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Friday, July 9, 2010

Influence of Art

               Recently there were reports of suicides attributed to Post-Avatar Depression-- that is people who were so depressed after viewing the movie Avatar that they had killed themselves in hopes of waking in an avatar body or because they were depressed that the planet Pandora did not really exist.  Now if somebody killed themselves and left a note behind stating one of these as the reason we will probably never know what was going on in their heads when they performed this act.  I for one was not moved by Avatar in any way other than to go to bed after it was over. 

             Back in the 1930's there was a Hungarian song that was later translated into English as "Gloomy Sunday" and recorded in 1941 by Billie Holiday.  Urban legends began to spread that the song had been responsible for a wave of suicides.   There are claims that "Gloomy Sunday" was banned in some places because it was blamed as a cause for many suicides.  It's quite possible that the rumors were spread as part of a publicity campaign for the song.  You can listen to an updated version here and judge for yourself--don't listen if you are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion.


                  Many claims have been made about the influence of the arts over human behavior.  Rap and hard core music has been sometimes cited as an incitement of violent behavior among youth.  The same goes for video games, movies, and television shows.  Some very persuasive studies have indicated that there is a correlation between aggressiveness and what a test subject has recently viewed.  Many would argue that certain language and lifestyles depicted on film and television has had a detrimental influence on the moral fiber of our society.

               There has been concern expressed about the effect on young people by books such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series.  There is much written work on the market that could be deemed of questionable value to the betterment of society. 

                 I am not making any judgments, but merely posing some questions to those of you who create.  If you are a creator in the arts--a writer, filmmaker, musician, songwriter, or anything else of this nature--do you think about what kind of effect your work will have upon your audience?  I don't mean the short term manipulative effect upon the emotions, but the long term mental effect upon the psyche of the individual.  

                Do you stop to think as you progress through your work about the value of each step and if it contributes to the betterment of your audience and the world?   Are we seeing classics being created in the last hundred years or so that are comparable to what we have traditionally considered "classics"?    Are you in it for the ephemeral gain of the quick buck in your pocket, or are you striving for something bigger than that? 

               What kind of influence do you want to have on your audience?

26 comments:

  1. I'd like to entertain in my writing but yes at the same time have an underlying (non-preachy) message of faith, loyalty and goodness.

    But then I did quote Satan at the beginning of my novel from Milton's Paradise Lost.

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  2. I, like you, felt nothing after watching Avatar and thank you for posing these questions. I think everyone is wondering "What happen to good movies?"

    By the way don't forget the original radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds," that also created a panic.

    Nice, human, message here.

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  3. John Hinkley shot President Reagan to impress actress Jody Foster...

    I guess there will always be people of struggling minds who will find outside influences to justify their actions to themselves...

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  4. I agree with Liza above me here, outside influences most likely work as justifications, I would assume. A person depressed enough to consider suicide, probably would have found another justification if Avatar had not been made.

    The exception to this rule, I think, has to do with the level of exposion. I really do wonder sometimes if extensive exposion to certain things might not affect us more than we appreciate. After having spent a lot of time on the computer I occasionally find myself grasping for the "undo" or "save" functions in real life. If you spend your entire day on just one thing, for instance a violent video game, it is not unlikely that this will affect the way you lead your real life. I would assume.

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  5. I think one of the purposes of art is to make others feel things. Personally I love Gloomy Sunday. So hauntingly beautiful. However, it is completely up to the person to make their own interpretation and artists should not be faulted for someone else's interpretation of their work. If someone is ill they are ill and the work is just another justification like Cruella said.
    When it comes to stuff like Avatar, Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code it drives me mad that people forget they are works of FICTION! As in not real. Perhaps it is a more intellectual method of survival of the fittest. Someone in capable of discerning fact from fiction therefore is weeded out. That sounds kind of harsh but even if someone is sick to blame the artist instead of the person or their illness is, well, insane.
    For me what comes out in art is just what is inside of me and has to come out. I don't necessarily feel that much control over it or think about it too much.

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  6. I hope to have a positive effect.
    An unstable mind can be pushed over the edge by just about anything. Entertainment and the arts reflect our society, and while it can influence, I think reality is further over the edge than any form of art.
    People are committing suicide after viewing Avatar? Weird. I left the theater feeling exhilarated.

