The influence film and television have on the lives of those in the audience is a classic debate. Does sex and violence in film and television influence society or does the sex and violence in entertainment simply reflect the current state of society? In college, as a film major with a soft spot for John McTiernan films, I argued fervently that sex and violence in entertainment was a reflection of society. After years of experience, reality set in. The answer is simply, “Yes.” Entertainment and society are influencing each other inside of a constant feedback loop.
Humans, experience a dopamine dump (that "feel good" hormone we all love to love) when we experience pleasure. If the cast and crew have done their jobs right, the viewers experience a dopamine dump when watching movies and television. In fact, the entire musical genre was born in an era when humans craved a way to escape their realities.
While most of us would just re-watch that episode on Netflix or see the movie again and again to feel that same dopamine rush, some people take it to the next level and bring what happened on the screen into their real lives. Perhaps these people partake in cosplay, movie conventions, or fan recreations. Unfortunately, the same goes with real life violence. Some people experience that dopamine rush and see entertainment violence as a glamorous rush. Those are the people who continue to spark this debate.
Meanwhile, as a writer/artist/director I can tell you that nothing is 100% original. We gain inspiration from our environments, stories of the people we know, the events we have seen or heard about, and work that has been done in the past. Those creating the entertainment are influenced by both entertainment as well as society. So the loop continues.
What if we substituted sex and violence for empowerment and kindness, giving back to the community, or doing your own small part to make an impact in the world? What if themes that inspire global change were so embedded in our entertainment that we were subconsciously moved? The next thing you know, you could be handing your left over popcorn to the homeless person outside the movie theater and not entirely realizing why.
Let's say you want to end the toxic diet culture that fuels eating disorders and negative body image in our US culture and empower people to see themselves as beautiful at every body size. Films like "I feel Pretty" and "Isn't it Romantic" place that very theme front and center. You know what the intentional message is, and you are either on board or not. Yet other movies like, "Dumplin" contain a deeper message of the generational influence of diet culture and shame through portraying a multi-faceted, loving, mother-daughter relationship. All three films are comedies. Through the power of laughter and strong thematic elements, they have the ability to change hearts and minds.
Of course the script itself isn't the only thing that influences the audience. Every camera angle, lighting setup, set direction, title sequence, costume design, and acting choice subliminally reinforces the theme. If we shift the intention of entertainment to one of impacting humans in a positive way, we could start to see a major shift in the cycle of influence. I'd like to live in that world.