in the movies constitutes a "challenge" to the life of many. Out of the reflection may emerge attitudes, ambitions, dissatisfactions, desires, temptations, reënforced ideals, and so forth.

In this chapter we shall treat motion-picture experiences as an influence in the development of schemes of conduct. We shall limit ourselves to those lines of influence which seem to have been of major importance in the written motionpicture autobiographies collected for this study.


LET us begin with a general statement of how motion pictures shape conceptions of life and influence subsequent schemes of conduct. Particularly in childhood we can detect the rôle of motion pictures in building up a

(142) world of imagery used by children for purposes of interpreting and illustrating life. It is no misstatement to say that motion pictures fashion the minds of grade-school children in an appreciable way by providing both specific ideas and a general framework of thought. A large part of the average child's imagery used for interpretation of experiences in everyday life has its source in motion pictures. One may easily get an appreciation of this as the writer has done, by asking, on a number of occasions, classes of school children to draw pictures of action or of interesting life. Given no further suggestion but encouraged to use their imaginations freely, children will submit drawings showing unmistakably motion-picture imagery. The cowboy, the Indian, the airplane combat, mystery characters, and other familiar motion picture types or themes spring out of the children's sketches.

One appreciates further how motion pictures supply children with many of their images of life in the short stories or essays which they write. Usually the story submitted will be modeled after movie themes. The characters, the situations, and the plot conform very frequently to conceptions presented in motion pictures. School teachers are quite familiar with this condition. Many of them have striven on repeated occasions to free the minds of their students from such fixed patterns of thought.

There are other indications that many people carry, so to speak, a movie world in their heads. The great popularity of motion-picture magazines and the avidity with which they are read by many suggest how greatly people's thoughts and interests may be bound up with motion pictures. This is particularly true in the case of high-school students, perhaps chiefly in the case of high-school girls. It is very common to find the lockers of high-school girls

( 143) profusely decorated with photographs and pictures taken mainly from motion-picture magazines. The keeping of motion-picture scrapbooks is again a common practice and further suggests the degree to which people may have their minds preoccupied with the movies. We may think also of the frequency with which the topic of motion pictures enters into the conversation of children and of highschool students.

A further significant sign of this general kind of influence is shown in the tendency of many boys and girls to invoke motion-picture images in visualizing the content of their reading. Very frequently they will conceive the characters and the plot of the book that is being read in terms of the conventional images of the screen. This in itself presents an interesting problem of imagination. We shall confine ourselves to two brief illustrations of the point.

Female, 20, white, college junior. —As we stopped imitating the movie tricks, my taste for movies changed. I didn't want to be the hero so much any longer. It was much more thrilling to be rescued and fought over. Then, the books that I read were not merely reading. They were stories acted out in my mind, as the movies would have them. Even now that persists. I can read plays and short stories and enjoy them as such, but there is always a subconscious picture of how they would look when produced.

Female, 21, white, college senior.—Sometimes the movies affected my appreciation of books. I think that my first acquaintance with Dickens was marred by the fact that I did not like the illustrations in the editions I read because the people were not drawn beautifully and were not made to look like stars in the movies. I expect certain types of characters to act as did those same types in the movies and often I was puzzled by differences.

The general impression formed by one who studies the minds of children and adolescents is that the content as

( 144) well as the direction of the mental imagery derives in no small measure from motion pictures. It is rather difficult to estimate the extent of this general influence and even more difficult to assess its significance. If one turns, however, from this general manner in which motion pictures supply a framework of thought and interpretation, to more specific instances, the picture becomes much clearer.


ONE can see rather clearly the rôle of motion pictures in forming conceptions of the world in their stereotyped treatment of different people, different occupations, and different forms of life. In depicting villains, heroes, gangsters, nationalities, life of the rich, war, and other subjects, motion pictures may determine how people visualize these things. The following account suggests, in a general way, this kind of influence.

Male, 20, white, college junior.— A year or so ago I saw a picture in which a Jap was shown in a very brutal light, and I began to think that perhaps all Japs were that way. I realize now that I became prejudiced too early, but when a picture shows nothing but the evil side of a race, it is hard to believe them capable of good. Pictures of the World War used to make me very biased against all Germans. One or two of them I remember made me actually thirst to spill German blood. But more recent pictures have absolved Germany of these brutal charges, and enabled me to see their side of the question. I'm afraid that in all cases where a picture has been presented from a prejudiced point of view, I jumped too readily to the conclusion that it was all true.

Many of the writers of the motion-picture autobiographies tell of having their ideas of nationalities formed by the motion pictures. One of the chief of these types is the Chinaman. In many pictures he has been presented as a

(145) cunning, mysterious, treacherous person and has come to be regarded as such by some movie-goers. The examples which follow speak for themselves. The first three refer to the way in which the Chinaman was presented in serials.

Female, 19, white, college senior. —One thing these pictures did was to establish a permanent fear of Chinamen in my mind. To this day I do not see a Chinese person but what I think of him as being mixed up in some evil affair. I always pass them as quickly as possible if I meet them in the street, and refuse to go into a Chinese restaurant or laundry.

Male, 20, white, college sophomore. —While still at a very tender age I followed one serial picture called "The Yellow Menace." It was a story of Chinatown with plenty of daggers and opium. For quite a while afterwards I had an inward fear of every Chinese laundry man I saw walking along the street with a bag on his back.

Female, 19, white, college junior.—But I shall positively say that Warner Oland, the oriental-looking villain of the screen, was responsible for my mortal dread of Chinamen. Whenever I saw one I would run as fast as my little legs would carry me and palpitating with fear would cling close to my reassuring mother. He, Warner Oland, was always wicked in his rôle of the canny, cunning, heartless mandarin who pursued Pearl White through so many serials. I carried over this impression to all Asiatics, so that they all seemed to conceal murderous intent behind their bland features, their humble attitude —merely a disguise until the time was ripe to seize you and kill you, or, worse yet, to make you a slave. I never passed by our Chinese laundry without increasing my speed, glancing apprehensively through the window to detect him at some foul deed, expecting every moment one of his supposed white slave girls to come dashing out of the door. If I heard some undue disturbance at night outside, I was certain that "Mark Woo" was at his usual work of torturing his victims. I have not been able to this day to erase that apprehensive feeling whenever I see a Chinese person, so deep and strong were those early impressions.


Female, 19, while, college sophomore.—The characters that I have seen portrayed upon the screen have left uneasy imprints upon my mind. I have seen so many pictures in which Oriental people quietly sneak up and stab a person in the back that I am suspicious of every Oriental that I come in contact with, from my laundry man to the cook. I have a distinct aversion to crippled beggars gained from Lon Chaney's picture that I saw several years back. It is that repulsion that so many of his pictures have given me that has made me hate to see them.

Male, 17, Negro, high-school senior.—I think all Chinamen are crooks because I have seen them in pictures of the underworld so often. I have seen a picture where the Chinamen almost burned a lady to death trying to make her tell a secret. This picture and similar ones have made me afraid of the Chinamen.

Let us continue with a few further instances merely to illustrate the point that conventional depiction of certain types in motion pictures may implant fixed images of these types in the minds of many people. The writer of the following account, a Negro high-school girl, protests against the way she feels the Negro is usually presented in motion pictures. Her statement suggests the stereotyped image of the Negro which motion pictures have formed in the minds of many.

Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior. — It seems to me that every picture picturing a Negro is just to ridicule the race. When a Negro man or woman is featured in a movie they are obliged to speak flat southern words, be superstitious, and afraid of ghosts and white men. They have to make themselves as ugly and dark as possible. The bad things are emphasized and the good characteristics left out. This is very unfair to the race. All Negroes are not alike; there are different types as in other races. Why must they be portrayed as ignorant, superstitious animals instead of decent people that are just as capable of doing great things as any other race; all they need is the chance. It is the same with other dark races besides the Negro. They are always the loser, the shrinking coward, and never the victor. It is very unjust of the white race to make every nation appear inferior compared to them.

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The following instances show how in their respective experiences, the writers developed a stereotyped conception of a "villain."

Female, 22, white, college senior.—I remember that the villains usually wore mustaches, and to this day I heartily despise any kind of an upper lip decoration on any man. Even John Gilbert, Doug Fairbanks, and Conrad Nagel do not alter this aversion.

Female, 20, white, college sophomore. —It was when I started high school that I began to enjoy pictures in which the love theme was prominent. I'd put myself in place of the heroine always, never the hero. It was at this time villains would wear a mustache and I still can't dispel the idea that every man with a mustache is a villain. I used to enjoy going over the picture in my mind and day-dreaming about them. These pictures developed my imagination immensely.

Another instance of the development of a stereotyped conception is given in the following statement concerning the police:

Female, 20, white, college junior.—The movies have made me skeptical about our police force. The pictures depicting gangs, etc., have made an impression on me. Lately, in "The Racket" I came away saying to myself "And that is our justice!" Such pictures should not be shown because they make one doubt the thing we should be faithful to. I must confess that whenever I see a policeman, I smile and get a kick out of his authority.

