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Do movies shape your opinions?

How do you feel about crime and gun control, the homeless crisis, the AIDS epidemic, or the aging of America? If Purdue University English professor William J. Palmer's studies of the 1970s and 1980s hold true, movies will have a big influence on your opinions about those hot issues during the 1990s. "People in mass society get their sense of history from the way it's portrayed in movies," he maintains.

"How do Americans interpret history? Do they get it from historians? Some do. Do they get if f rom the news? Some do. Do they get if from movies? Certainly they do. I think one of the main sources of history is movies. I'm not certain it's the best source, but certainly it is a main source."

Take the Vietnam War for example. "America has changed its views of the Vietnam War and veterans of that war. Up until 1977, no one wanted even to talk about Vietnam. From 1977 until 1980, a whole bunch of really good movies about Vietnam came out, and suddenly it was legitimate. Now, it's okay to be a Vietnam vet." Two of the early films that brought about the change in perception were "Apocalypse Now" and "The Deer Hunter." In 1987, which Palmer calls "the Year of Vietnam" in the motion picture industry. "Platoon" was the first of five major films focusing on the war's experiences. "That was a year of self-examination and reconciliation of history. It was an honest public admission of defeat in a 20-year-old war."

That there were so many films relating to Vietnam leads to another of his conclusions. "Hollywood always has its finger on the pulse of American social history. They write about things that are current; then those things are imitated. And that leads to clusters of films."

Another 1980s cluster dealt with the farming crisis, "Three movies in 1984--`Places in the Heart,' `Country,' and `The River'--really threw high publicity and focus on what was happening to American farmers. The three actresses--Sally Field, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek--testified before Congress in the farm debate. They actually influenced American farm policy."

Bad guys. too, can give hints about the decade in question. In the 1970s, villains were corporations, as portrayed in "The Formula," "Chinatown," and the "Godfather" movies. By the 1980s, the villains were terrorists. There was international terrorism ("Nighthawks," "The Little Drummer Girl," "Die Hard"); South American government terrorism ("Salvador," "Missing," "Under Fire"); and drug terrorism ("Colors," "Scarface," "Extreme Prejudice").

Palmer notes that films reflected all the issues of the 1980s. "We also saw feminism, nuclear fear, and new racism. We saw the Year of the Baby in 1988 as a result of the second-generation baby boom."
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Title Annotation:research indicates movies influence views of history and social issues
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Mar 1, 1995
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