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  7. I would love to have a positive effect on society - or even just one person - but I also feel that to reach anyone with my writing I have to tell the truth. Yes I write fiction but what I mean is that the characters have to feel believable, which usually means being flawed. If the reader can connect with and feel for the characters, then they can be reached. Only then can we attempt to actually SAY SOMETHING with out writing.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for making me think Arlee.

    Today's guest blogger is Guinevere Rowell!

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  8. As a poet I write mainly about the ups and downs of mt life experiences, which I hope wouldn't upset anyone. I like to know I have made somone happy by reading my work and strive with each poem to maintain that.

    Excellent post Lee I have not seen Avatar so can't comment what effect it had on me,

    Yvonne.

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  9. I think the only concern behind movie making is money. It's getting harder all the time to find the simple pleasures like joy and warm fuzzies these days.

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  10. Hi Lee -- When you have a moment, please drop by my blog. I have something for you.

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  11. I think that most directors, actors and musicians who make controversial movies, videos and songs are aware of the influence they can leave on the audience especially on the young people, but they just don't care, being irresponsible and self-observed.
    People know that I'm quite strict when it comes to the moral values being respected in the films.
    That's why I never liked Tarantino and similar directors.

    But today's world is a bit crazy: It just ain't right when boys are exposed to brutal knights and crazy villains whom they see as role models and heroes, girls to saber toothed vampires whom they see as perfect lovers, young kids to violent robots whom they see as uber-cool, moviegeeks to inglorious assassins and taboo breaking brutal movies which awake their darkest instincts and degrade their ethics and human values.

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  12. On the other hand, you can't blame a movie or some music for some suicides. People are responsible for their own actions. Unless you were all ready in that mindset to begin with most people would go home affected only shallowly by a movie or music. It would have no lasting effects on a healthy mind. In our society, we love blaming everyone else for our problems. It's how we got to this point to begin with.

    I may have opinions about what film makers and writers put out there, but if someone who is unstable goes to see a bloody film and then decides to find out what it might feel like to kill someone afterwards, I wouldn't turn around to sue the knife company, the film maker, or the conductor. I wouldn't even sue the parents. That person alone chose to make that choice. No one else helped him. You go after the person responsible.

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  13. Great comments so far! Would I expect any less from my readers?

    David--I agree that entertainment is the primary objective of an artist, but the mind of the artist cannot help but be reflected in their work and hopefully they are responsible with the power they wield.

    Jules-- I was very impressed with the special effects in Avatar, but the message agenda was so heavy-handed that it interfered with any lasting enjoyment I had for the movie. But it was a great ride while I watched it.

    Liza -- There are always unbalanced minds that can be triggered by virtually anything.

    CC -- Too much of anything cannot be good especially when it is too much negative force. It's hard to say what can push a person over the edge and different people have different levels of tolerance.

    JuneBug-- Everyone has their own perception of what they partake and the artist cannot be responsible for individual reactions, but artists and promotional companies may have a responsibility to the movements they generate and encourage. What's more important? Money or potentially harm to the collective human psyche?

    Alex -- You always seem to have such a positive outlook that I think your work would reflect positivity. Fortunately, most people are not going to be triggered to abnormal reactions by what they read, hear, or view.

    Ocean Girl-- There are plenty of crazy things that happen in the world.

    Matthew -- Ultimately I think the truth is the most important factor. But the audience must also be discerning about whose truth is it? Some versions of what is presented as truth can be quite dangerous. Like you though I'm hoping to leave a positve effect as a result of my efforts.

    Yvonne-- I think you usually have the right approach. Even when you deal with a down subject you usually leave the reader with something upbeat, humorous, or instructive. I've never felt negative after reading one of your poems.

    Deborah Ann -- There is a lot of darkness out there in the movies, but the warm fuzzies are still there too.

    Patricia -- Thank you! Another award for my post for this Saturday.

    Dezmond-- I like your attitude and do agree with you, though I watch a lot of those films you talk about. I think those types of films are being marketed strongly to the most impressionable, immature segments of the movie viewing audience. I don't know what the outcome of that will be.

