An Overview of The Film Media’s Effects on the Course of the Second World War

March 17, 2019

Golden Papers

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An Overview of The Film Media’s Effects on the Course of the Second World War

From electric telegraph to modern telephone; from transistor radio to modern mp4 players; from black and white, bulky television to flat-screen LCD monitors; from plain text prints, to colorful and graphic publications; from traditional to modern, sci-fi, hi-resolution movies; from MS DOS-running computer units to the birth and explosion of the World Wide Web—these developments in the mass media have overwhelmed people over the past decades, and improvements are continuously made up to the present time. As it appears, nobody can foresee and predict what more can improve in these media. These communication channels have been surprising people in terms of how they are able to change lives and affect the occurrence of things. Over the years, the mass media has played such significant roles in linking various and very diverse states, cultures, and nations which have been a hard task to fulfill during the earlier times. The media has also been very successful in achieving an impression of authority on people’s opinions, thoughts, and decision-making processes. Indeed, the mass media has achieved such power and clout over the world that it appears even the world’s most powerful politicians are being threatened by these communication channels.

Considering such possibilities that the mass media has in people’s lives, several questions and topic of discussions and debate inevitably arise. Such questions may challenge about the possibility that media can affect the morals and values of the society. People may also question how it has become possible for the media to penetrate into people’s personal decisions and thoughts. Aside from this, it can also be wondrous how fast and instant the media is able to connect people and ideas. Such questions are inevitable, considering the fact that the mass media has been making drastic and dramatic changes in the world while the public stood as a witness to how the media has achieved such authority and control over the world’s perspectives and opinions.

Everyday Life Impacts of the Mass Media

The technology and system processes of the mass media may seem complicated for an average person to comprehend. Hence, he or she could instead focus on understanding the effects and roles that media play in his or her everyday life. Talking about mass media in the context of the twenty-first century, one can observe that it can easily be related to a media environment which offers “confrontational, salacious talk shows, sexually graphic, and violent dramas, and random and senseless killings in the news” (Singer & Singer, 2002, p. 323). This impression towards the immediate role that the media portrays gives people ideas to what extent it can actually influence their daily lives. It has also been inevitable to relate this kind of environment to the mass media since its power has also undeniably imposed millions of possibilities on how messages can be projected. Dorothy and Jerome Singer (2002) conducted an in-depth analysis of the effects of the mass media in the daily living of families in their book, Handbook of Children and the Media. They noted that ever since the television was brought into reality, the family life of average people has never been the same. The television has changed the natural course of family life in such a way that it influences their modes of communication and the frequency of their communication. Even the simple habits of joking, sharing ideas and experiences, and arguing and consoling each other have been influenced by the mass media. Aside from this, Dorothy and Jerome Singer also observed the disturbing effects of the uncontrolled and unregulated mass media exposure to children. From television, internet, and other forms of media they noted that as these media significantly improve the educational activities of children, they have also been proven that the more times these children devote to watching television, the less likely they would communicate and bond with the members of the family (Singer & Singer, 2002). In several ways, these findings can be disturbing as it suggests that the mass media can indeed penetrate even the simplest unit and level of the society. As a simple television unit proves to exercise such authority in these simple societal units, one can just imagine the possibility of how the world’s mass media put together can change the course of the world’s viewpoint, beliefs, and ideology.

On the other hand, looking at the effects of mass media in the perspective of the Frankfurt School, one may consider media as a rational “culture industry” which dominates over the human beings (Underwood, 2008, n.p.). The presence of such culture industries according to the Enlightenment ideology of Adorno and Horkheimer creates an opportunity to administer the society and its individual members, consequently obliterating the individual identities of people and transforming them to “pseudo-individualities” (cited in Underwood, 2008, n.p.). These pseudo-individualities are believed to be products of such industries like the mass media which continuously take a hold of the people’s lives, overpowering their personal viewpoints, beliefs, and ideologies. Adorno (1971) further emphasized that he actually considers “that the average television entertainment is fundamentally far more dangerous politically than any political broadcast has ever been” (cited in Underwood, 2008, n.p.). This belief of Adorno (1971) delineates the more significant effect of media in world politics. It somehow gives people a hint of the usual media, such as the television and film’s capacity to greatly influence world politics. This has been evident in Adorno’s (1971) theories which argue that over the decades of media domination, it has been difficult to differentiate “authentic art” from hidden agenda in such messages which are connected to political ideologies (Underwood, 2008, n.p.).

Television programs and films which have more graphics and than all the other forms of mass media indeed have greater and more controversial effects on how people live everyday. However, as it appears, one of the most interesting roles of media is that how it goes over the course of agenda setting in politics and how it influences people’s views on such political agendas.