One thinks also in connection with the point under discussion of the way in which the Germans were depicted during the World War. It is unnecessary to give any accounts (many are available) to appreciate how successful the movies were in helping to develop an intense attitude of hatred towards the Germans through such pictures as " Hearts of the World." More recently through the presentation of the theme of war from a different point of view the movies have helped change the earlier stereotyped attitude. Some indications of this are shown in the following accounts:

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Female, 20, white, college junior.—The following pictures of to-day such as "The Big Parade," "Wings," "Mother Knows Best," etc., have increased my horror of militarism. No speeches or lectures or doctrines desiring war can ever convince me to change my opinion or hatred of the beastly human practice.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior.—The War Pictures, and I believe I am right in capitalizing what I did, have convinced me of the real evils of war, of the ideas that though war is a menace, disarmament can never be fully and thoroughly put into effect. "Barbed Wire" with Pola Negri, "The Legion of the Condemned," and "The Big Parade" served as the founders of those ideas. One incident from "The Big Parade" I would like to requote here. John Gilbert is in a shell hole, awaiting the return of his buddy from No-Man's Land. His nerves are on edge; the cannons roaring about him and the shells bursting in air arouse his hatred of the general's orders; he hates himself for staying there like the general told him to do instead of going out and finding and aiding his buddy. Then on top of all this tension a soldier from the trench crawls into the shell hole to tell him to quit standing there and pacing, but to lie down so that the enemy will not spy their dugout. "Orders from the general," the soldier said. And then John Gilbert arose, and jumping up out of the dug-out he pauses long enough to draw himself up to the stature of a real man and to fire back, "Orders! Orders! Who's fighting this war, MEN OR ORDERS?" And with that he leaves to seek out his buddy from God knows where. I shall never forget that bit of philosophy, nor shall I ever forget the incident causing supposedly that hit of wisdom.

Further ways in which motion pictures have developed stereotyped conceptions are suggested by the two following accounts dealing with conceptions of "formal" society:

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Some of my ideas about life in general particularly those connected with association with the modern young man were drawn from the movies. I shall never forget my disappointment upon discovering after having attended my first real grown-up dinner party that all grown-up dinner partners weren't clever, distinguished, worldly-

(149)     wise, and charming individuals I had thought them to be after seeing a large number of society melodramas.

Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—So long as the vehicle was amorous, the cast was of secondary importance; and I would dote upon a tender love scene for weeks at a time. The height of my desire was to be of an age where fine clothes, parties, an ardent lover would not be out of place. I longed to be a society belle, and my ambitions seemed to be realized when I was able to see the objects of my fancy on the screen. Of course, I believed that life was exactly as it was painted and that at the age when I would be able to go out, life would be a sort of bed of roses.

Finally, we may give the following account which represents a protest of the writer against the distorted impressions which he declares the movies have given him. This document is given here not to incriminate motion pictures, but merely to illustrate further how influential they are in developing stereotyped conceptions of life.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore. —The impressions which the movies gave me as a child, had to be torn down by experience, by reading, and by contact with other people. I thought that only wicked women smoked; that criminals were hard and inhuman, and were to be dealt with accordingly. I thought that all society women neglected their children, had parties most of the time, and were untrue to their husbands; I got an idea that divorce was wrong and that people who were in love married and lived happily ever after, in a little rose-covered bungalow. The movies gave me a lot of foolish ideas which my imagination accepted as facts. I think that movies make adjustment to life and understanding of people and their problems more difficult, because of the wrong impressions which they give. The understanding should come first—then the movies. Also I think that the movies overemphasize the sex interest, and cause people's minds to dwell on sex out of all proportion to its importance.

The investigation to any thorough extent of the stereotyped conceptions built up by motion pictures is outside the range of this report. The instances which have been

( 150) cited are given merely to indicate in a general way how such images may be formed. A few words of explanation may be in order. The depiction of certain characters, nationalities, races, forms of life, etc., in motion pictures is particularly likely to leave an impression on imagery because of their vivid visual presentations. One's images, so to speak, come ready-made. They are likely, further, to be simple and unambiguous, and to be clothed with certain emotional and sentimental qualities which, one calculates, make their appeal somewhat irresistible. In other words, the setting of the image as shown in the picture, and the emotional feelings which are directed toward it, give it a "catchy" character. These features can be easily perceived in the accounts which have been given, as in those speaking of the conceptions formed of the Chinamen through the witnessing of certain motion pictures.

Some other remarks may be offered. Motion pictures may treat certain types or phases of life which the rest of our educational system accepts as unquestioned, and in doing so implant images which may be contradictory. to those assumed by educational institutions. Thus, the policeman may be shown in a way that lessens his prestige or respect—although the school, church, etc., take it for granted that he has these effects. It would be interesting to learn to what extent motion pictures do implant images, in a concrete, realistic fashion, which challenge the abstract conceptions tacitly assumed by the remainder of our educational institutions.

It is fit to make here another observation. In responding to transient states of public opinion, motion pictures may develop fundamental prejudices or conceptions which persist beyond the occasion to which they were devoted. Thus the images of the Germans formed during the period

( 151) of the war hysteria were retained far beyond the period where they presumably rendered some national service.

Whatever be the value of these reflections, our central point is evident. It is clear that motion pictures may provide individuals with fixed views of certain kinds of life and of certain kinds of people. Where there is a recurrence of this fixed way of depicting a given type, as has been true in part in the case of the Chinaman, stereotypes are almost certain to arise. Of course, they are likely to be formed most easily by those people who have few other sources of knowledge of the given kind of life which is shown. The development of fixed images in such situations is inevitable and requires no explanation.


MANY motion pictures are devoted to the life of modern youth. They deal particularly with relations between the sexes but also present schemes of conduct with respect to family and community life. These forms of life are of genuine concern to many young men and young women. The schemes of conduct which they imply are likely to be shown in a romantic and entrancing manner and may frequently carry the weight of authority and correctness. Some young men and women, because of their attitudes and background of experience, regard the life of modern youth as it is shown in motion pictures not only as an "ideal" type of life but as the proper type of life. From such pictures they are likely to derive ideas of freedom, of relations to parents, and of conduct towards one's associates. In this way motion pictures give sanction to codes of conduct and serve as an instrument for introducing the individual into a new kind and area of life. We follow with a series of experiences taken from the accounts of the writers of the motion-

(152) picture autobiographies. These reveal the ways in which pictures of modern life may shape attitudes and implant ideas.

Female, 18, white, high-school senior.—I saw "Mother Knows Best" a few weeks ago and thought it was great. I think that Madge Bellamy is "darling" and Barry Norton is great. He sort of gets under one's skin. "Mother Knows Best" proves that she doesn't always. The problem of whether mother does know best is being discussed universally just now, and this picture made me feel that maybe if daughter or son did get a word in edgewise once in a while, parents and children would not be having so many difficulties.

Male, 18, white, high-school senior. —From my observations in high school, I think that the movies have played a large part in influencing the actions of what is called the fast modern of today. The high school students see these wild pictures of fast night club life then they think that it is smart to mimic these actions. I know of several cases right here inhigh school, girls who think it is smart to smoke, drink, stay out all night at clubs that have not a good reputation. They see these things done in the movies; therefore they think that they are being very cute.

Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—When I go to see Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in a movie I feel disgusted, because I think they are carrying it too far, but when I go to see a modern picture like "Our Dancing Daughters" I am thrilled. These modern pictures give me a feeling to imitate their ways. I believe that nothing will happen to the care-free girl like Joan Crawford but it is a quiet girl who is always getting into trouble and making trouble.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—The movies have given me some ideas about the freedom we should have. For instance, in the pictures the wildest girl always tames down and gets the man she loves. Why not in real life? My notion of the freedom I should have, and I have it, is to go out and have a good time, but watch your step. I don't believe chaperons are necessary because if you don't know how to take care of yourself now you never will. One thing that gets my goat is to have someone

 (153)     constantly harping about automobile rides and they don't mean strangers either but boys you have known for years.

In another part of her document the writer of the last account states:

On the screen when it shows a party with the heroine included they are generally the life of the party and I believe that "when you're in Rome do as the Romans do." I used to think just the opposite but after seeing "Our Dancing Daughters" and the "Wild Party" I began to think this over, and I have found out that that is the best way to act.


FROM the earlier discussion of love pictures and imitation and of the influence of love pictures in stimulating emotions, one would expect young men and young women to derive from these pictures ideas of love and of the behavior associated with it. The sample of 458 high-school documents were checked with reference to the item "Did the individual get any ideas of love from the movies?" Definite indications that the writers had secured such ideas appeared in 228 documents, or approximately 50 per cent. Denial was made in 13 per cent of the documents; while no information appeared in 37 per cent of the accounts.

Some individuals get much of their information on love and sex from motion pictures. Such has been the experience of the writer of the following account:

Male, 18, white, Jewish, college freshman.—I was raised in an orthodox Jewish home where nobody dared to talk about sex, love, etc., and it was immoral to talk about kissing a girl. Until I was thirteen I never had a thing to do with girls because of my home background. High-school parties were my first introduction to the fair sex. After that, when I went to see a movie or romance, I actually liked it. As I look back upon it now, I smile when I think of the horror and amazement and awe that I had


(154)     of myself when I found out that I, the pure virgin, actually conceived of the idea of kissing a girl and actually enjoying it, too! As far as I can remember, almost all of my knowledge of sex came from the movies. There was no other place where I could have gotten it. Ideas about kissing definitely came from the movies. This is absolutely true; the first time I ever kissed a girl was after I saw Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.

