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The Literature of Our Time
by Enrique Montiel, Filmmaker
(Originally published in print 1998)
During prehistory, the literature of the time was the spoken word. Before the 1900's it came in the form of written text. The literature of our generation is film. This influential and consistent medium's importance has been undervalued in our culture throughout its century of existence. Its massive social influence and deep rooted impact has been underestimated by those who chose to pass it off as a mere form of hollow entertainment.
Consider for a moment the social, cultural and global influence that movies truly have on us - their current impact, their past impact and their future impact. Consider for a moment the potential you have as a consumer to dictate what images, sounds and content you decide to be reinforced and exposed to. And now you can consciously decide to begin reprogramming the programming or let the programmers continue to program you. - Enrique Montiel
Think about it for a moment, what is literature? Isn't it a more primitive form of entertainment, lacking the sensory output of sound and images? Of course, you can imagine a scene from a book in your mind's eye, but will it have the vibrancy, detail, character and impact that the writer and director presents to your eyes and ears? I don't think so.
Some would argue the overwhelming volume of bad movies that have been made and are available to the public. Are there not as many, if not more, books in circulation which merit no more than a toss in a December's fireplace? In movies, as in written literature, the majority of completed works don't work so well, and there are a precious few that do. They are the works that inspire us to become better, to become more of what we dream to be in the most private recesses of our hearts.
Understand, there is a place for both mediums. My point is not to praise movies over books perse but to share some insights into the power that today's motion pictures wield to shape and influence the world we share.
Movies attempt to reflect our societal dynamics and characteristics, while at the same time influencing those very dynamics and characteristics. Movies not only expose us to new ideas, beliefs and activities, they naturally reinforce those existing in our culture. And they reach out to the viewer's psyche without prejudice even if the message is prejudiced in nature.
Whatever we reinforce we make permanent. It's like practice. I'm training to make the US Olympic Team in wrestling. As athletes we have learned to train by a philosophy that "Perfect practice makes permanent." But the significance of those four words transcend sports to how human beings shape and galvanize the consistency in every aspect of their lives.
When we are bombarded with any form of sensory stimulus again and again through repetition it becomes significant to our psyche. It actually activates a part of our brain called the RAS, the Reticular Activating System. That's a fancy word for the process of have you ever bought a new article of clothing, a new car, or something unique that you wanted for a long time and finally got it? Of course you have. Do you remember how as soon as you got that unique thing everyone seemed to have it too? I mean, you noticed it everywhere! If you're human you have experienced this phenomenon. It's natural. Our brains look for the things that are important to us so it can reinforce and recreate them in our lives.
We are also constantly being influenced during times of personal confusion and overwhelm (a.k.a. Information Overload); our brains mindfully adopting new beliefs and attitudes for lack of better, more clearly expressed, distinctions in those moments.Now here's something fascinating. There's a way to accelerate the process of adopting new ideas and attitudes into our lives. It's through emotion. Emotion linked to information sky rockets the level of priority and importance anything represents to us. Don't movies have the capacity to generate tremendous emotion in us? Remember when E.T. died? I still cry today when I watch it even though I was 5 or 6 years old the first time I saw that film.
Advertisers know all about this. They've used these principles for years. An example of this is when you watch a credit card commercial. Do they let you know that your interest payment is going to be 21%? No! They show you how a credit card will resolve all of your life's problems instantly.
It's evident, by these principles of human understanding, that movies induce in us tremendous levels of emotion that shape and direct our life attitudes and behaviors, just as classical literature did for people one hundred years ago. Undirected, the influence of movies can reinforce chaos in our lives. But consider the powerful influence they would have if constantly directed in uplifting and inspiring ways.
What movies have you been profoundly affected by? What movies or movie concepts would be worth you learning from and becoming profoundly affected by if you decided to do so?