Film Media’s Agenda Setting Power

Human beings have been proven to be naturally graphic creatures. The more graphic a medium is, the more effective it becomes in trying to convey a desired idea. This can also explain the natural fascination people have on movies, especially nowadays when the film industry has reinvented what film means through the state of the art animation technologies and optimal visual effects. However, the entertaining and fascinating effects of film are just one of the simplest roles it plays. During the earlier times when films were less animated and hi-tech than today, they served a deeper purpose than to entertain, and that is to convey political messages.

As a very powerful form of media, films or movies have acquired the power to take on the agenda-setting process of nations all over the world (McCombs, 2002). This becomes possible since people do not just learn and get informed through these media; they also get to grasp easily the basis of such social and political affairs through the very graphic and vivid films. Walter Lippmann (1912), in his work entitled Public Opinion, tried to figure out the real effect of powerful media such as films in political dealings (cited in McCombs, 2002). Lippmann (1912) explained that these media become the main and the most immediate sources of explanations and clarity about the world’s public affairs for average people (cited in McCombs, 2002). He also stressed that the majority of knowledge and information we have about the world and what it does are largely based on what the media provides the public (Lippmann, 1912 cited in McCombs, 2002). Putting Lippmann’s argument into consideration, it may appear that movies, especially during their advent, were an interesting means to express public affairs since they were also an interesting source of information and entertainment for the people of the earlier times. Thus, during the era when films have been powerful enough to attract the largest audience, it was also the time when the world politics saw films as a powerful tool to express and covey their political messages.

Ellen Summerfield (2004), a specialist on Intercultural film, listed in her article The Power of Movies several strengths that movies have which make them influential enough even to the political sector. According to her study, films can actually make interpersonal communications visible. These modes of interpersonal communication are usually those which are hidden and deprived in audio media, through which people can only learn and experience sounds, and in printed media, through which the public can only see plain text and still pictures. Through movies, such intangible as well as projected messages in actions and non-verbal cues are creatively emphasized, which are important in the transmission of deeper and more abstract messages (Summerfield, 2004).

Aside from this, Summerfield (2004) also noted that films have the ability to showcase such diverse perspectives in one show. This can be made possible in a film since its length also allows the deliverance of multiple messages which are difficult to deliver in short-framed communication channels. Movies also have that certain peculiarity of exposing very sensitive and controversial topics without violating political and intercultural laws on the basis of authentic art. This is one characteristic of movies which makes them difficult to criticize in the political view. As what the world knows, nobody can question art, for its basis are intangible, abstract, and at the same time subjective as it is presented according to the artist’s view which, in this sense, is the director’s (Summerfield, 2004).

Films can also create such powerful emotions, thoughts and sentiments which greatly affects the viewers’ own passions and beliefs. Moreover, Summerfield (2004) also noted that movies are more capable of highlighting significant public matters people ought to grasp and comply with through the use of such very influential role models in the personas of celebrities. The performances of these celebrities greatly affect how people tend to believe or disbelieve communicated messages. Thus, in a way, the power of movies relies on the influence and popularity of the models who conveyed the messages. Lastly, movies also have that lasting and value of permanence which makes the ideas stick to people’s heads. That is why movies are also mostly used to create lasting impression and consciousness among its viewers (Summerfield, 2004).

Agenda setting, as well as policy making processes in any nation, is a crucial progression wherein people’s views and beliefs are seriously taken into account. In whatever political state, a medium which can create such difference and impact on people’s beliefs and opinions shall be considered as well. Also, as the information-dependent world expands, sources and channels for significant messages are expected to develop as well. In the United States, the mass media and the political system have been seen as “co-evolving” fields which co-exist and continuously affect each other as they grow (O’Heffernan, 1991). The mass media has been perceived as active players in the policy making process since its existence has proved to affect the policy outputs and events in the political sector. In addition, the mass media has been considered by the U.S. policy makers as a utility which brings opportunity to penetrate people’s biases and prejudice (O’Heffernan, 1991). Films, as a powerful form of media, create as impact on the policy making processes of not just the United States but as well as the other nations wherein film has been given special public attention. Such public attention to film can indeed create a difference in people’s emotions and views on significant affairs and happenings such as wars and terrorism (O’Heffernan, 1991).

As a major benchmark in the history of humanity, the Second World War can be remembered as a specific time in American history which created emotional and psychological chaos in the lives of the people. Aside from this, historical accounts of World War II also suggest how information from media like films affected the perspectives and the prejudices of people regarding what went on during that miserable era. Taking the previously discussed forces and influences of films into account, it may appear to be an interesting matter to study the role played by such media during the height of terror of the Second World War.