Let us give a few other accounts typical of those who acknowledge getting ideas and schemes of love from motion pictures.

Female, 17, white, high-school junior. — I read a little and I went to the movies quite often. From both I learned about the customs of other countries and some high lights in the history of the United States. I learned something about the art of love-making and that bad and pretty girls are usually more attractive to men than intelligent and studious girls.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior. —Love-making for me was greatly influenced by my older sister, but the many lovemaking pictures naturally affected me some. The seemingly free abandon to the fact that love-making is perfectly all right came to me through them. In the movies the hero is always everything good and trustworthy as is the heroine, and the idea came to me that I could trust any boy too. I have been very severely reprimanded for carrying out this idea, but I still feel that most people are trustworthy.

Female, 19, white, Jewish college, sophomore.—Certainly the movies have made me sharply aware of the fact that men place a high premium on the physical aspect of woman, that primarily a man's attention is drawn to a woman because of her beauty; that a large degree of the proverbial "IT" may be attained by pretty clothes, risque clothes.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior —Love in the movies as portrayed by the stars always made me squirm because I knew nothing about it. Now I think it's all "applesauce." When I was younger, though, these scenes always stayed longest in my mind. I'd put myself in the girl's place and try to make-believe. But after all the feeling was second-hand. No wonder girls of

(155)     older days, before the movies, were so modest and bashful. They never saw Clare Bow and William Haines. They didn't know anything else but being modest and sweet. I think the movies have a great deal to do with present-day so-called "wildness." If we didn't see such examples in the movies where would we get the idea of being "hot" ? We wouldn't.

Female, 15, white, high-school sophomore . —Goodness knows you learn plenty about love from the movies. That's their long run. You do see how the gold-digger systematically gets the poor fish in tow. You see how the sleek-haired, long-earringed, languid-eyed siren lands the men; you meet the flapper; the good girl; 'n all the feminine types and their snappy comebacks which are most handy when dispensing with an unwanted suitor, a too-ardent one, a too-backward one, etc. And believe me, they observe and remember too.


FINALLY, let us quote two accounts which reflect the judgment of the writers concerning the way in which motion pictures present ideas or schemes of conduct between the sexes:

Female, 16, white, high-school, junior.—The fellows get all their ideas of necking from the movies. The girls learn how to lead a fellow on from the movies. In that respect they are both out for the thrill. One thing I must admit. When T go to a love or romance movie, I wish some sheiky looking fellow would fall in love with me.

Female, 14, white, high-school sophomore. —From my observations in high school I think that the movies have played a large part in influencing the actions of the, what is called, fast modern of to-day. The high-school students see these wild pictures of fast night club life and then think that it is smart to mimic these actions. I know of several cases right here in our high school-girls who think it is smart to smoke, drink, stay out all night at clubs, that have not a good reputation. They see these things done in the movies; therefore, they think that they are being very cute.



IN presenting the life of modern youth in an appealing and romantic way amid a setting of luxury and freedom, motion pictures engender a certain amount of dissatisfaction with life as it is for most people. Young women and young men may be led to compare their own life with that which they see presented on the screen. Such a comparison may foster dissatisfaction and unrest on their part. The sample of 458 high-school autobiographies was gone over to ascertain the number of writers who wrote of having become dissatisfied with their home at some time or other as a result of what was witnessed in motion pictures. It was found that 22 per cent of the writers spoke of such experiences. There was a denial of any such influence in the case of 28 per cent of the writers, whereas in 50 per cent of the documents there was either no information or insufficient information to permit one to make a judgment. It is interesting to observe in the case of those who spoke of having become dissatisfied as a result of witnessing motion pictures that the percentage of girls was twice as great as the percentage of boys.

Some indication of the way in which motion pictures develop dissatisfaction in the case of high-school boys and girls is given in the following accounts:

Male, 18, Negro, high-school senior.—Often I get ideas of how much freedom I should have from the way in which fellows and girls are given privileges in the movies, because they can wear the best of clothes, make plenty of money, go nearly any place they choose, become well known throughout the country and enjoy all the luxuries of life.

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—I have compared the life shown in society pictures to the life around me and have found it very misleading. It furnishes one with the wrong ideas of lux-

 (157) -uries and tends to make one discontented with his surroundings. In this way the movies depicting social life at first disturbed me. I wasn't satisfied with my environment; I expect too much from my parents in the way of comfort and leisure.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—The movies have always made me dissatisfied with my neighborhood, but not with my life. I have always wanted to live in a beautiful bungalow like those you see in the movies.

Female, 15, Negro, high-school freshman.—Since I have gotten old enough to realize what good times really are I am dissatisfied with my clothes and my home. I see the girls in the movies going out in cars to roadhouses and to balls, cabarets, and many other things that put me in the habit of wanting to go too. Sometimes I feel like stopping school and going to work for myself so I can go any place I want, do anything and get anything. I think the young girls of to-day should be given privileges to go and have a good time, not all of the time, but very often so they can enjoy themselves as everybody else.

In the light of these accounts it is fitting to observe that motion pictures often present the extremes as if they were the norm. Further, it is an attractive norm. For many young movie-goers no discrimination is possible the intriguing appeal of the picture, the seemingly natural sanction which it carries, and the simple vividness of its display combine to impress its content as proper and unquestionable.


On occasion the dissatisfaction represented by the accounts given may take a more acute expression in a form of some rebellion against parental restraints. The rebellious tendencies may merely exist in the form of feelings of acute dissatisfaction, or they may break over into some actual form of complaint and rejection of parental control. In the 458 high-school documents there is definite indication of such rebellious feelings at some time or other as a

( 158) result of motion pictures in 12 per cent of the writers. Denial is made of such influence in the case of 31 per cent of the writers, while no information is contained in the documents of the other 57 per cent of the writers.

IN order to give meaning to this type of influence, to show how the movies, in other words, may induce in certain individuals feelings of rebellion against parental control, the following cases are presented:

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Another thing that movies are responsible for, I am sure, is my resentment at times of too much parental restraint especially in the matter of how late I stay out and where I go. Young daughters in films seem to have such a gay time traveling from night club to night club either ignoring their parents' wishes or being blessed with the kind that do not object, and I am afraid at times I think I should have as much liberty as they seem to have. Very recently I saw "Dancing Daughters" which in a way strengthened my ideas stated above, as the girl in it who was held down too much by her parents turns out badly, while the one who is "the modern" and is allowed full freedom ends up the best.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior. —Of course the movies made me want to rebel against my parents' supervision. They still do. My ideas of the way to behave come some from the movies, but more particularly, when it came to treatment of boys, from my older brother. I think that girls should be treated the same as boys by their parents. They should tell their folks where they're going, but shouldn't be kept on a strict time limit.

Female, 15, Negro, freshman.—The movies have often made me dissatisfied with my neighborhood, because when I see a movie, the beautiful castle, palace, stone and beautiful house, I wish my home was something like these. I sometimes get dissatisfied with my own life when I see movie stars with beautiful gowns, diamonds, gold, silver, and other valuable and beautiful things. And I always say when I marry I am going to marry some rich man so I can get all these rich things. The movies sometimes make me want to rebel against the strictness

(159)     of my parents because I see what other girls in the movies do and have such a nice time. No one to say you can't go out, or say "no." Then I wish I could go when I get ready. I often think mother is too strict and doesn't give a girl enough privilege; I got this idea from the movies when t saw what privilege girls in the movies have. I think I should have more freedom in these ways, go to the movies often and once a week go to a party and then about every two weeks receive company-and a few other things.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior. —After seeing a wonderful picture full of thrills and beautiful scenes, my own home life would seem dull and drab. Nothing unusual would happen and I would become dissatisfied and wish I could runaway. My clothes were never smart enough and I felt that my parents were far too strict with me. The girls in the motion pictures nearly always had far more privileges than I.

Male, 17, white, high.-school senior.—One great desire that has risen from the movies has been the desire to own a car and to be able to go anywhere, anytime that I wanted. The movies have made me dislike restraint of any kind. They have also made me dislike work.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior.—Fashionable pictures made me long for fine clothes. I could not see why my parents were not able to buy me all the clothes that I wanted. I sometimes thought I would run away like the girls in the movies and live on "easy street." But whenever I had these thoughts I would also have thoughts of what happened to girls that left home. They lived a high life for a time, but they always regretted having left home. So that was why I never had the courage to leave home.

I always thought that I did not have enough freedom. I remember one picture that showed the effects of being too strict which I will always remember. There was a young girl who had some very strict parents. They did not allow her any privileges. One night she came in late from a party and her father told her if she ever came in that late again he would put her out. The girl slipped out with a fellow that her father did not know anything about. She and the fellow went so far that she was afraid

(160)     to go home. She would have gone on with the fellow, bit she found out that he was a bootlegger. The fellow promised to give that up if she would marry him. But she would not think about marrying him so she left him and started to town on a lonely road. She did not go near home, but instead went to some place where girls were supposed to get on the stage. In reality they did anything the manager wanted them to do. When the father found out that his daughter was missing, he tried to find her. He went to the place where his daughter was, but they told him that she was not there. He looked until he thought that he had looked everywhere; then he broadcasted a message over the radio asking his daughter to come home. She heard his message and went home.