    Nicole -- Thank you so much for your response.
    I strongly agree with what you are saying. Personal accountability has gone out the window for much of our society and it has become sadly acceptable for people to pass the blame for their actions. To me, big money grabbing lawsuits are plain wrong. We are each responsible for what we do.
    However, if accountability is not taught at a young age and encourage by all segments of society and government, then minds can easily be manipulated and controlled. So if a person grows up with a distorted sense of right and wrong and few ethical values, their judgment warped after being inspired by outside influences.
    We can also think about propaganda used by some social movements of the past. Nazi Germany, Stalin, Mao, and so many others have used the arts to twist societal thinking to participate in collective wrongdoing. If the arts can work on a big scale like that, then the influence upon some basically ignorant, uneducated or improperly educated lowlife in our society might have at least some share of responsibiity for behavioral misdoing.
    I am merely suggesting that creative people should think about what they are putting out there for the consumption of others. Have they contributed something that will make the recipient a better person and the world a better place?

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. r-LEE-b ~
    I don't think I had ever heard of "Gloomy Sunday" before and that suicide story associated with it. I liked the song, although I could certainly think of plenty others that strike me as being even sadder in tone.

    I'm not even going to comment on the issue at hand because you probably already have a pretty good idea of what I would say.

    I will say, however, that I'm going to have to take another look at Dezmond's blog. I was there once before but maybe prematurely dismissed it as just another movie nut site.

    You know that I pretty much think that Hollywood ought to be nuked off of the planet, so I wasn't going to spend time at a "Rah!-Rah! Hollywood", Pro-modern movie blog. But I appreciated what Dezmond expressed in his comment and feel obligated to give his blog a second look.

    This was a good blog topic, Brotherman Lee!

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMeboy

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  16. When I write, I do not question whether this will cause manic depression or suicide. There have always been those and always will be those who do not have a firm hold on reality. I don't know what the answer is or how to go about sorting it.

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  17. I loved Avatar and despised it, too. To me it was a perfect example of society today, a society in which greed rules, those who are different are demonized in order to justify killing, the 'unobtanium' is more valuable than life. But, there was also the concept of ONE-ness and rebirth and love triumphant.

    If my purpose on this earth is to leave it better for my having been here, then every interaction should reflect that, even if its as simple as a smile, a compliment, picking up a piece of trash, recycling, planting a flower, or an idea in a novel. We can entertain from the heart with humanity and love.

    Of course, I'm a firm believer in love and light and good conquers all, so my writing reflects my beliefs.

    Oh wait, what was the question?? :)

    ~That Rebel, Olivia

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  18. I hope if my books make it to publication they will entertain people. I think the morals in my book are good, but I don't think they're going to change anyone's life! :)

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  19. Those prone toward finding culpability outside themselves for their own actions will inevitably always succeed. At the end of the day, unless your mental health or the point of a gun held by someone else renders you truly incapable of making good decisions, that's all that occurs. Excuses.

    As for what I hope to achieve in my writing... Well, I hope to get people to think, to question their taken for granted (or maybe not taken for granted) ideologies and to give them hope. Time will tell if I can achieve it, but this wip has worked wonders for my own optimism even in its darkest places.

    Great post.

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  20. Great post Lee! I sometimes want to instill goodness and remind people of past memories. Other times I like to motivate...geesh, I don't know.
    I write what comes to mind.
    My shock post was from some pain, I am in physically and the struggle I am having with the medical community, not me mental messed up!
    I do think when it comes to art it is about emotions, the stir the appeal, the shock and disgust, etc.
    I do believe, if someone if off then who knows what will provoke: a musical score, movie or tv image could be the fatal. Sad...

    Well done~

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  21. @Stephen T. McCarthy
    hey, Stephen. We'll I personally believe that movies should either educate us or just give us laughs, positive entertainment and inspiration. That's why I generally don't write about overly violent movies over at HOLLYWOOD SPY. But my blog is a news oriented one, so you can see my personal opinions in comments such as these at Arlee's place ;) The aim of my own blog is to relax readers and give them optimism, relaxation and positive atmosphere.