Film Media and the Second World War

Movies have that peculiar characteristic of leaving lasting panoramas in the viewers’ minds. This characteristic of movies can be very well observed when a specific character would become immortal as a subject of discussion of people for a long period of time. In discussing about the course and the dramatic track of the Second World War, one of the most popular and lasting movies related to it is The Longest Day. This film adaptation of a famous book by Cornelius Ryan has created tremendous impact on the lives of Americans up to the present times as it captured the drama of the struggle and victory of Americans during the World War II (Chambers & Culbert, 1996). It has been considered as one of Hollywood’s greatest works as it put history back to life in such an artistic and intelligent way, and at the same time, it promoted a strong sense of nationalism among all Americans. It was able to capture the reality of victory against abusive leaders and dictators as well as the drama in the lives sacrificed during the vicious and miserable war. However, The Longest Day was just one of those movies which were able to generate such strong public emotion towards the World War II. This was just one of those undying epic of selfless warriors who touched the hearts of their fellow Americans. In films like this, the effect is on the emotions and the views of people about the realities of war. It is also through these movies that wars can either be sugarcoated or exaggerated.

During the Second World War, it became evident that films had that certain impact and influence to move people and their opinions. Thus, this caused the government to act on how to shape the messages of Hollywood films in order to convey its political agenda (Black & Koppes, 1990). Black & Koppes (1990), in their work Hollywood Goes To War, relayed the past when the government intervened in the production of films, especially war films. According to Black and Koppes (1990), at the time of war, an agency of the American government called the Officials of the Office of War Information (OWI) constantly had access and influence on film productions and planning. OWI was said to provide detailed manual instructions to different film producers and studios in guiding them how to assist the war effort. This agency also had a say about the movie screenplay, the cast, and movie promotion to the extent that the officers would even sit with major film producers and directors in order to learn of the whole movie flow and to even insert some speeches in the dialogue (Black & Koppes, 1990). This relationship between the government and the film industry was highly important in the history of Hollywood, especially during its golden years in 1939. It was the age of the movie industry when Americans are in the height of being star struck to Hollywood celebrities, and this was also the era when cinemas are packed with people from all over the country. Indeed, this was Hollywood’s golden age in America (Black & Koppes, 1990). This was also the reason why the government has been very guarding about the messages of films during this time. Black & Koppes (1990) further noted that during this time, Hollywood was able to transform geography and personas. It was able to create such a different world if it wanted, and it was able to form illusions of real characters if it willed (Black & Koppes, 1990). This ability of movies during that decade also had its effects on the emotions and opinions of people about very crucial state and public affairs like political conflicts and wars.

On the other hand, Rosenbaum (1997) explained that movies indeed affects the views and opinions of people especially during these crucial times, as films serve two major purposes: as a window and a mirror. This explanation was stated in his book entitled Movies as Politics which generally deals with the way politics and political affairs and messages are incorporated in films to create a common public opinion. As a mirror, movies show the viewers what they expect to see and how they personally want to see reality. In this sense, viewers of a certain social group for example would watch a film and anticipate a portrayal which would positively reflect their social group free from all the prejudice and discrimination. This function of films can be very well observed during the present time, and this usually makes the film industry soar in terms of profitability. On the other hand, films can also serve as a window to the truths and realities of the current political and public affairs as much as they mirror what viewers want to see. In this sense, as Rosenbaum (1997) suggested, films function to portray the real and current happenings, events, and messages the state has to convey which are matters that the public needs to know about. Looking at it in this perspective, films during the times of war may both serve as a mirror and as a window of the public to the reality of revolution as they both portray the real situation during the war while depicting the predictable emotions and views of people in times of war. Taking these roles of movies into account, it can be inferred that these filmic masterpieces are made to represent basically what surrounds the public. Thus, the opinions and views created in the viewer’s consciousness by these films are shaped from the basis of real and current facts of what goes on during wars—in this case, during the Second World War (Rosenbaum, 1997).

Based on accounts of historians and people who experienced the war itself, the World War II was an era of utmost despair and desolation. The public suffered and were confused not just because of the lives sacrificed but also due to the disturbances brought about by the political conflicts all portrayed in infamous war films in Hollywood. Even up to this date, people can still observe that strong emotion caused by these war films to viewers. The psychology and deeper explanation behind this relationship between real-life-based movies and public opinion may still remain difficult for the average viewer to grasp; however, one thing shall remain clear from the viewers’ perspective: Since its introduction up to the modern days, movies have never failed to affect even the innermost views of people, as they never failed to dramatically portray the most sensitive and controversial issues like those of political affairs and events. Such events like World War II are considered as some of the best bases of these films as these are the best sources of the strongest and most powerful emotions of the public.