I think parents should take a lesson from that picture. I wished that mother had seen it. Maybe she would not be so strict on me if she had seen that picture.

I think a girl of seventeen should be allowed to go anywhere. I think she knows what to do and how to act. She should have the right ideas about right and wrong if she has had the right training.

Finally we may quote an account which presents another angle to these feelings of dissatisfaction with one's home and one's mode of life. The account stresses the element of temptation usually involved in such experiences.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—Although moving pictures have many good points, they also have their bad. They have suggested many temptations to me. Sometimes they have made me want to be a very bad girl, and do things that people would find hard to approve of. They have given me the idea I'd like to leave home, and go dance in some cabaret. I imagine I'd like the life in some night club. But upon reflection I have always decided that these things were not the best things to do, so I banished all thought of them from my mind.

It can be seen from the statements of experience which have been quoted how some young men and women may form their conception of modern life from the way in which

( 161) it is portrayed in motion pictures; how, correspondingly, they may derive ideas of freedom, of privileges, and of rights from what has been seen; how, further, they may experience dissatisfaction, temptation, and unsatisfied desires. These may lead, in some, to a tendency to rebel against confining influences, particularly against parental restraint. The entire discussion indicates how motion pictures may generate and give content to new schemes of life; and in doing so, change attitudes and awaken desires to conform to these schemes.


SOME further understanding of the way in which motion pictures may develop conceptions, attitudes, and desires can be derived from considering experiences with pictures showing adventure in foreign lands, and with those dealing with college life. Pictures treating such themes are of noticeable influence in developing desires, respectively, to visit other lands or to go to college. Writers of the motion-picture autobiographies speak very frequently of having been so affected. We may confine ourselves to the mention of a few typical cases.

A college girl whose early life was spent in a small Arkansas town declares:

Female, 16, white, college sophomore.—Life in a small town such as mine was not so thrilling after I passed the age of twelve, and oftentimes I went to the Friday night show and sat in a daze, picturing myself in the places I saw on the screen. My world was very small, for up to this time I did not know what existed outside the small circle I had been traveling in. When I would see the great open spaces of the desert and the cities with great buildings, my heart would yearn to break away from the surroundings I had always lived in and to get out into the world and see what it was all about.

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The next account, to select one with a very different setting, comes from a college boy who lived during his childhood in one of the slum areas of Chicago:

Male, 20, white, Jewish, college sophomore. —I had and still have one ambition that has been developed primarily by the motion pictures. That is a desire to travel and see the world. The conditions under which the traveling would take place would be no barrier to me. I had that desire when I was young and have it now. I hope that I may soon be able to fulfill this ambition. It is common for the children to develop ambitions to become policemen or movie stars or the like, but I never did have any ambition like that. The desire for travel was so strong in me that when I used to quarrel at home, I always wanted to runaway from home. The temptation to runaway from home is due both to the fact that I desired to travel and to the fact that in the movies I saw scenes of how the wealthier class lives, and was dissatisfied with the life 1 was leading. It never occurred to me that if I did run away I would lead a worse life than that at home. Coming from surroundings of squalidness, dirt, thievery, missing meals often, and limited space to travel in always brings forth in one the socialistic attitude when he sees scenes of the rich and how they squander money. So it was with me. When a big beautiful car went through our streets we threw stones at it, having in mind that the rich were no good. The occasion to see the life of the wealthy was the only time when pictures made me dissatisfied with the life I was leading or perhaps dissatisfied with the life the rich were leading.

Finally we may give an excerpt from the document of a high-school girl. This is a typical example of the kinds of statements that one finds in the motion-picture autobiographies:

Female, 17, white, high-school junior. —I have always wanted to travel extensively and movies have strengthened that desire. Having seen the warm swept sands of the Sahara, the cold barren lands of Russia, and the white, snow-laden Alps portrayed in the pictures I have a keen longing to visit each and all of them. I am planning now to save sufficient funds to go abroad in about ten years.

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In tabulating the 458 high-school documents being used as a sample we found in 59 per cent of them evidence that motion pictures have helped develop a yearning for travel. This was denied in 7 per cent of the documents, and not touched on in 34 per cent of them.

Somewhat of a similar distribution appears in the evidence in the documents bearing on the item, "Have the movies developed a desire to go to college?" Affirmative indication of such influence is given in 51 per cent of the documents and denied in 7 per cent. There was no information on the point in 42 per cent of the documents.

We follow with some accounts which show the rôle of motion pictures in engendering or reënforcing desires to go to college. The accounts, incidentally, call attention to the very attractive way in which college life is usually depicted and suggest the kind of stereotyped picture of such life that motion pictures help to form.

Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—When I was about twelve years old, college pictures had a particular fascination for me. I had a beautiful mental picture of college life and an ambition to be allowed some day to attend one. I used to get the biggest thrill when I saw pictures of young people having such glorious times at college, entering into athletics, being in dramatics, going to "proms," and having midnight escapades. After these shows I used to go home and study with renewed vigor so that I might get to college all the sooner. Alas, college is not all that I saw it to be on the screen or even imagined it to be in my wildest dreams. But that only proves that my imagination and my emotions overshadow my sense of reality.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior. — Like most students, college pictures gave me a longing for college days. I know all college life can't possibly be as it is portrayed, but it must be fun anyhow. I intend to go to college after I work a few years.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—When I saw "The Campus Flirt" I was determined to go to college and try to

(164)     become the heroine of the campus activities. I was athletically inclined (at least people told me I was) so I was positive I'd be a great success.

Male, 18, Negro, high-school senior.—When I saw Clara Bow in "The Wild Party" it gave me a desire to go to college; so much so, that I had to go to see the picture again; because I realized that if the girls get along so nicely and have so much fun, the boys would have much more fun than that.

Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—College pictures have always made me ambitious. After seeing one o them I always feel like I would like to go to college and do everything the pictures show. An example of inspiring college pictures is "The Collegians."

Female, 18, Negro, high-school senior.—I feel that I've wasted a good deal of my time in high school, but I intend to go to college and make up for that mistake of getting out of all the work I could. Sometimes I give up the idea of going to college, but when I see a movie of that glorious life that little flame starts to burning again. For to me college life seems divine, not all work, but some good wholesome play. It would be more thrilling to attend a college football game than a high-school game. Track meets, socials, and class work would be very enjoyable.

In motion pictures college life is shown very attractively. Such pictures are likely to awaken yearnings, stir ambitions, and sometimes lead to resolutions. They are likely, also, to lead young men and women to build up "ideal" images of college life which are far-fetched or distorted. It is perhaps not improper to add that a good part of the general public's conception of college life is derived from the way the subject is depicted in motion pictures. Many college students speak and write of the disillusionment which they experience after coming to college or a university. The following is an account of a conversation, as verbatim as possible, between four college girls living in a dormitory. It

( 165) will convey some idea of the stereotyped picture of college life which many derive from the movies.

"Her idea of college is Bebe Daniels and Richard Dix."

"One Minute to Play?"

"Yes, that combined with Flaming Youth."

"Well, you know a lot of us have that in mind when we come away to college."

"It doesn't take us long to get rid of it, though. But the ones who never get here are the ones who idealize the rah-rah stuff. They really believe college is nothing more than a big houseparty."

"High-school kids are like that."

"Yes, and working girls. I worked in at Macy's one summer, and I learned a lot. When they discovered I was a college girl, you should have heard the questions they asked me. They were pathetic."

"What, for example?"

"Well, the girl that worked beside me was particularly thrilled. She asked me if I lived in a sorority house, and if there were a lot of good-looking men, and did we drink much."

"I wondered the same things myself, when I was in high school."

"But that wasn't all. This girl wanted to know if we had dirt sessions, and did the college students pet all the time. Not a word about classes or studying, just the social side. She said, `Oh, do you really go to houseparties? And do the men and girls wear their pajamas when they're together?"'

"Good Lord, where did she think of that?"

"Movies. "

"She might have gotten it from these, sizzling books—Un-forbidden Fruit and so on."

"No, these girls don't read much. The movies are about their only source of enlightenment. They dote on college pictures, too. The University campus-Youth's Playground!"

"You know I had a few of those ideas myself, somewhat toned down. And I lived in a college town."

"I think we all have, to a certain extent. After seeing every collegiate show from The Freshman to Varsity we're all ready

(166) to have just one big frolic through the fields of higher education."

"Yeh, and we find out soon enough."


FURTHER instances of how motion pictures may help to shape schemes of conduct is shown in the development of ambitions. Adolescents may witness motion pictures which portray attractively a given life and may develop ambitions to experience that life or to emulate some character within it. It would seem from the autobiographies that motion pictures are of quite minor significance in the formation of ambitions since indications of such an effect appear in less than 7 per cent of the accounts. We shall content ourselves with listing a few of the descriptions of this effect as they appear in some of the documents.

