I’ve never purchased an US magazine. I’ve never visited tmz.com and I don’t get my hair done in salons. And yet, I can tell you the name of Tom and Kate’s daughter, and who’s in the mose recent sex scandal. I can tell you a woeful amount about Taylor Swift’s boyfriends, and what Justin Bieber is up to lately. I don’t seek out this information; it’s simply a part of the world that we live in. It’s the air that we breathe, and the background noise to every scene of life.
Now, this isn’t a big deal, until you start to think about the disconnect between the values you want, and those that are touted by Hollywood culture. There’s a big difference between who I want to become, and the actual models that I surround myself with.
If You’re Not Worried, You’re Not Paying Attention
I’m not someone that usually worries about these things. I don’t like gossip, and I don’t enjoy judging others’ life choices. I don’t have children that I worry about. But I’m starting to notice… if the influence of hollywood culture isn’t something that worries you, you’re not paying attention. It’s not just about promiscuous behavior, which you may or may not be opposed to. It’s about a variety of ways that hollywood culture undermines undeniably valuable principles–things like honesty, kindness, and personal conviction.
I believe that even when we don’t notice it (perhaps especially when we don’t notice it) we’re influenced by the words, actions, and values of those around us, even if “those” are fictionalized or sensationalized individuals. However, blocking it out entirely isn’t the answer. Instead, it must be counteracted with mindfulness, consideration, and close examination. I’ve seen the way that my mood and attitude shifts when I’m reading a dark book. I’ve seen the power that an energetic song has on a room. Until you stop and ask yourself if and how something is influencing you, it will influence your mood and behavior.
It’s Not Just Me…
50 Cent was paid $80 million for his appearance in Reebok’s commercials, and David Beckham, $160 million for his Adidas ads. These corporations aren’t stupid: that money is all going to come back to them, because of the influence of celebrities.
In a recent poll, 60% of college students admitted that a celebrity had influenced their beliefs, attitudes, and personal values. A Newsweek poll found that 77% of people believed that hollywood had too much influence on young girls.
President Obama himself said, in his recent visit to CA, that Hollywood wasn’t just a multi-million dollar industry, but a vital part of America’s diplomacy, reaching into the farthest corners of the world to share culture and values. So what exactly is it we’re spreading?
Four Things Hollywood Has Dead Wrong
Here are some harmful messages that I see coming at me from Hollywood:
1: Substance Abuse Is No Big Deal
For whatever reason, drug use is disproportionately common in hollywood culture. Most teens admit they’re more likely to get involved in drug and alcohol use when they see celebrities and movie stars participating in it. Don’t have teens? Drug use and the drug trade still affect you. It impacts road safety, tax rates, foreign policy, and the stability of governments and economies in other countries.
2: Physical Beauty at Any Cost
40% of nine and ten year old girls say that they have tried to lose weight. At ages nine and ten! The plastic surgery industry made $12 billion in 2013. The harmful obsession with image promoted by Hollywood affects our relationships, confidence, and self-image. At times, I’ve thought I was immune to this influence. Then I spent a full week camping and hiking. No media, no mirrors or scales. I noticed how I felt about my image and body during that week, versus how I usually feel in a world where I’m inundated with messages telling me I’m not toned enough, thin enough, young enough. There’s a huge contrast.
3: You Don’t Matter Unless You Have an Audience
This is an inevitable law for celebrities. They’re only paid if people will pay to see them. However, when we take hollywood culture as our model, we’re in danger of thinking that our lives, actions, and struggles aren’t valid unless we have an adoring fan base. This is especially present in social media. How many of us base our self-worth on how many likes, comments, and follows we get? Popularity has always been a dilemma to youth, but the worry about it is now lasting far past adolescence.
4: There’s Only One Story
Although there have been leaps and bounds in diversifying the stories told in Hollywood, we’re still woefully narrow in our portrayal of American life. We still have a hard time finding faithful and varied depictions of women, minorities, and different beliefs and lifestyles. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shared a TED talk expressing the danger of just telling one story. It’s not that that one story isn’t true, but when we assume that it’s true across the board, we get in trouble. There’s a monopoly on pop culture. We’re stuck in a cycle where we swallow that “one story” because it’s so widely available, and hollywood provides the story because it keeps selling. It’s important to realize that hollywood doesn’t show the whole picture, and demand more accurate reflections of reality.
It’s the Same Old Story, But You Don’t Have to Buy It
This debate is nothing new. In the classic Little Women, published in 1868, characters worried about the scandalous life choices of actors on stage, and whether that should influence their entertainment choices. Actresses in the 1920’s were slandered in major publications for their “evil influence.” This debate is old, and it’s not going away anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.
Only when you’re aware of your influences can you counter them and for a lot of people hollywood culture is one of them.