Study Says Movies Make You Liberal


agConservatives have long known and complained that movies and television shows are shot through with overt progressive messages, although the Hollywood left downplays that concern as paranoid. But they may not be aware that even seemingly apolitical entertainment can contain subtle left-leaning messages, and those messages are effective at nudging audiences – even conservatives – to the left.

The science is settled. According to research published in the December edition of Social Science Quarterly, viewers who are “not prepared” to be critical about what they see onscreen are more likely to experience a temporary politically “leftward shift” when watching Hollywood movies with an “underlying liberal message.”

A team of political scientists at the University of Notre Dame set out to investigate the power of political messages in popular films. Dr. Todd Adkins, the lead author of the studyMoving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes,” wrote that: “Media effects research has generally ignored the possibility that popular films can affect political attitudes,” an omission he described as “puzzling” for two reasons:

First, research on public opinion finds the potential for persuasion is highest when respondents are unaware that political messages are being communicated. Second, multiple studies have found that entertainment media can alter public opinion. Together, this suggests that popular films containing political messages should possess the potential to influence attitudes.

That concept is a no-brainer. The left has understood the power of film to sway audiences at least as far back as the Nazis. Lenin once said that “for us, the cinema is the most important of the arts” – important, of course, in terms of propagating their agenda. Over the decades, the less culturally savvy conservatives increasingly ceded that arena to them; the result is that the left owns the culture, and whoever owns the culture dominates the political arena as well.

Considering what a divisive political issue healthcare currently is in the United States, the authors of the study wondered if subjects watching films with pro-healthcare reform messages would become more liberal on the issue. To test the theory the authors surveyed 252 students at Notre Dame – 54% of whom regard themselves as conservative – on their political views, randomly assigned them one of three films, then questioned them again.

The movies had either a strong and explicit political message (The Rainmaker, in which healthcare is a central part of the storyline), a subtle political message (As Good as it Gets starring Jack Nicholson, in which healthcare is less prominent, but still plays a role in the story), or no political message (Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!, which has nothing to do with healthcare). The Rainmaker, for what it’s worth, stars Matt Damon, arguably Hollywood’s most politically outspoken big star, considering his support for radical historian Howard Zinn, his many public statements about income inequality, and his appearance in overtly political films like the “Bush lied, people died” action thriller The Green Zone and class warfare sci-fi flick Elysium (both box office bombs).

The tests revealed that viewers of both As Good as it Gets and The Rainmaker did indeed become experience a “leftward shift in attitude” on the healthcare topic, regardless of their stances beforehand, and this change persisted for two weeks after viewing the films. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but Adkins and his group found that such movies “possess the ability to change political attitudes, especially on issues that are unframed by the media,” and that “such influence persists over time and is not moderated by partisanship, ideology, or political knowledge.” He concluded by recommending that more study on the political influence of popular movies “is clearly warranted.”

Why was even the movie with a subtle message so effective? Because the audience subjects weren’t on their guard: “Viewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political messages as they would during campaign advertisements or network news,” said Adkins. “In an age where the biases of network news and talk radio programs are accepted facts, the movie theater may prove to be one of the last sources of cross-cutting exposure to political messages.”

This is not an argument for conservatives to avoid theaters for fear that they might unwittingly be steered left; too many on the right have already washed their hands of Hollywood as it is, and disengagement is not how you win a culture war. Instead, this should be an argument for conservatives to make themselves more aware of how Hollywood uses pop culture as a Trojan horse to manipulate and indoctrinate. Awareness enables resistance. Be aware of what a movie’s political position is, even in a seemingly apolitical film, and how it is being presented.

This study is also an argument for realizing that such political messaging can cut both ways. Powerful storytelling can compel audiences to embrace the values of the right as well as the left. Nobody likes to be preached to, not even the left. People are seduced and changed by great stories. That must be our mission: compelling storytelling, not political lectures.

The cultural battle is the critical one. Unless and until the right starts thinking in terms of waging a vigorous cultural campaign, we will continue to lose presidential elections. Winning that critical conflict requires that we get into the fray, understand and embrace pop culture, and commit to reclaiming it.