Male, 19, white, college sophomore.—The pictures that I enjoy most now, though, are those centering about the law court. Films of this type are rather rare, in fact I have seen but two pictures in the last five years that I could place in this class, and as a consequence I always look forward to them. When I do see one, it has a more substantial and lasting effect on me than any other kind in that for many days after, whenever my mind is free, my thoughts wander back to the scenes of the courtroom. I picture myself in the position of the presiding judge, a source of justice, then in the rôle of the prosecuting attorney, freeing society from the scourge of gun-play and violence, and finally as the counsel for the defense, successfully maintaining my client's innocence. The effect of all this is to cause me to wish that I was through with school and out in the world covering myself with glory by virtue of super-attainments in the field of law. Again, these pictures seem to occur at a time when I am rather depressed, and they serve in the added capacity of refiring my ambition and giving it an entirely new birth. This, I believe, has been the most lasting beneficial effect that I have derived from motion pictures.

Female, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—The picture "Humoresque"

(167)     has also influenced me. I always wanted to be a musician and that picture made my desire stronger. I seemed to "feel" music since that picture, and I still see the actor holding his violin and making facial expressions with every feeling of the tone. I might add that to this day I study music and have aspirations of becoming a concert musician in the near future.

Male, 21, white, college sophomore. —I firmly believe that my going to college was the result o` the influence of motion pictures. Upon my graduation from high school I had no thought of going to college, because my commercial course had not provided me with all the subjects necessary to fulfill the entrance requirements. I was short two entire years of mathematics. That I had given up all hope of ever receiving a university education is shown, by the fact that I had enrolled for a course at a business college. One evening I attended the theater alone. A college picture was being shown, which was different, however, from most pictures of this type in that it (lid not stress football and the inevitable campus romance unduly. Instead, it was a really worth-while story of a young man's struggle to get a college education and his final success. The picture showed both the value of a college course and the pleasure derived from the social life.

I did not have to ponder over this picture after I had seen it. Instead, the answer to my problem came very suddenly while I was watching the screen. One thought flashed through my brain: "I've just got to go to college." Then I realized that I had wished to do so all the time, but that the thought of the work I lacked had held me back. Upon my arriving home I announced my new decision (to the surprise of everyone!) and within a few days had planned my future course of action!

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—If it had not been for a college picture that I saw in my senior year in high school, I might never have gone to college. It was in the spring of my senior year, and graduation time was nearing. My friends and teachers asked me whether I was planning to go on to college. I told them that I would like to, but that I didn't see my way

(168)     clear. About this time a college picture was in town, and I went with a friend of mine to see it. I cannot remember the name of the picture nor of the actor who played the part of the college boy, but I remember the story perfectly.

A young man was getting ready to go to college. It was during the summer time when the story started and the young man was employed in a machine shop in his town. It was hard work and he had long hours but he stuck it out, and made considerable money. At the end of September he bid his folks good-by and was off. As soon as he had registered in school and had gotten settled, he looked around for jobs. It was not long before he had a job in a cafeteria wiping dishes, for which work he received his meals. Then he found a job for his room. He took care of a Doctor's residence, raking leaves, washing porches, tending furnace, etc. He received his room in exchange for this work. Then after a few weeks of this, he got a job on Saturday in a grocery store and with this money he bought his incidentals. He got along fine in school also, mainly because he studied nights when the other fellows went out for a good time.

I thought about this picture for a long time. It had come just at the time when I was contemplating going to college myself and it was a remarkable help. I day-dreamed about going through college like this fellow had done. I saw myself wiping dishes, carrying out ashes and everything else, and getting an education at the same time.

I graduated from high school that June and was employed a week later in a door factory. I worked for 35e. an hour, but it was the only work to be had in the town. I worked all summer in that factory and by fall I had enough means to go to school. When I arrived, I immediately inquired about work at the University, and I received a job in- Hall serving meals. In this way I earned my board. About three weeks later I had another job checking men's clothing and with this money I paid my room rent. Then on Saturdays I picked up odd jobs, and with this money I purchased my incidentals.

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.— One ambition which I got from the movies has become a part of my daily life. In some circus picture (I forget the title) a few years ago, I saw Joe

 (169)     Bonomo perform some wonderful feats of strength. At the time I was a physical weakling, suffering from lung trouble which it seemed could never be cured. The picture fired my ambition to become a strong man. I do not intend to say that the movie was responsible for that desire, for I had always wanted to be strong. But that picture was the event which made me decide to do something to realize my ambition. I tried weight lifting as Bonomo did on the screen, starting with light weights and adjusting them as I grew stronger. This exercise put me on the road to recovery, cured my lung troubles, added about forty pounds of muscle to my frame, and put me in perfect health and physical condition. I suppose that even if I had not seen that movie, I would some day have started on an exercise program, but I have the movies to thank for deciding to get busy when I did. 

Female, 16, white, Jewish, high-school junior.—I always wanted to be a dancer and I believe the movies influenced this idea very much. Such a picture as "The Broadway Melody" helps to tempt one to be a dancer because it showed how a poor girl could become famous as a (lancer if she worked hard enough. The fame and beautiful clothes and luxuries always appealed to me. I always thought that after I was a famous dancer I could travel and see the world as many pictures show how, after one is famous and has plenty of money they could travel around the world.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—I can remember very distinctly that when I was thirteen years old I saw a moving picture in which the heroine was a very young, pretty girl. In school she had taken a business course and after working hard she had been promoted to the position of private secretary. To this very day I would like to be a private secretary. I used to sit and dream about what my life would be like after I had that position. For quite some time after I had seen another picture in which the girl was a very talented dancer, my greatest ambition was to be a dancer. Then at other times I've wanted to be a motion-picture star, but that ambition didn't last quite as long as the other two did.

(170)     Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior.—As a result of my frequent trips to the movies I have had one ambition. That ambition has remained throughout the two years up to the present. I want to be a wealthy society lady! So often I sit and think of the

many things which I would do if I were in the position of the ladies I see on the screen. Pictures showing a great deal of travel on the part of the heroine always arouse that old longing. How I would love to see Paris, Spain, aristocratic England, and the tropics.

We are omitting from this brief treatment discussion of the ambitions aroused in young children by motion pictures, and of the desires to become movie stars in the case of adolescents. In both instances one can detect markedly the play of motion pictures. The desires and hopes of becoming cowboys, aviators, detectives, and motion-picture stars are by no means infrequent. However, since these ambitions are almost always outlived and do not seem to enter significantly into actual life careers, we have consciously refrained from dealing with them.


OTHER evidence of the influence of motion pictures in outlining views of the world or in developing schemes of conduct is offered in experiences of emotional inspiration and in the mingled desires and intentions "to be good" which people may sometimes form as a result of seeing motion pictures. Such experiences, as they appear in the accounts of high-school and college students, usually arise in response to motion pictures which play up themes of family affection or religious duty. Before considering instances of this sort, let us pay brief attention to the more casual ways in which inspiration may be aroused and moral conceptions reënforced.

These effects may be attained on occasion by the use of motion pictures which have a "propagandistic" character.

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The following account written by a college girl of the Catholic religion describing her experiences as a student in a parochial school will illustrate the point:

Female, 20, white, college sophomore. —I was a student at a parochial school and the church gave a movie one afternoon. What an impression that picture left on me! It has only been within the last few years that I have been able to cast it entirely off. The picture was to emphasize the seal of the confessional. It opened with a murderer making a confession to a priest and while confessing he managed to get some of the blood of his victim on the hands of the priest. After the man has gone, the priest calls the police and they accuse him of the crime and his knife is found alongside of the body of the victim stained with blood. Because he will not break the seal of the confessional the priest is doomed to the electric chair. Before the electrocution the murderer confesses on his deathbed and thus the priest is saved. I realize now that this was to impress the seal of the confessional on our young minds. For some time after this I held the ecclesiastics in awe. What a wonderful and yet in some respect how terrible a life they must lead. I resolved that I would do anything possible to make life happier and easier for them. I did try helping the nuns after this, but after a short time the novelty of it wore off and I drifted back into my old ways.

Another experience of a somewhat similar character appears in the following account:

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—The only outstanding case of this period that I can definitely recall which played an important part in my moral life of the future, was the attending of a show called, "Sowing Wild Oats." I was but sixteen years of age, but the impression this show left upon me still lingers in my memory. I was not taught anything dealing with sex matters prior to this and to see the condition of those people who did not live morally clean lives filled me with fear. A doctor about forty years of age, a resident of the city, having a good reputation, made a speech after the picture pleading for clean living and acting, especially when in contact with the opposite sex. I

(172)     believe this influenced my future life in regard to living a morally clean life as much as my early Lutheran parochial school training.

In addition to such pictures which are probably consciously designed to implant definite kinds of attitudes, more casual pictures may call forth incidental responses of this nature in certain movie-goers. Some understanding of how this or that picture may fortuitously stir the desires of individuals and awaken within them resolutions towards good conduct can be inferred from the following accounts:

Male, 20, white, college junior.—Then came a film of Abraham Lincoln's life. He has always been my hero. I have never been so aroused as I was at the portrayal of the death of Anne Rutledge. I cried. For a whole week I was a Galahad. I could not entertain a mean thought (nor a happy one) and I purchased Herndon and Week's two-volume biography of Lincoln and read and re-read it.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—I remember a certain picture of a little boy running away and who got into a good deal of trouble. Ever since that picture I held my tongue every time I felt like saying, "I'm going to run away." A picture like that should be shown to every child because in his life every child gets the idea that he "wants to run away from home."

