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Movies, makeouts, moldable minds

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 12, 2006

Everyone knows that when a member of the opposite sex asks you to “watch a movie,” you will – more likely than not – watch little more than the opening credits.

Everyone also knows that when a professor announces that you’ll be watching a movie in class, you will – more likely than not – once again watch little more than the opening credits (this time, of course, because you’ll fall asleep).

While in these instances, movies merely provide the background noise for a good make-out or for the make-up of a sleepless night, this is not the extent of movies’ effect on society. After all, there’s a critical age group out there that does watch movies from opening credits to closing credits.

Humans are visual and aural learners. That’s why the Schoolhouse Rock series is an elementary school teacher’s best friend. And over a decade after elementary school, can’t we all still sing the jingles?

“Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” Or “Hey, there’s a telegraph line. You got yours, and I got mine. It’s called the nervous system.” Or even “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.” And better yet – years later, we still remember a conjunction’s function.

Movies work the same way. In the wake of the highest grossing movie of all time, “Titanic,” people belted out Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” whispered, “I’ll never let go. I’ll never let go,” and papered their bedroom walls with posters of Hollywood’s newest heartthrob, Leonardo DiCaprio. And better yet – years later, the lessons of “Titanic” are still afloat.

Case in point: Spring break. I heard about a girl who found herself on a ship in the middle of the ocean, where she met a Leonardo DiCaprio-like boy from another cabin. The girl then brought the boy to the back of the boat and made out under the stars, as she later reported, “just like in Titanic.”

But in real life, college students don’t typically make out under the stars on the back of a boat, do they? Not exactly. Remember, they tend to make out during movies that they don’t watch. But maybe this girl’s spring break experience is a sign of a changing of the tide.

Think about it. It’s simple logic, really. For the most part, movies are based on real life. To attract an audience, however, they must be slightly more dramatic than real life. Young moldable minds watch these movies, soak up their “lessons” and believe that they paint an accurate picture of life. These youngsters grow up to be slightly more dramatic than those before them, and their behavior thus becomes the new norm. Then to hold an audience, movies must, in turn, become slightly more dramatic. And the cycle continues.

Remember middle school? It was when you’d announce that you were “going out” with so-and-so, and your parents would ask, “So you’re going out, huh? Where are you going?” Then you’d lecture them on how that wasn’t the way it worked – that you didn’t actually go anywhere, or do anything, for that matter, except for perhaps slow-dance to K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” at the middle school dance (but even then, you had to leave so much room for the Holy Spirit that it wasn’t really dancing). And you certainly didn’t make out during movies (perhaps you held hands in the back of a theater, but that was risky business); instead, you actually watched them.

When we were in middle school, we watched “Titanic.” But what about those who are just a few years younger – those who watched “The Notebook” during their formative, mind-molding years? Will they grow up believing that their summer fling is their one true love? Will they pine away for that person about whom members of the “Titanic” generation would simply say, “Uh, that was just a summer thing”?

Or what about those middle schoolers who watched “Love Actually”? Will they be convinced that they share a special connection with the Portuguese exchange student with whom they’ve never shared an intelligible word, and then learn an entirely new language, only to ask – before saying anything else in the exchange student’s native tongue – if the student would like to get married?

And would that be the worst thing that ever happened? Not exactly. I mean, who doesn’t like to make out under the stars? Who doesn’t want summer to last forever? And the divorce rate in this country is already so high that a few impromptu marriages couldn’t hurt it too much.

We just need to keep today’s middle schoolers away from daytime television. After all, it’s good if kids learn from Schoolhouse Rock. It’s even all right if they learn from movies.

But if they start learning from soap operas, then we’ll all be in trouble.

Liz Coffey is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy minor. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be reached at ecoffey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.