“He was dangerous to the government. If he had said, ‘Bomb the White House tomorrow,’ there would have been 10,000 people who would have done it.”
Those words from Sean Lennon, son of slain Beatle John Lennon, describe how he viewed the influence his father had on fans. While I might disagree with the number, Sean Lennon is making an important point. Words matter—especially when spoken by someone adored by the masses.
It’s hard to believe, but there are still people who insist that the media does not affect attitude, behavior and/or culture. Even some people in the media themselves.
About a year ago, Quentin Tarantino said he was tired of folks linking his violent films to actual violence, saying, “I just think, you know, there’s violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers … give me a break.”
Of course, when people like Tarantino discount media’s influence, they’re strictly referring to the “subversive” aspects. They’d gratefully accept credit if their “art” had made a positive difference in the world. I like the way Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak once explained how illogical this way of thinking really is:
Television people have put blinders on and they absolutely refuse—and movie people too—to admit that they can have any influence for ill in our society. And you know the argument. It’s, “We only reflect what’s going on, we don’t perpetuate it.” And yet not a week goes by in this town where there’s not an award ceremony where they’re patting each other on the back saying, you know, “You raised AIDS awareness, there’ll be no more child abuse thanks to this fine show you did.” The argument is you can only influence for good, you can’t influence for ill. That makes no sense at all.
In my opening paragraph I wrote, Words matter. I could have written, A single word matters. With the Super Bowl airing this Sunday, I find it interesting that the city of Omaha is hoping that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will continue to hike the ball with his oft-used exclamation, “Omaha!” An article I read said Manning’s use of the word has “provided some unexpected publicity for the city of 427,000” and then added this tweet from the Greater Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau: “We certainly appreciate all the love from Peyton Manning.”
But the comment I liked the best was this one from Doug Parrot, a vice president for a Nebraska-based PR firm, who claimed before the AFC Championship Game (pitting the Broncos against the New England Patriots), “Everybody in Omaha needs to root for Peyton to take down Tom Brady and the Patriots so we can hear ‘Omaha’ in the Super Bowl.” The article mentioned that a mere 30 seconds of Super Bowl advertising this year is going for a whopping $4 million. But Manning’s exclamations of “Omaha” were absolutely free and getting a lot of folks to focus on this flyover state. And, of course, the fact that companies are willing to pay $4 million for these ads in the first place suggests that words—words in commercials—matter a whole lot.
My hope is that you the reader will never fall for the oft-repeated lie that entertainment only reflects society; it doesn’t influence it. Entertainment certainly can reflect society. But it also changes it. If I didn’t believe words could influence, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I wouldn’t get on the radio each week with the Plugged In Movie Review. I wouldn’t go on TV with the video version either.
No, I believe, as most people believe (when they’re being honest) that words have the power to motivate us, inspire us, encourage us, train us, hurt us, demean us, and yes, change our attitudes and behaviors. And sometimes they can get us to plan—for some unexplainable reason—a trip to Omaha.