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—When I was about fifteen years old, Mary Pickford and her curls in little girl parts attracted me. I saw "Pollyanna," and cried and responded to her emotions as though it were myself. I can remember vowing to myself that I would be real good, too, and make everyone like me for my politeness and self-effacement. I lived with her through her trials and tribulations in orphanages and in poverty, and I'd be so delighted at a happy ending for her. I was so impressed because she played the parts of girls as old as I was, and I could appreciate their feelings.

Female, 20, white, college junior.—The love interest also was extremely interesting to me. To what adolescent isn't it? Didn't Elsie Ferguson play in a little skit once called "Forever" in which she and her lover were separated for a period of some

(173)     fifty years by dreary prison walls, only to be reunited by death? I remember thinking that such a sad love would be the sublimest type of trial a woman could bear. Oh, yes! I believed in trials for the human race, on the grounds they were character building. For weeks I went around with an Elsie Ferguson expression of sweet self-sacrifice spread all over my countenance. A little premature, but nevertheless real to me.

Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—One evening mother, dad, and I went to see "Humoresque." I don't recall who the players were, but I think that Vera Gordon played the part of the mother. I sat through the entire picture without even stirring once, and my interest was so intrigued that I was utterly immune to everyone and everything around me. For the rest of the evening I thought I heard violins playing, and that beautiful melody kept running through my mind. I was going to make mother and dad as happy as the boy in the picture had made his folks. That night I went to bed with a determined fact in my mind. The following morning I arose, at least an hour earlier than I usually did, dressed in a hurry and without any breakfast I started to practice. I was going to prove to my instructor that I had talent and that if I wanted to I could become a great violinist and play "Humoresque" as well as did the boy in the movies. Unfortunately, my sincere motives were not recognized, for instead of being commended, I was reprimanded for making so much noise at such an early hour.

These accounts deal with experiences of emotional inspiration which are somewhat casual and fleeting. They are, perhaps, of little significance except in so far as they hint at the ability of motion pictures to cultivate some good intention or aspiration of the spectator and to increase its vigor, even though temporarily.


A MORE distinct appreciation of the rôle of motion pictures in fortifying moral ideals and in inducing individuals "to be good" should be conveyed by the series of accounts presented below. The experiences described have been

(174) evoked by sentimental pictures centering around the theme of family affection.

Male, 16, Jewish, high-school junior.—It is very rare for me to cry over something I have seen in a movie. It has always taken something very severe to start me crying. The first movie that I cried over was one I saw at the age of twelve and was entitled "Eli Eli." This movie was a very good idea about Jewish home life. I have my own ambitions which I will try to fulfil for my own sake and most for the sake of my mother, my best pal in life. I didn't realy feel the love of a mother until I saw "Eli Eli" and now I know that nothing is too good for her.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—I remember once I had had trouble with my mother. I said that everything that was done in the house I had to do. I was very downhearted and thought how cruel they were to me. That night I went to the movies. I do not remember the name of the picture but it hit the nail on the head. It concerned a girl who did not get along with her family and one who did. The one girl was so good that everyone loved her and her life was very happy. The other girl was not happy and people did not like her because she was not sweet, good, and kind to her mother like the other girl. This made me think that I was just like the girl who was not good. I always wanted to be liked by everyone and to be happy so I went home that night with the intention of being as good as possible to my mother and of trying to make family life as happy and pleasant as possible both for myself and mother and father. It has been a good many years since I saw this picture and I am still trying to be that kind of a girl. I have succeeded some, but not enough yet.

Male, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—Movies do change my moods. They affect my behavior in certain channels for about a week after I have seen the movie. The best example or instance of how a movie has affected me is the following: I once saw a movie treating the theme of how a mother raised her children in poverty, but worked hard to keep them on the right path. After the children grew up they left home, became tramps, and the mother became a dependent of the state. For some time

(175)     after this picture I was as helpful around the house in saving my mother work and in doing a lot of things that were never asked of me. Before going to bed, I'd repeat my goal to myself that "I'm going to make good." This feeling comes over me after sentimental pictures only. I do not believe that any other type of pictures has affected me in this manner, excepting the sentimental type.

Female, 19, white, Hungarian parentage, college sophomore.—I think of one picture which really made a lasting impression on me. This, of course, was "Over the Hill," with Mary Carr. I saw it with my mother, and during the picture I cried profusely and promised mother that Mrs. Carr's fate would never be her own as long as I was alive and able to do my share. I don't believe the effect of that picture will ever wear off.

Female, 19, white, college junior.—I also liked to see girls my own age acting in the pictures. If any misfortunes happened to them like their mother dying or if they were taking the part of selfish girls, I would start thinking if I was like that. I would appreciate my mother more than I had ever before and I would say that I would never disobey her again. I would try to be sweet and pleasant at home so these types of pictures had a very good effect on me.

The picture "Beau Geste," which dwells upon the theme of brotherly affection, had an influence on many similar to that of "Over the Hill." The accounts suggest how a picture of this sort may awaken good intentions and reenforce resolutions. Instances of boys and girls having changed their fraternal attitudes as a result of seeing certain motion pictures are presented in the following statements:

Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior.—Last year I went to see the picture called "Beau Geste," and the love the brothers had for one another was remarkable. Their love was different from the love of brothers and sisters I have seen. The love that I saw was distinct; the love for one another in the picture was great. From that night on I made a promise to have the same kind of love for my sisters. I am still trying to keep my promise and hope to continue.

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Female, 18, white, college freshman. —"Beau Geste" on the other hand other hand did wonders for nee in regards to my brother. Brother and I always loved each other as touch as any sister :111d brother ever did. incidentally, there is a year and a half difference in our ages, his being 192, mine being 18. After seeing "Beau Geste," though, our love turned into something more beautiful. One seemed more willing to sacrifice something for the other. If I asked my brother to do me a favor it seemed that he did it with much more willingness. Possibly this was imagination on my part, but I know that I for one was changed and could "go through anything" for my brother.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior.—Words cannot describe "Stella Dallas." As far as realism is concerned that picture had "IT" in capital letters. Belle Bennett as the gay, frivolous, but loving and good mother will always be remembered by me. "Stella Dallas" taught me several things, but the one I can never forget I cannot really put into words. This lesson, though I guess it is more of a prayer, is that by God's grace and benevolence my mother will never have to suffer those pains which Belle Bennett suffered, that she may never need to wear that wretched, that remorseful, that uneasy and hunted and pleading look that Belle Bennett wore, and last, that she may never see the day when a son or a daughter of hers is unable to come to her at the time she needs them most. "Beau Geste," that beautiful story of brotherly love, really did influence my home environment. I became more considerate of the feelings of my older brother, I treated him with more respect, I lost my love for pestering him and for wanting to go where he goes, and consequently although he never saw the picture he changed in his ways toward me, so that now, about four years since the showing of that picture, my brother and I are the ideal brother and "kid sister."


MOTION pictures centering around religious themes are the other kind which seem effective in supporting schemes of moral conduct, and inducing intentions and vows to follow such schemes. Let us turn our consideration to some accounts which show this sort of influence.

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Female, 20, white, college junior —"King of Kings'' from the beginning to "Lo, I am with you always'' was an inspiration. Its portrayal of Christ's passion was splendid and brought every pearl ill I he :audience into sympathy and perhaps deeper understanding with the greatest figure in world history. I went, in the mood of one desirous for peace and I received it. The words of the Master, the sight of Him and His disciples in work and in solitude lifted one out of this world into a different realm. It made me dream of a time and day when strife shall be no more and men shall live together as brothers. I rejoiced that all of my idealism has not yet been destroyed. My faith brings hope eternal.

Male, 20, white, Jewish, college Junior. — Probably no other single factor influenced the spiritual side of my life as did the picture "The Ten Commandments." I am Jewish but no one in our family is orthodox and we do not make much of religion in our home. I can remember how I hated to go to Sunday School-" What's the use?" I always asked. When I was sixteen years old, I saw the picture mentioned above, and from that time on I have never doubted the value of religion. The many, many hardships which my people went through for the sake of preserving our race were portrayed so vividly and so realistically that the feeling of reverence and respect for my religion was instilled in me.

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—Two or three pictures have been a great influence in strengthening my ideals. Of these, "Ben Hur's" influences were the greatest. I saw the picture three times, and I'll probably see it the next time I get an opportunity. That picture made me want to live an unselfish, self-sacrificing life. Each time as I left the theater I was intensely desirous of showing my new attitude by performing some noble, gracious deed. I dreamed of saving a life at great risk to my own, of dying a martyr's death, or of sacrificing my dearest possession for someone else. These ambitions usually last for two or three weeks, and during that time I was a model youth. Everybody noticed the change in me. But after several weeks I'd gradually lapse back into the normal again. "The King of Kings" also gave me high aspirations. It made

(178)     me want to be a great religious leader, and I dreamed for quite a while of playing the rôle. Mother always wanted me to be a preacher, and these two pictures very nearly decided me. In fact, I am, at present, rather wavering between law and the ministry, and a few pictures like those would probably make me decide to become a minister. Not that I would allow just any picture to so summarily change my whole future, but I am so torn between the two ambitions that a little influence thrown to one side of the scale would turn the balance in favor of that occupation. The noble aspirations aroused by these pictures are still present, though in a less intense form, and I still feel the desire to lead an unselfish life.