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  • Judahlevi

    Movies tug at the heart strings with no reason or logic involved. They have always had the ability to move people emotionally. Liberalism, as a political philosophy, as always been based on emotion not logic. It would seem that politically liberal ideas would play well in movies.

    The problem, as we all know, is that real life is not the movies. In real life we have the constraints of human nature, economics, and real evil in the world. No one should ever take a Hollywood movie, or any ‘star’, seriously. Matt Damon is enough to convince anyone that Hollywood ‘stars’ are idiots.

    • Undezog

      Before this study by New Leftist, Tod Adkin, Don Feder warned that movies are more dangerous than the neo Communist press in getting people to vote Democratic. Perhaps, for this reason, one must heed Ben Shapiro’s admonition that Conservatives need to be screenwriters and producers in addition to engineers and lawyers (or words to that effect from Ben Shapiro).

  • truebearing

    There is no question that movies are a superior vehicle for propaganda, or that Hollywood constantly saturates its movies with the Left’s lies. The good news is that Hollywood is putting out such crappy movies that fewer people are viewing them and the poor quality makes the propaganda easier to spot. The other good news is that morons like Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, et al are prone to commenting on politics, therefore revealing how stupid and unlikeable they truly are.

  • No Reed

    Ah, the infinite wisdom of Judah and true… some copy writer figured it all out years ago – “Silly rabbit, Trix is for kids!” In the meantime you make Mark’s point.

  • johnlac

    It’s not just movies, it’s also tv. In the tv series “Breaking Bad” health care was a major plot device not only directly affecting the main character, Walter White, but also another character, Hank Schrader. It’s in my all-time, top three of tv shows, but the liberal bias concerning the health care issue was pretty obvious. And the fact that as a public high school teacher for White and a government agent for Schrader, the idea that they’d both be facing cost crises concerning health care was one plot device that didn’t ring true. Still a great series, but the health care crisis plot device was irritating.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    So what does Tapson mean when he says, “leftward shift?” That’s what this article revolves around. The left has subtle ways of making the gullible think that they are on the side of the little guy, the underdog. Its been a while since I saw “As Good as it Gets,” but I believe Jack Nicholson plays a struggling screen writer. Thus if he gets his unemployment check on time, and his meds to relieve his thyroid malfunction, were all supposed to think that the government programs that provide these things are THE ANSWER. This might sway some for a couple of hours; but when you walk past all the boarded up small businesses, on the way home from the theater, reality kills those thoughts.

    • Wolfthatknowsall

      Actually, Jack Nicholson’s character was a well-off writer with a psychiatric disorder. He has tremendous difficulty talking to anyone, but he falls in love with Helen Hunt’s character, who is a waitress. Her son is quite ill, but she can’t … naturally … afford healthcare, and so Nicholson provides it.

      The movie pushes the idea that Helen Hunt’s Medicaid is not enough, and had she not met Nicholson, her son would have died.

      You’re quite right about the effects of reality when you leave the theater.

      • justquitnow

        My favorite line in that movie is some fan asks Nicholson’s character how he writes women so well. He responds, “Writing women is easy….I think of a man and remove reason and accountability”

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    Movies have tended toward populist ideology, not Marxism. Republicans and conservatives should get this straight. See http://clarespark.com/2012/09/10/index-to-blogs-on-populist-demagoguery/. “Index to blogs on populist demagoguery.” Why don’t they make this crucial distinction? There is a point where far Right and Left meet on the political spectrum. Teach our kids to decode mass media and the problem will disappear.

  • popseal

    The pubic is being spun like Russian dancers by every media outlet, sometime to the left and sometimes even right. I think of myself as a “pilgrim observer” watching fools repeating the horror of 1935 Germany.