Films’ Direct Influence to Public Opinion during the Second World War

Over the years, media such as films has left both positive and negative impressions in the public. It has been very evident during the past years that the media can shape public views which eventually formed both positive and negative attitudes. This negativity as well as positivity has been explained by Marshall McLuhan through his perspective about “technological determinism” (cited in Giles, 2003, p. 16). McLuhan emphasized that, in most media such as films, “the medium is the message” (cited in Giles, 2003, p. 16). He argues that as media can be considered as helpful in informing and educating its audience, it can, at the same time, be potentially harmful. He explains that as much as the media exposes people to educational and informational messages, these can also open up the viewers’ consciousness to the vulgarity and obscenity of the world. In this perspective, McLuhan sees films like other media to consistently change and transform the society similar to political machinations which eventually transform the world into a global village (cited in Giles, 2003). This perspective puts the effects of media in a pessimistic way that it appears change and transformation is not necessary. Putting it in the context of people’s awareness during the war period, this theory may also be useful in identifying how the films of that decade affected the course of public’s opinion about the war. This perspective thus gives people a ground as basis of such negative impressions people had about revolutions and violence. Films have been able to clearly depict the pains and fear of death during the war, and considering McLuhan’s theory, it may appear that films indeed were able to fulfill both its positive and negative functions in influencing people’s opinions about revolutions.

This can also be further understood through Denis McQuail’s (2000) communication theory about the kinds of changes media causes its audience. McQuail (2000) explained that the media such as movies does not just intend to cause a single effect on a specific viewer; rather it may aim to produce several attitudinal or behavioral effects or changes. He enumerated such effects as to: “(1) cause intended change, (2) cause unintended change, (3) cause minor change, (4) facilitate change, (5) reinforce what exists (no change), or (6) to prevent change” (McQuail, 2000 cited in Grossberg, Wartella & Whitney, 2005, p. 299). In this perspective, the media’s several functions other than to inform are emphasized. These functions relate to creating such changes which might cover the viewers’ opinions, views, perspectives, ideologies, behaviors, or their attitudes. In the context of the Second World War, it may appear that films indeed played a major role in affecting the American’s thoughts about the war, as such movies adhere to the beliefs and ideologies of the people. The effects on the existing wrong impressions about the cause of war can be changed, and effects on the nationalistic spirit of the Americans can be maintained and improved. However, the effectiveness of these media in their intended effects to the viewers cannot be assured. The arguments of Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney’s (2005) in their work Mediamaking suggest that the opinions of people as affected by films and other different media during the era of World War II may still depend on how exposed they have been to these media. The authors stressed that the length of message exposure greatly affects how the behaviors of viewers can be affected. Thus, an argument that will say that war movies during the World War II era have affected the entire American population can only be proven true if the entire American population have been proven as well to be exposed to such war films in a reasonably lengthy period of time. Thus, no one can certainly say that the films had the most effective influence on people’s views and opinions during the war period, for it will appear that the films are not the only media present during that time. Hence, it would be safer to state that people with the longer exposure to such media which had messages about war issues and stories are more likely to have acquired a change in beliefs and views about the war compared to those who have been deprived of media access during that time.

Since the time when different media have been invented up to the present time when these channels have grown more efficient and influential, the world has never been the same in terms of how people get information and inspiration about world views and affairs. Films, just like all the other forms of media, have been an immortal channel of relevant and influential messages aside from being a source of general awareness. During an era of war like that of the Second World War, the emotions and the spirits of the people tend to grow to the extremes. Media such as Hollywood films tend to serve as people’s reassurance that they have real bases of where they derive their emotions from. These media also act as the assurance of realities for these viewers. Thus, nobody can indeed question the effectiveness nor the credibility of films as a tool for conveying either political or any other types of messages, for it has been apparent, based from the previous discussions above, that the final belief and view still rest on how much the people are exposed to such media and on how these people interpret such messages that the media tries to express. Be it nationalism, patriotism, or any other feeling or idea, these abstract thoughts are common messages in movies both from the past and the current generation. Thus, people can never deny that even an independent film nowadays, when made creatively and artistic enough, can indeed move even the immovable emotions of people. Considering the war period as a very emotional time, it is thus very inevitable that such emotional messages in movies as well shall affect the viewers in different ways and in different levels. There may not be a solid evidence that the entire American population has been moved by films during the war, but one thing shall remain true based on both historical and current facts: these films indeed enhanced in different ways the nationalistic spirits and the peace advocacy in the hearts of their viewers.


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