How much should movies impact real life? To explain my answer, I have to share my thought process. Bear with me.
About six months ago, I entered the world of online dating. I was lonely and convinced myself that online dating was a step in the right direction. My logic was this: Most people my age meet their boos at bars, but bars are my social kryptonite. Something about the volume sucks the confidence out of me, killing all suaveness. Besides, my ideal meet-cute doesn’t involve vague vomit smells. Coffee shops and bookstores would be perfect for my brand of small talk, but woman aren’t expecting to be hit on while they’re sipping a vanilla latte and thumbing through the latest James Patterson. At least I don’t think so. Either way, I don’t know how to approach someone whose eyes are pinned to a book. It requires interrupting, and it’s awkward.
So I gave online dating a try. Aside from the weirdos, the creeps, and the Photoshopped fabricators, it’s a pleasant environment, like window shopping for companionship. What startled me, however, was the value I placed on my matches’ favorite movies. I found myself naturally drawn to those who listed Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, or John Hughes, and I quickly blocked anyone who wrote “all Nicholas Sparks movies.” But was I being too judgmental? How much do movie preferences tell us about a person? How much should movies impact real life?
I’ve bounced back and forth like a pong ball between the idea that movies mirror real life—think Brian Cox’s “Nothing happens in the world?” speech from Adaptation—and the idea that film and TV are more like Huxley’s soma or the escapism noted in Scrubs‘ sitcom episode. On one hand, society should hope that movies impact real life; otherwise, documentaries and films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest would serve no purpose. On the other hand, I’d hate to live in a town that used Michael Cera as its moral compass.
Some enjoy framing this conversation as a chicken-and-egg scenario—do movies mirror life, or does life mirror movies?—but that’s ridiculous. It’s both. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and any nut with a brain and a remote should be able to give examples of each. The question is about the extent to which movies (should) impact our daily lives.
My perspectives are as clouded as any, clouded by my love of Aaron Sorkin and the fact that, perhaps unfairly, I am irked by social conservatives who love Glee and Rent, but I believe that the entertainment industry can do more than entertain. As Good Night, and Good Luck teaches us, televisions and movie screens can and should do more than reinforce escapism.
But if we fully embrace the messages of all films, comedies would be less funny, and horror would be more terrifying—no one would babysit alone ever again.
So there is a middle ground. But the existence of a middle ground shouldn’t be an excuse for moviegoing mediocrity. We should allow ourselves to take lessons from movies, relying on our discretion to guide us. In the same way, it does matter which movies are listed on an OkCupid profile—ideas matter. But people are multifaceted, and a love of The Blind Side doesn’t diminish your time in the Peace Corps.