I’ve come to realize that when I watch television shows, sitcoms in particular, I am more likely to laugh out loud when there isn’t a laugh track. I don’t think it necessarily implies that I find shows without a laugh track funnier, instead I think I let the canned laughter do the laughing for me. Is this laziness? Perhaps, but maybe it is just a filler I am accustomed to hearing. Essentially I let media laugh for me. This raises the question, what else do we allow the media to do for us?
Television, movies, and media in general are increasingly becoming something that tell you what you should think instead of something that makes you think. Beside gastropornogrophy and canned laughter another example of how the media attempts to dictate our response to what they portray to us can be found in many popular movie trailers.
When you see trailers these days most of them introduce the actors that will star in the movie. And then they proceed to try to convince us to watch the movie by showing their names in big fonts and zooming in on their faces etc., almost as if selling the actors instead of the movie. Almost as if they are telling us “you’ll like the movie because you like the actor remember?” An example of this is shown in the picture to the right, one of the many posters for the movie Drive. Right away the first thing that catches your attention is Ryan Gosling, he takes up half of the poster. Also, his name is in a fairly large font and it is above the movie’s name as opposed to below it. This poster, like all the Drive posters is advertising Drive by attaching itself to Ryan Gosling. It’s like a friend who hopes to get popular by association. Funny thing being, it actually seems to work, at least in the media world. Klosterman pointed out in his article Ha ha, he said. Ha ha that in Friends, many of the laughs were received because of the actors not necessarily the jokes, movies also use similar tactics. In fact, movies are less and less plot based and more and more actor based. “Oh I want to go see Ryan Gosling!” this is the reaction my friends had after seeing the trailer for Drive for the first time. If you watch the Drive trailer you will surely notice that most of the time the camera zooms in on Ryan Gosling. At the end of the video the actors names are shown in unavoidably bright fonts. Aren’t movies supposed to sell a story? The storyline is now second to the actors. Movie advertising is something more along the lines of classical conditioning, repetitive exposure of two stimuli. In this case the movie and the actor are intertwined to the point that through constant repetition (trailers) the audience might relate their interest for a certain actor to the movie they are now being presented.
And one can call it deceptive, but it fits right in with the rest of society’s advertising realm. Commercials are known for this strategy as well. For example, Evian’s commercial pairs cute babies and Evian water, using the adorable babies to sell their water, Coca Cola uses the cool polar bear in the Coca Cola commercials that unquestionably enjoys soda to sell their product, and lately a less obvious connection is shown in Residence Inn’s commercial which uses little penguins to advertise a hotel room. These are all examples of how the media pairs two stimuli together and get us to respond to the second by associating it with our response to the first. If Babies, polar bears, and penguins can sell us water, Coca-Cola, and hotel rooms, then it isn’t a far stretch that attractive or popular movie stars can sell us a movie.
So can we avoid this? Can we watch a trailer and objectively decide on our own whether we want to see it or not? What if the trailer is aired during your favorite show, over and over again? Will you perhaps be more likely to think you are interested in watching the movie? Can you judge a movie strictly on plot and not the actors? I believe if one is more media aware, more media savvy, then it is more likely that one will pick up on these manipulations. Now whether we will still be affected or not once we’re more aware of these techniques, that is another question entirely. My answer? I don’t think it will change us much. We might be more aware of our behaviors but if we have a preference towards a certain actor, that could improve the movie’s entertainment value for us.
If Ryan Gosling is in a movie, I am more likely to watch it period. Same goes for Kevin Hart, Anne Hathaway, and Channing Tatum. But then again, that’s just me.