Each of us has our favorite movie: from Citizen Kane to Gone with the Wind to Star Wars to Titanic to Lord of the Rings. Hollywood influences our culture and society; it sets the latest trends, telling us the way we should think, feel, look and act. For example, Star Wars has many fanatics who lived by the “force,” treating it like it is a religion. As humans, we tend to emulate what we observed. Alas, Hollywood creates a distorted and unrealistic view on life.
Artists create movies and other art forms to express his or hers feelings, thoughts and views; usually, they try to define the ideal self and ideal world. Art doesn’t imitate life, it imitates superfluous life. If art truly imitated life, it would have look like the reflection you see from a normal mirror; but instead, art’s reflection of life comes from a funhouse mirror, the kind of mirror that creates a distortion. Fact is, artists build-up some aspects of life while willingly ignore other aspects.
Hollywood, arguably the biggest art form there is (in terms of the numbers of exhibitors and viewers), distorts certain aspects of life like drugs, violence, beauty and race. We, as individuals and as a society, imitate Hollywood’s distorted view of the ideal self and the ideal world.
Hollywood depicts drugs as cool and escaping. Drug usage is normal in movies, especially in an adult-oriented one. In Pulp Fiction, drugs are used as a recreational activity; one of the characters, Mia, casually snorts some cocaine after a date. A film like Pulp Fiction sends the message that illegal drug use is as normal as smoking and drinking. As a result, society views drug use as somewhat acceptable; In fact, drugs are often intertwined with coolness.
During an interview, every time an actor or actress talks about their drug use, the audience always gets excited. People use drugs not just because it is cool, but also to escape. In movies stressed and depressed individuals use drugs as a way to escape from his or her personal problems. They could have done other things, like exercising, to alleviate their stress and depression. But would that make the movie exciting? Hollywood use drugs in movies to make it seem more edgy; unfortunately, many of us buy into the idea.
Hollywood portrays violence, too, as cool while making it seems like it’s the solution to all of our problems. In action films like Kill Bill, the antagonist always kill her enemies in a flashy way, like it is some kind of game; the antagonist treats her victims like nothing more than target practice. I’m sure everyone has had some sort of toy gun as a child. We shoot each other, emulating the way guns are used in movies. One thing we (at least the boys) never did was sit down and try to sort out the problems we have with each other while sipping juice from our little fake teacups; action films never show that because it won’t be as exciting as blowing other people’s head off.
American society agrees; just look at the number of guns we possessed. I mean it’s easy to sort out the problems we have with each other if the other person is dead. Another thing is the protagonists never suffer the consequences; they always evade the police and never suffered any physical damage. In Kill Bill, the heroine manages to slaughter dozens of enemy and yet, in the end, walked away scott free with her daughter. If you try to do that in real life, you are either dead or serving a death sentence.
Hollywood’s biggest influence on society is beauty; unfortunately, Hollywood portrays beauty as unnatural, setting unrealistic standard for attractiveness. Makeup artists spend as much as hours putting makeup on stars, hiding what deficiencies the star may have. Stars may go for a permanent fix: plastic surgery. Therefore, the main characters are always the good looking ones while all the plain looking characters are either evil or minor characters. The unattractive-looking ones are usually scoffed at. Because of Hollywood’s perception of beauty, people who have low self-esteem undergo plastic surgeries and buy expensive makeup. Plastic surgery is so common that many girls have plastic surgery as a high school graduation present. Take double eyelid surgery, for example.
Asians have double eyelid surgery to make their eyes look wider and rounder because of Hollywood’s mocking of Asian eyes. Some just don’t stop with having one plastic surgery; they just continue to opt for plastic surgery until all their outward deficiency are fixed. Hollywood has set the standard so high that looking natural doesn’t register as being beautiful. Even if a person is naturally beautiful, people will just speculate the person underwent plastic surgery.
You can’t tell what is natural and what is plastic today. Just like Hollywood, society treats good-looking people better than the not-so-good-looking ones. The good-looking people have lots of friends and admirers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder was exposed to Hollywood’s distorted perception of beauty.
Hollywood stereotypes and misrepresents racial minorities, sending the message that if you look a certain way, you should act a certain way. The top actors and actresses in Hollywood are white: from Brad Pitt to Nichole Kidman to Russell Crow. Many minority actors and actresses are forced to be typecast into their roles: African-Americans playing gangsters, Asian playing martial artists and the list goes on and on. You rarely see a minority play the lead role, unless it is a racially-specific role. If minorities aren’t stereotyped, they are under-represented. Asians, for example, dominate the medical field, but you rarely see any Asian doctors in TV shows or movies.
But I guess it’s better than not having minorities in entertainment at all. Back in the day, white actors and actresses put on black and yellow “faces” to play a minority role. In the series Kung Fu, the lead role was a white actor who put on cosmetics to make him look Asian. The concept of the ethnic face is still present today. Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Memoirs of a Geisha portray non-Japanese Asian actors and actresses as Japanese. Hollywood’s stereotyping and misrepresenting is surprising because Hollywood is located in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse places in the world. Out of the Hollywood’s distortion, I was disturbed by this one the most.
The lack of minorities playing lead roles coupled with the fact that minorities are stereotyped by Hollywood, many minorities in America, including me, grew up feeling inferior to whites. Despite growing up in San Francisco, which have one of the strongest, (if not the strongest) Chinese-American community in America, I grew up hating and disregarding my Chinese culture because Hollywood never really showed Chinese in a positive light (unless, of course, it involves martial arts).
I became an ethnic rebel as I grew older and realized how Hollywood stereotyped and misrepresented the people of my ethnicity. Now I tend to be more critical about the portrayal of Asians and Asian cultures in Hollywood movies. If Hollywood would have been more diverse and less stereotypical, there would be less ethnic rebels like me.
Hollywood’s depiction of drugs, violence, beauty and race may be fake, but the results aren’t. People imitate what they observe. I could go on and on about stats stating how drug-induced, violent, fake-looking and racist America is. You could be thinking “but none of this could/has happen to me!” It happens to everyone. Hollywood’s influence affects us directly and indirectly. Take, for example, one’s appearance.
Whether you find him or her attractive depend on your previously observation. Your observations include, among many other factors, Hollywood. It’s not just Hollywood either. Different nations, cultures and religions have their own way of influencing their subjects on how to think and act. Ultimately, however, we do have choices. In our search for the ideal self and ideal world, we can choose what we want to emulate and what not to. Better yet, we can just create our own art expressing our thoughts, feelings and views on the ideal self and ideal world.