My home ties have been strengthened by such pictures as "Sorrel and Son," which taught me to appreciate my father. There is a host of pictures which show a mother's love, many others show how strong are the ties of blood, and all these have made my home ties more binding. Still other pictures have shown me the true value of friendship, and enabled me to appreciate more fully the friendship of a pal who is very dear to me. Friendships don't flourish unless the friends are willing to sacrifice for each other. That theme was shown in some picture I saw several years ago, and it has helped me to keep my friendship with this pal of mine.

Female, 17, Negro, high-school junior.—After I saw "Over the Hill" I made up my mind to always respect my parents and try to do all I can for them. It was a sad picture, but I think it was a great one to teach children to obey and respect their parents. The "Ten Commandments" was another great picture. The man in the play broke all the commandments and to make things worse killed his mother although he didn't know it. It made me want to try to keep the commandments as best I could and to think about the next world. I think the movies are wonderful for if you would only try to do the things some of them try to teach, I think you would never go wrong.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—Pictures such as "Ben Hur" and "The King of Kings" awaken the higher emotions in me. They just thrill me. When I see such pictures I


(179)    can't help wondering why everyone can't be good. I think those pictures are wonderful and there should be more of them.

Female, 19, Negro, college sophomore.—" The Ten Commandments" was a very impressive picture and I spent much time worrying for fear that I might break some of the commandments in my future life and bring a world of suffering upon myself. In order to prevent such a disaster I tried my best not to misbehave.

The reader who has read our discussion of Emotional Possession will of course recognize in the accounts which have been given some of the characteristics discussed in that chapter. The feelings of inspiration and the accompanying vows "to be good" may, and perhaps usually are, shortlived, although this remark should not cause one to forget that in certain cases the individual may maintain a lasting resolution. Usually, as the memory of the picture is lost the accompanying intentions disappear unless they are thoroughly assimilated into a life-organization which is in general possible if reënforced by other influences. In most cases, however, the experience is like that given in the following statement

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—Movies have in some respects affected my resolutions, although they were seldom carried out, as had been the case with the rest of my resolutions.

After seeing Janet Gaynor in "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel" I resolved to be as kind and sweet to everyone as she was. But before long the picture died from my thoughts-also my resolution.


IN order to fill out properly this sketch of how movies outline schemes of conduct, it is necessary to call attention to the different interpretations which people may place upon what is seen. There is a wide variety in what people

( 180) may select out of a picture. Its influence, consequently, is dependent not solely upon its content but also upon the sensitivity and disposition of the observer. A picture which to one may be quite devoid of stimulation may be highly exciting to another. A picture which some may regard as highly moral may be construed in an opposite light by others.

The differences are not merely matters of age and sex, but of cultural background and personal character. Moreover it is often found that while a picture as a whole may have a certain dominant atmosphere, specific scenes and episodes may stand out unexpectedly in the experience of an individual because of specific reference they may have to his personal career. Consequently, in order to assess the significance of motion pictures in providing schemes of conduct, it is necessary to consider the other variable—the line of interest of the observer.

Sometimes the meanings which movie-goers may get from the same picture are diametrically opposite. A few cases of such difference in interpretation seem in order to illustrate the point.

We may choose as our first example "The Birth of a Nation." To many, perhaps to most, of the observers, this picture awakened some feelings of antipathy or hostility towards Negroes. One perhaps may recall the opposition of many groups to it on the score that it tended to fan racial hatred. The following account from the motion-picture autobiography of a college girl represents somewhat this sort of reaction:

Female, 22, white, college senior.—The pictures of the South that were in my mind were those given by Harriet B. Stowe. D. W. Griffith's production, "The Birth of a Nation," made me see the Negro of the South as he was and not as the Northerners have always portrayed him. I believe that many people were influenced as I was to realize what the Negroes thought freedom

(181)     meant. It is only when a Negro demands the marriage of the abolitionist's daughter, who is white, that he, the father, can realize what all his agitation has meant. This picture did not make me an advocate of slavery as it existed but it made me see things from a Southerner's point of view.

We may follow this account with the remarks of another college girl with reference to the same picture showing a markedly different response:

Female, 20, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—In "The Birth of a Nation" I felt my first feeling of rebellion over a racial question. I remember coming home and crying because the poor colored people were so mistreated. I expressed my view of the "terrible" white people saying, "How would they feel if they were colored?" For weeks I looked with sympathy at every colored person and got eleven cents together within two weeks and gave it to a little Negro boy.

Let us illustrate the point further. by considering the reactions to another picture, "The King of Kings." The reader will recall from our earlier discussion the influence of this picture in inducing emotional inspiration and a resolution to conform to certain moral standards of conduct. Another instance of this sort is given in the brief remarks of a high-school girl who writes:

Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—The religious picture "King of Kings" made me feel that I was wicked and it awakened in me a resolution to try to amend.

A Jewish high-school girl, however, has this to say about the picture:

Female, 17, white, Jewish, high-school junior.—I believe that pictures such as "The Passion Play," "King of Kings," and so on, should not be permitted on the screen, as there are many weak-minded people who bring up subjects that should have been forgotten centuries ago, such as the subject of the Jewish people killing Jesus Christ, which is not a fact.

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It happens that the writers of the last two accounts were students in the same class in the same high school. Let us follow with the verbatim conversation taken from a group of university girls showing a still different interpretation:

"That's what I said, that I went for relaxation. No worry, no thinking. You just sit back and listen to the music and know for sure that everything will turn out all right. I suppose you go to be educated?"

"Well, I like a little thought. They're all so superficial. No moral or anything.

"What about the Ten Commandments? and The King of Kings? There you have H. B. Warner dressed up like Jesus and running all over the place. Couldn't find more moralizing in the Bible."

"Those were exceptions."

"I'll say they were, thank God! They came the closest to making me an atheist since The Golden Bough.[1] I'll bet God got a big kick out of them."

Such instances as have been given are not at all rare. They show that the way in which an individual responds to a motion picture depends considerable on his own attitude. Let us give other instances showing this point. The following account is from a high-school boy aged sixteen from a highly religious background and with the ambition to "serve the Lord in some foreign land as missionary." He is expressing his attitude towards love pictures in a way that makes it markedly different from the points of view of many other boys of sixteen.

Male, 16, white, high-school junior.—When I was about 13 years old I gradually ceased going to movies and therefore I have gathered nothing from the modern love scenes. One cannot help seeing the many ads and signs and billboards and I have gathered that the movies now shown are composed of nothing else but love. Many of these shows, to my way of thinking, are

(183)     not fit to be shown. For the most part, I think, they are composed of a lot of mushy love scenes. How anyone can go to a movie and sit there for several hours and enjoy himself watching a lot of other people make love is more than I can see. The signs advertising these various pictures are disgusting enough in themselves.

Some incident in the experience of an individual may cause him to construe pictures from a rather unusual point of view and consequently to react in a way which would not be ordinarily expected. Response of this sort is evident in the following experience written by a college girl in her twenties

Female, 23, white, college senior.—But fate had something else in store for me. A broken engagement upset the whole world. Tragic pictures for the next few months helped me to weep it off. Youth doesn't cry long over spilt milk, and then what a kick I got from pictures where some vamp led some fool man on and got the best of him. Even in cases where a wife and family suffered I enjoyed it. By the time I tired of this type of picture I had forgotten the sting of the whole affair. In this case I think the pictures made me remember long, but they furnished a different light by which to look upon my troubles. To my people and friends I never intimated how badly I felt, and those pictures took the place of a confidant. After seeing the picture I felt better. It was just as though I had told them the whole affair, and they had mapped out an explicit bit of advice. I wasn't alone; somebody else had had similar experiences and we were strangely akin.[2]

Very frequently one can detect a distinct difference in the interpretation of the same kind of picture on the part of elders and adolescents. A picture which on the part of one may be regarded as chiefly salacious may carry a distinct moral to others. An interesting example was "Our

( 184) Dancing Daughters," featuring Joan Crawford. Many adults in conversation with the author impressed upon him their judgment that this picture was harmful and would likely lead to immoral attitudes and thoughts in highschool boys and girls. These informants included a number of high-school teachers, an editor of an educational magazine, and two college professors. In the experience of a number of high-school boys and girls, however, the picture tended to emphasize other values.

Some of these descriptions are of experiences which are illuminating

Female, 14, white, high-school sophomore.—I should say that movies are taken at their value according to the modern standard. For instance, "Dancing Daughters" was modern as could be and everybody (I mean the students) liked it. It portrayed petting and the evil consequences of drink and of taking people at face value. In other words, it was an educational picture, if one could take the example to heart, clothed in modernism.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior.—The last show that I am going to mention is the show that so accurately pictured the viewpoints of the younger generation "Our Dancing Daughters," starring Joan Crawford. In Joan Crawford the true spirit of the younger generation was shown. No matter what happened she played fair. She even lost her man, and in the eyes of the older generation they think that when a modern young miss wants her man back she'd even be a cutthroat, but Joan Crawford showed that even in the crisis like that she was sport enough to play fair! And "Play Fair" is really the motto of the better class of young Americans, and even in the best products there is always a blemish so why must the younger generation be so shamefully thought of. I hope many of these women who are scandalized at the actions of the modern miss saw that showand, if they did not change their beliefs after seeing it, well, then, it does not mean that the movie was a failure, but that they are the failures, not to recognize a truth so obvious.

