(Music Playing)


In the article “‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha.’”, Chuck Klosterman, writer and ethicist for the NY Times, discusses the use of laugh tracks in television. Klosterman is uncomfortable with laugh tracks because they suggest that viewers are not capable of knowing whether they should consider something funny on their own; the laugh tracks tell viewers you should find this funny. In the end of the article, Klosterman says, “Build a machine that tells people when to cry. That’s what we need. We need more crying.” In class we discussed how in movies music often accompanies a sad scene and amplifies our emotions. 

I think that music in movies and television is very manipulative; similar to laugh tracks it serves as a cue for viewers on how they should feel. Scenes where music is applied usually already make viewers experience an emotion, but the music amplifies that emotion. One example I always think of with emotional scenes and music is the NBC television show Parenthood; at the end of each episode of Parenthood there is an emotional scene and a swell of emotional music that usually leaves me tearing up. 

Music can also be used to manipulate other emotions such as fear and joy. In horror movies scary scenes always seem to be made more scary by the suspenseful music playing in the background. Romantic comedies use music to manipulate viewers emotions as well. In most romantic comedies there is an upbeat song, often an upbeat song by Natasha Bedingfield, played as the movie ends and the credits begin to roll. The song leaves viewers feeling happy and more pleased with the movie. It is hard to dislike a movie as much if a cheerful song is playing in the background. Upbeat songs are also used in  trailers for romantic comedies, such as this trailer for Morning Glory which plays the empowering, upbeat Natasha Bedingfield song, “Strip Me”, and leaves viewers feeling good about the movie. 

Using music to manipulate viewers is an effective technique. Unless the music is not appropriate for the moment, chances are the viewer is already experiencing the emotion and the music will not make them feel less scared, sad, happy, etc. At its least effective the music won’t amplify the viewer’s emotion, but I think most of the time it does. In some situations the manipulation technique is so effective that when you hear the music outside the context of the movie or show you still experience the emotion. I cry when I hear the Celine Dion song “My Heart Will Go On” because I automatically think of the Titanic and all the emotions I experience with that movie. 


In this scene from NBC’s Parenthood emotional music plays (as indicated in the subtitles) as a couple bonds with their newly adopted son.

It is possible that being aware of the manipulation can help protect us from it, but unless someone is completely detached from what they are watching it is likely that they will still experience some of the emotion. I suppose if someone really wanted to remove the manipulation they can mute the music and turn subtitles on, seeing musical notes in parentheses does not have the same emotional effect.

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