  • DontMessWithAmerica

    One doesn’t need a
    high-falootin’ study to tell us what is obvious. Hollywood always had its
    surfeit of lefty writers who compulsively propagandized. The commercial aspect
    also dictates lefty themes. Drama is conflict between good guys and bad
    guys. The audience composition finds the majority to be poor or middle
    class with the minuscule minority being the rich and capitalists. So you make
    movies about good poor guys being exploited by bad rich guys and that lets the
    majority of the audience relate to your heroes. This writer saw a Russian
    propaganda film in Antwerp, Belgium, in the spring of 1939. It was well
    made but just went over the top a bit and even at age eleven it became obvious
    to me that it was B.S. Unfortunately much of the audience gets fooled which
    accounts for voters bringing in disastrous candidates who work at destroying
    what is left of America.

  • Sheik Yerbouti

    I watch classic movies with my children as a teaching medium. In some older films, since film was itself a valuable asset, the dialog and flow are very quickly paced. Then we watch modern films and look for common sub-plots and gratuitous leftist propaganda. What’s particularly telling is the comparison you can make with war movies. But I could waste a day with that one.

    Even in classic movies you run across duds. Unlike the digital age, even a bad film can sit on shelves for decades. I’m amazed at the number of bad black and white films that are being preserved. My latest modern learning opportunity was “The Family”. It had some seriously dragged out scenes and I came away wondering why it was made. Character studies in overlapping disarray? I was unable to make that one into much of a lesson. Good, though predictable casting with lots of familiar retreads.

  • Seek

    This has to be most poorly thought-out article I’ve read in some time. It’s not just the “Gotcha!” use of a study of dubious methodology. It’s the cherry-picked examples of movies that don’t even have covert much less “overt” political messages — and the absurd view that people are somehow brainwashed by seeing them. So Matt Damon, off-camera, has expressed left-of-center views. Does that make all of his films “Leftist,” including the “Bourne” series and “Contagion?”

    By the way, the highly acclaimed “Green Zone,” cited by this piece as an box-office bomb (actually, it did close to $100 million worldwide), was directed by Paul Greengrass, the pro-American British filmmaker who also did “United 93″ and, more recently, “Captain Phillips.” Neither is what any sane person would call “Leftist.”

  • MHS

    In many cases their agenda is not that subtle. Many of the evening shows would have you believe 50% of all couples are already bi-racial etc.

  • Donald J DaCosta

    A recurring theme on what should have long ago been grasped and put to use by conservatives. But there’s a problem and that’s the Hollywood culture that discriminates against and often demeans conservative actors, writers, producers and directors who are at present a minority fringe. How long has it been? The quintessential villains in the barrage of standard fare emanating from Hollywood are the “filthy” rich, corrupt corporations, police, CIA, FBI and mostly republican politicians committing all sorts of vile, inhuman crimes against humanity to support their evil intentions. It’s reminiscent of an angry teenagers rebellion against all forms of “oppressive” authority and it’s been thrown at the public for decades in the guise of enlightenment and intellectual revelation; deep, thoughtful and insightful. Actually intellectually bankrupt at best if not downright devious, misleading misinformation and agitprop though perhaps entertaining and therein lies the problem. The opinions of audiences are not reinforced or swayed by blatant lies or obviously false and phony narratives. They have to be entertained to be convinced that their closely held beliefs might be flawed.

  • Atikva

    “Movies make you liberal” – not to mention TV … that’s no news, it’s started a long time ago!

    But at least, at the beginning the indoctrination was more subtle and the show or the movie may have had a certain quality. Now the indoctrination is gross and the quality non-existent… it’s trash and more trash. Which is why TV audiences are shrinking and morons are the only ones still going to the movies.

    Watching movies, TV shows or “the news” manufactured as per Mr. George Soros’ criteria presents no interest whatsoever. His seizure of the american media may have benefited Mr. Obama, but it sure killed the cinematographic art and it plunged Hollywood into a deep coma.

    • justquitnow

      How has George Soros seized American media? You sure you don’t mean Rupert Murdoch?

      • Atikva
        • justquitnow

          Well you can’t cite Horowitz’s Dreamwiki as evidence of anything. I was around we he started that stupid thing. You said Soros had “seized” media. Now, any connection between Soros and any media outlet being proof that Soros has control or influence over said media…is just freaking silly. You make Soros the manufacturer of tons of media…like he is pulling the lever on everything…sh*t I’m out.