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Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—I am very emotional by nature and perhaps no pictures have played on them quite so much as some of these modern pictures which portray, with exaggeration, the modern generation. I remember seeing "Dancing Daughters" and "Dancing Mothers" not so long ago, both of which influenced me a great deal. These pictures emphasized the harm that can result when daughters do not confide in their mothers. Now, mother and I had never been each other's confidantes; I couldn't seem to confide in her as other girls did in their mothers, although I knew that she longed for me to do so, so that we might be pals; it just didn't seem to be my nature, but I realized that I was wrong and that I was making mother unhappy. During the performance of each of these pictures I seemed to live the whole story myself, oblivious of all around me. And when I saw how happy a mother was made when her daughter finally confided in her, and how so many misfortunes resulted from not doing so, I immediately decided to change my tactics even if I had to force myself. Ever since mother and I have been the closest pals.

Another instance of what some may regard as an unexpected response is given in the following account of a girl's reaction to the picture "The Wild Party." The reader may recall from instances previously cited how certain individuals experienced impulses towards passionate love from this picture. The following account represents a different angle of interpretation—the selection from the picture of a different feature.

Female, 18, white, high-school senior.—Cinemas have indeed strengthened me in my ties of friendship. My girl friend and I were raised in the same community. We never quarreled or fought as the other children of our age did. As we grew older we began to drift apart. We were forced to separate when we reached high-school age. She left the city and I did not keep up the correspondence, although she would write often. When I saw "The Wild Party" I determined to write more often and "stick by her" as a pal.

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LET us conclude this phase of our study by calling attention to the rôle of conversation in defining what an individual will see in a picture the aspects that he will select to pay attention to. An individual's sensitivity and perception are built up very frequently in response to what his associates think and say. We have already touched upon this point in the consideration of emotional detachment. Here let us merely suggest that the different interpretations which are made of pictures are explicable to some degree in terms of the interests of one's group. The process by means of which individuals may be sensitized to certain phases of motion pictures, previously ignored, is brought out in the following series of accounts

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—There was a time, however, at about the age of sixteen, when I took more of an interest in this sex part of movies. This interest was developed largely through the comments of other boys who suggested that a certain actress was beautiful, or had a nice figure, or that it would be fun to kiss her, or that they envied the actor playing opposite her, etc. In this way I started to take an interest in love pictures and kept my eyes open for such scenes.

Male, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—As far as adopting habits in one's childhood, I doubt very much if any lasting habits can be acquired through the seeing of movies in one's childhood. In my age, however, is when one can pick up ideas and use them. I know a fellow from the high school from which I came, he is a graduate of the reform school, and an alumnus of the city jail. I have heard him say time and time again "I'm going over to my `Babe's' house and put on the John Gilbert act." Other fellows in the crowd, I for one, soon went to a show to see what is meant by a "John Gilbert act."

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Female, 15, white, college sophomore.—I believe the reasons that brought about my change of interests were first, the fact that I went with older girls and heard them discuss the different moving pictures. They expressed their ideas of some different pictures concerning love. They aroused my curiosity and I went to see these pictures for myself. I finally grew more and more to their way of thinking.

Some idea of how girls may become interested in certain features of love pictures can be secured from the two following accounts which reflect the kinds of conversation which take place among some groups of girls

Female, 17, Negro, high-school senior.—My girl friends and I have sometimes sat for hours talking of love scenes from various pictures. It seems we get a better thrill after it's about two days old. The general trend of these conversations was: "Oh, wasn't he handsome when he rescued the girl from the villain"; or "She was so beautiful; no wonder he fell in love with her," etc. That is the way our conversations run on, and sometimes we talk so long and so much, until my mother says, "Girls, isn't there anything of interest happening at the school now?"

Female, 14, Negro, high-school freshman.—When I am with a group of girls we always talk about love pictures. We tell how we like to see certain actors kiss and how they hold you when kissing. We also talk about how much effect the kiss has on the actress, whether she closes her eyes or whether she faints away, or whether she refuses such love-making.

These few accounts will suffice to suggest how the conversation of one's group or of one's companions may direct the line of interest and determine in part what one will seek to select out of the conduct presented in the movies.


THE discussion in this chapter has been given to indicate the ways in which motion pictures may affect conceptions and attitudes, views of life, and possible schemes of

( 188) conduct. Even without evidence it would be easy to understand that the witnessing of movies would leave such effects on certain kinds of people. Reflection on both the content of pictures and the manner of its presentation should make this clear.

For one thing, motion pictures cover an extensive range of topics. Even though the dominating themes be few (as they are), their setting, the country, the epoch, the characters, and the backgrounds of life vary. Much may be shown which is outside of the previous experience of individuals; it is natural that their conceptions of the objects and areas of life which have been treated should be formed out of the images presented in the pictures. There is no problem here. One may appreciate this influence of motion pictures in providing people with images of life previously unknown, particularly in the case of children.

The area of knowledge and experience in children is usually more limited than in the case of adults, their objects are fewer, and their acquaintance with life more circumscribed. The screen and depictions of objects in motion pictures not only expand their world in new directions but also determine how it is seen or viewed in these new areas. In the early part of the chapter some attention was given to evidence reflecting the influence of motion pictures on the structure of imagination of children. They secure from the movies not only images of this or that object, of this or that form of life, but also of plot, of action, and, so to speak, of the movement of life. To be true, their images may be recast or rejected as they gather fresh experience through either motion pictures or through other sources. Yet as long as they are introduced by motion pictures to objects or forms of life which are new to them, their views will be made up out of the images presented in such pictures.

( 189) This point can be better appreciated when we realize that the display in motion pictures is a visual display. Images are supplied, so to speak, ready-made. They have a vividness and a clean-cut character which makes easier their absorption in "whole cloth" fashion. This it may be inferred is particularly true in the case of those who are visually minded.

The question may also be raised why motion pictures are such a favorable source of stereotyped conceptions of objects and forms of life. The answer may in part be sought in the clean-cut and unambiguous way in which such objects and forms of life are usually presented on the screen. The declaration that motion pictures have to be leveled down to the intelligence of a twelve-year-old may or may not be true. However, that they are usually simple in plot, with the characters usually depicted in a definite and easily recognizable manner, observation shows to be true. This simple and decisive form of the characters, rôles, and plot conduces to the easy formation of images which become elements in the views and conceptions formed by certain movie-goers.

In addition to the facts mentioned that motion pictures may present characters, objects, and modes of living which are new to the experience of certain people, that the presentation is in the form of vivid visual images, and that what is presented is decisive and unambiguous, there is a further point, namely, that what is shown may carry authority and the conviction of correctness. It is this latter mark which explains frequently the displacement of conceptions which people already have, by those shown in motion pictures. We have seen something of this effect in the ideas of modern life formed by high-school boys and girls.

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By providing people with images motion pictures obviously, then, shape their views and influence their interpretations—that is, in those areas of life where people do not already have definitely shaped images. The image has a double use; it determines how an individual will conceive things, and it serves as an implement of interpretation. An individual uses the images which he has to fill out and make intelligible to him what he sees or hears, as in the case of the children who depict the Chinamen in their minds in a definite way on hearing reference to them.

If one understands that motion pictures may furnish certain people with conceptions, one can appreciate their influence on schemes of conduct. To develop a certain view of an object or mode of living is to form a corresponding disposition or tendency to act towards it. Conception and attitude are linked together. However, we may view motion pictures more specifically from the angle of attitude or projected activity.

It is easy to see, for one thing, that many kinds of life presented in motion pictures are shown in an attractive and appealing way. This is likely to be true particularly of those forms of life which are of momentous concern to young men and young women, those to which they look forward. In particular the life of modern youth as presented in the movies is full of romance and adventure, freedom and excitement.

In view of the likelihood of many young men and women being latently disposed to such possible experiences, that movies of this type should implant schemes of conduct is to be expected. Those affected may extract ideas as to their rights, ideas of what they come to believe they are privileged to enjoy. They may become dissatisfied or discontented with their own community control, may indeed

( 191) actually rebel. Such results are likely to occur where the discrepancy is greatest, i.e., where one's own life seems very drab and confined in contrast to the pleasures and freedom of that portrayed on the screen. From this point of view, one can understand the seemingly greater effect of this sort in the case of girls, rather than in boys, and in girls of the poor and immigrant families than in girls of wealthier and more emancipated families; awakened desires and family control are greater in the first instances than in the latter instances.

In the latter part of the chapter attention was called to the rôle of one's sensitivities and experiences in affecting what one will select from a picture. This principle should be kept in mind in any consideration of the aid which motion pictures may give to the development of schemes of life and conduct. It is quite possible, as it was shown, for people to place entirely different interpretations upon the same picture and to derive from it quite different lessons. The implication is that if one is to foretell the effects of a motion picture one must know, in general, something of the interests and experience of those to whom the picture will be shown.


  1. Editorial Note: This refers to the book by Sir James Frazer.
  2. This account exemplifies the not infrequent experience in which the spectator feels that the picture has a special message or meaning for him, and then feels a peculiar kinship with the actor and, in a sense, builds up an intimate world of two in which he gets approval for his attitude or latent conduct.

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