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This is a great question, because it shows the reality that movies have a huge impact on culture. I would say that same for TV programs, books, and any other forms of popular media. As for movies, we can see the impact in several ways. For instance, movies influence fashion. One of the things that I realized is that people's sense of fashion is very much influenced by the movies they watch. This might seem like a small point, but from a financial and advertising point of view, it is huge. Product placement is gaining steam.
A more serious example can be seen during World War II. The war movies that were made during that time sought actively to raise patriotism and the glories of self-sacrifice for your country. The government even poured its own money into these movies, because they saw the power of films to influence people's opinions.
Even today, certain movies shape people's expectation on all sorts of aspects of life, such as love, relationship, money, and the like. A great example is the movie "Wall Street." The director actually made the movie to show the dark side of money, but it wound up encouraging people to go into banking! Examples can be multiplied. The important point is the realize that we are all social beings and for this reason media plays a role.
Movies have had an influence on the American culture through the content of various issues. In American movies, the characters take on such issues as social reform, political views, and emotional turmoil. In one of the most recent movies "The Help", the movie displays the characters views on issues of social reform. Movies tend to influence people's views on important issues in today's society. American culture is tied closely with movies no matter how real or relevant.
Movies have changed people's attitudes about consuming information. Many times I have heard others discouraged from reading classic literature because of the length and weightiness of the content. Early writers included rich and descriptive content because books were the primary way to transport audiences to other worlds and cultures. Today, movies quickly give us a visual picture of where and what the characters are doing. We are used to an "at-a-glance" type of exposition where we are quickly apprised of character description, setting, etc. Most mainstream movies neatly package a story into less then two hours of carefully edited material. Books on the other hand, especially classic literature, can employ pages of words to set up a scene or fully introduce a character. Movies have made current generations used to this manner of consuming information and can often make reading a book seem cumbersome or slow. Unfortunately, as noted by many avid readers (such as myself) the brevity and often shallowness of movies can sometimes undermine the depth and strength of a book. Notice that in many movie adaptations of books liberty is taken to ensure action and movement. We do not always get to "hear" inner conflict and dialogue as we do when reading a character's thoughts. In summary, I believe movies in some ways have changed American society in aiding an already prevelant paradigm of instant gratification and laziness.
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