      • Crassus

        You talking about the same Rupert Murdoch who contributed to the campaigns of both Shillary and Obummer? Must be two of them.

        • justquitnow

          So you’re going to argue that Murdoch is a supporter of the Democratic party. You win. I just have to stand back and applaud. There goes that conversation.

  • RedStateVet

    “Viewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political message”

    I absolutely expect bias and propaganda in any film coming out of Hollywierd. I have not been to movie theater in well over a decade. I refuse to financially support the propaganda wing of the DNC.

  • ignaciopxm321

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  • DogmaelJones1

    I occasionally review TV series. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch both versions of “House of Cards.” The British version was a “take down” of Margaret Thatcher and her Tory Party, penned by Michael Dobbs, a former Thatcher protégé who had an acrimonious parting with her and so wrote a pair of vindictive novels on which the series was based. Season I of the Kevin Spacey version of the series baffles me, because it seems intent on vilifying the Democrats (justifiably so, since every major character and villain in it is a Democrat or an amoral power-luster), and Spacey is a notorious Democrat. I just finished watching two seasons of “Revenge,” and endured all 44 episodes and understood early on that it was anti-business and anti-wealth. Season II of the Spacey series will be interesting when it debuts in February.

  • American1969

    When one knows what to look for, it’s easy and disgusting to see the blatant propaganda that Hollywood puts out. These people don’t even try to hide it anymore.
    Of course, if Hollywood would put out movies that are worth watching and stop trying to propagandize everyone with Utopian nonsense, maybe more people would go and see them.

  • justquitnow

    Sure…Lenin, John Grisham…same thing. No one can be this pathetically, religiously swept up in their politics. As soon as you make the whole outside world “the left” with the same beliefs, purposes and motivations, then of course you must think to yourself “my side needs better movies”. It’s a stupid thought, a false dichotomy and you always have Atlas Shrugged and the Left Behind Series.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 aemoreira81

    I could drive a hole through this study the size of Texas. There is a reason why many consider this field a pseudscience. After all, if TV and Hollywood are influencing them, they received poor parenting.

  • muffler

    It’s called capitalism. People like what they are paying for and therefore the majority of media consumers like these movies and TV. remember how well Atlas Shrugged sold? It’s a business.. That is all it is… Show business with huge profits. Even better it is basically owned and run by 6 major media companies… Fortune 500.. The stuff conservative hold up as symbols of american exceptionalism. If conservatives had an idea that sold other than fear they might be able to get shows and movies made. People don’t buy ideology they don’t like.

    • HøgeNord

      No, it’s not called capitalism, but rather fraud, because as the article says «[v]iewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political messages as they would during campaign advertisements or network news …»

      Regarding Ayn Rand; she was always perfectly clear about her political/ideological/philosophical standpoint and never tried to hide her positions.

  • wlrpaul

    The problem, in my mind, seems to be that to be a conservative is already a more sophisticated plank than knee jerk liberalism — many, if not most, of those who self identify as conservative have in the past been libs themselves or at least been exposed to good doses of liberalism in their lives and had made a decision at some point to CHOOSE what they considered the superior option, that of conservatism.

    As such, there is some level of mental gymnastics required, above and beyond that which liberals are required to engage in when watching a movie, namely a mental understanding that what one is witnessing is the writer’s or director’s opinion, and that that opinion paints or sways the film a certain way.

    I too abhor how the right has largely ceded the arts to the left — I wish to one day have the wealth to throw my hat into the ring and produce some fine films that happen to be right leaning. I think the trick is not to fight the left, anytime you fight against the other viewpoint, you end up leaving out a good bit of critical elements that you happen to have in common with the other view. Thus, too often, conservative conscious films go overboard in being earnestly Christian or conservative message heavy.

    Why not just make good films, but at key points insert an inflection point that is not what is expected based on standard liberal fare? In that sense, a film like JUNO (I do not know the political leanings of the creators) where the protagonist CHOOSES to keep her baby, is already engaging in conservative behaviors, but nobody is beaten over the head with this message.