The shaman is usually the spiritual leader within a tribal society and helps define the direction, identity, and purpose of the tribe. This is partly achieved through one of his roles as chief storyteller within the tribe. The shaman knows and re-enacts the myths that are the foundations of the culture in a manner that renews collective belief. These stories based on myths handed down from ancestors help instil morals and taboos, helping to define right and wrong.
Fireside stories told by the shamans are usually concerned with the origins of the tribe, its cosmos and gods, they often involve heroes or heroines doing good deeds for the benefit of the tribe, which members of the tribe will aspire to. Defining what makes a man respected and powerful in the eyes of the tribe will help shape peoples identity, especially younger and more impressionable members whose identities are still developing. This is reflected today, where movies can be extremely influential regarding the development of identity. A movie star, sporting a certain hairstyle, can spawn a million imitators as they attempt to reflect the glamour of the icon. Indeed the terms used to refer to movie ‘idols’ are often mythological in nature, such as siren, sorceress, enchantress and goddess. The 1980s influence from 1950s culture in fashion and attitude can be partly related to the proliferation of movies set in the 50s during the 80s, although movies often follow trends as much as they create them. Movies that focus on a certain sub culture can influence its movement into the mainstream. An example is ‘Saturday Night Fever’, that focused on the disco scene of the 1970s.
The above examples are perhaps culturally cosmetic but film and television can undoubtedly influence on a more profound level. An example, I remember while growing up, involved a friend who watched the film Top Gun and subsequently decided that he wanted to be a fighter pilot. He chose appropriate subjects and achieved excellent grades, partly because he had identified with the hero of the film and was driven by the glamour of the movie. Indeed the royal Air force attributes an increase in applications for the role of fighter pilots to this movie.
Movies represent and help create our dreams and nightmares that can manifest in reality. French psychologist Emile Coue observed that where there is a conflict between the will and unconscious concepts (emotions, sentiments, imagination, ECT) the later will always triumph. Therefore, following this theory, films that are food for the imagination can release and inspire a >will= that perhaps otherwise would not have been able to manifest.
If I believe that my friend was influenced by Top Gun, I should accept the possibility that film and television can influence in a less positive manner (although it is debatable whether being the pilot of a war machine is positive). Indeed, The National Academy of Science concluded that ‘overall, the vast majority of studies, whatever their methodology, showed that exposure to television violence resulted in aggressive behaviour, both contemporaneously and over time.’The American Psychological Association, who also considered violence and youth in 1993, came to the same conclusion
The James Bulger killings are a vivid example where many people laid the blame with the violence of film and television. The ability of children to get hold of video nasties, such as the psychotic doll film, Chuckie, was particularly seen as responsible, due to the fact that the children’s chosen method of murder, mirrored scenes in this film. This has been termed as copycat delinquency which has repeatedly been debated in parliament. An example being David Mellor, then junior cabinet minister, who declared ‘ common sense leads us to suspect that a constant diet of violence.. Can encourage repetition and encourage young people to engage in violence themselves.’ Although this is a simplistic statement, I do believe there are certain children that cannot recognise the codes that differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy, due to poor parenting and psychological dysfunction, which can lead to violence. Indeed many ‘schizophrenic’ adults can’t differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy. Television does influence gameplay, children acting out roles taken from film and television: I remember as a child we would play ‘wrestling’, pretending to be ‘Big Daddy’ or ‘Giant Haystacks’, sometimes this could get out of hand and the play fight would become real
In counter argument, Ian McEwan humorously pointed out in the Observer that ‘ children do not learn by imitation. If so, rote learning of Shakespeare would still be in use in a good many more schools. And Blue Peter would have more success with its attempt to create a young nation of Origami adepts, or dog handlers, or builders of lawn mowers out of coat hangers and wine corks.’
I think his argument, while amusing, misses the point, as you cannot compare learning in school to the experience of watching television. They involve totally different mediums and as I shall later discuss, involve different degrees of receptivity, television being a more unconscious medium. I would also argue that shows like Blue Peter have had a profound effect on our culture. The huge expansion of D.I.Y culture that has emerged over the last 20 years could be partly attributed to the home made philosophy communicated by the show. The recent plethora of shows such as ‘changing rooms’ and ‘Ground Force’, could be seen as ‘grown-up’ versions of ‘Blue Peter’. The actively androgynous identities of the shows female hosts, has perhaps influenced girls who now grow up to spend less on clothing, as they spend more on DIY. Pursuit of activities such as parachuting and climbing, that have featured in the show, have also increased among the general population as has exotic travelling as a cultural experience rather than just a beach holiday. Although Blue Peter was perhaps a reflection of a general cultural trend rather than a driving force, I personally believe that shows like Blue Peter help balance against emotionally cold and violent television. Although, I believe there are some benefits from the depiction of sex and violence, even for younger viewers.
Like the sometimes dark and sinister tales of the shaman around the campfire, sex and violence in film or television can perhaps prepare children for later life. The Shaman would take partial responsibility for the coming of age of members of his tribe, involving issues of sexual awakening and increased cultural responsibility. Many fairy tales have their roots in the tales told by shamans and are often used by films as they can tune in with the primal forces that acts on us all, connecting with our hopes and fears. An example includes a company of wolves which draws on the fairytale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, a tale that is familiar across the world. Its appearance across the world would suggest an archetypal significance, a frequently occurring aspect of instinct. The tale deals with sexual awakenings, the release of the forces of nature within one’s self and the subsequent awareness that is required. The main character within the film, a teenage girl, is told many tales by narrators with varying viewpoints, which inspire her to tell tales of her own, as she develops her own perception. The wolf is symbolic of a sexual desire, posing the dilemma, should she should trust and love the wolf, as her instincts and her mother suggest or deny it and attempt to destroy it, like her grandmother and most of the villagers would like to. It is sad that there is such a split with her inner feelings and the ideology of the village, she has to leave in order to ‘run with the wolves’, straying from the path to join the lush forest of desire. A shaman presiding over a tribal story telling session, gathered around a fire, would traditionally allow everyone in the tribe to have there say, who wanted to, and then summarise and conclude an ideology. He would, if competent, take everyone’s opinion into consideration, as well as those of the ancestors, with whom the tribe believe he could communicate with. This is in contrast to the church that presents only one patriarchal opinion, although this can be interpreted with varying degrees of compassion, as is shown by the priest within ‘A Company of Wolves’. Television is a medium that a multitude of differing peoples opinions can be expressed and many programs follow a shamanic format, hearing many different opinions and then trying to form some kind of conclusion.
The style of representation of Fairy-Tales is often dependent on the age-classification of a film, different considerations must be considered when gearing a film to say a 10-year-old, 15 year old and an adult. The plethora of coming of age films, e.g. child-teenager, teenager-adult can be related to shamanic rituals within tribal societies where initiates attempt to obtain new identities. Watching horror films by young teens, for example, can be a rite of passage into adulthood and adult discourse, a symbolic loss of innocence and introduction to the more ruthless adult world.
Another ritualistic element of films is that it tends to follow a seasonal pattern, marking the cyclical events that are connected with the movements of nature. Christmas often witnesses a spate of family orientated films with a magical theme. Examples include last year’s, ‘The Grinch’ and the up and coming Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings for this Christmas. The more active summer holiday season will often see the release of the big budget, action blockbuster such as last year’s ‘Mission Impossible 2’ and the ‘X-men.’
Christian Ratsh (ed), (1989) Gateway to Inner space. Dorset: Prism Press
Reiss & Roth (1993), National Academy of Science Report, p.371
Quoted by J..Root (1986), On the Box , Old Woking,: Comedia Publishing Group P. 13