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  22. I think this post can be tied back to the post concerning censorship. You ask those who create,

    "do you think about what kind of effect your work will have upon your audience? I don't mean the short term manipulative effect upon the emotions, but the long term mental effect upon the psyche of the individual.

    Do you stop to think as you progress through your work about the value of each step and if it contributes to the betterment of your audience and the world?"

    They might for as long as it may take for the "lost dollars" to tabulate.

    You are asking a question I think that goes to motive. Motive is dreadfully subjective and very self-serving. Motive is tainted, biased, and prejudiced. Even altrusticd motives are biased, tainted and prejudiced.

    You ask in the prior post if the movie industry could assume responsibility - I answered then and I still think now, that ultimately it is regulated by profit, power, or notoriety rather than responsibility.

    I think there are scores of writers many who have commented here who have great motives to offer a positive product. Those motives are still governed by the individual innate nature.

    As a would-be songwriter, I have had my songs sung publicly, from country numbers down on the dancehall floor to gospel songs done in church, and even had some radio time. I hoped that the effect would be positive but I didn't give it much thought. I wanted to entertain in a certain genere and make a profit. [You have to ask the audience if they have been entertained and I have not been profitable, yet]

    I do not see classics being created today comparable to what we have seen in the last 100 years. We have moved past the page to movement and excitement. Dialouge is not important as skin, blood, action, vulgarity, intensity, and shock-value.

    I saw an advertisement today for a new book just released. It was "billed" as the author's "latest classic." If it is just released how does anyone know if it is the latest classic? Doesn't classics have to stand the test of time, add something of value, and be "timeless?"

    To answer your question I am in it for me I guess. I hadn't really thought about that before you asked and I am not sure I like my answer. At least when I was writing country songs - what I was in it for was to see my name as the writer on the writer line and to hear a "name" record it. I had hopes that Alan Jackson would have recorded the last "hit" I co-wrote but it never got past the demo stage.

    I am writing more and more gospel today and I do hope that it does more than just put my name on the artist line, I hope God's glorious character is revealed and that the listener is blessed. So that is a positive change.

    You ask great questions. makes one think and evalute oneself.

    For you final question, what kind of influence do you want to have on my audience? I want them to come to know better, love more fervently, and appreciate God more than they did before they read a post or listen to a song.

    Thaks for asking!

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  23. That's the age old question, does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? I think we are influenced by movies, books, music -- even silly reality shows on TV. These things become major "events" in our lives. Of course, they are events because that's how the artists market the product. Grand opening...! Movie premiere...! New release...! And it quickly becomes part of the lexicon of our lives, and we consume and absorb it. I think some people are more susceptible than others, and identify with movies, books, music...

    I have read books that have influenced me and changed my philosophy about certain things, but suicide...? Gosh, I think that would have to be an already very disturbed person.

    But, then again ... if I have to look at Lady Gaga one more time, I just may blind myself... :-)

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  24. Nikole -- sorry for misspelling your name in my above reply.

    StMc--I think a person would have to had listened to a sad song a long to be driven to suicide and they would probably been real depressed in the first place to have listened so much. Thanks for the compliment.

    Ann-- I don't know how any art creation could cause suicide or some other act, but it might help trigger it. The person would have had to have been unstable in the first place.

    Olivia-- Avatar did a great job of manipulating. I got really caught up in the story, but felt duped afterward. But it was fun. I do like the idea of spreading goodness and positivity.

    Jemi -- Entertainment is usually the biggest part of art I think.

    Kim - Getting people to think is a good thing--that's what I like to do. People are responsible for what they ultimately do.

    Ellie -- Thanks for commenting. Writing has different purposes. Negativity has its place, but I don't think an artist should strive for total lasting negativity.

    Dezmond -- I like the attitude. We need more of that.

    Gregg-- You really covered a lot of ground in your typically excellent manner. The artist has a tremendous responsibility and should use it for the best purpose. Glorifying God sounds like a pretty good purpose to me.

    Jo-- I don't think an artist should strive to embed lasting negative thinking on an audience. And a large segment of our society is already sick enough.

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  25. DEZMOND ~
    Thanks for your reply! And I look forward to reading more of your outlook in future comments, here and elsewhere.

    And, JO, I hear ya!
    Lady GaGa makes me GagGag.

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

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Lee