Advertising & Emotional Manipulation

An interesting sidenote: studies have shown people look at advertising for only seconds at most, unless the ad somehow catches their interest. If the ad can do that, you look at it longer, and are more likely to remember the brand name.

This means advertisers must pack a great deal of information into a very small, compelling space. The easiest way to do this is to tap into the culture's societal expectations, which are sometimes referred to as 'gut feelings.'

Everyone knows an ad which really 'clicked' for them. A good example of this not working well was the Mentos ads several years ago. They left both myself and most of the folks I knew utterly puzzled — what were they trying to say?

It did not surprise me at all to discover the ads were apparently made in Germany. Doubtless the ads were perfect for a German audience, and tapped into their cultural expectations. However, they weren't just bewildering to American audiences — for many they were an active turn-off.

[Archived text-only version of article available if link is dead]

Deliberate Emotional Manipulation?

It's my belief this is why Jackson had the folk of Helm's Deep do such a foolish and dangerous thing as send away strong adults in favor of having children on the walls — like an advertiser, he was (possibly non-consciously) attempting to tap into people's non-conscious gut feelings.

Brave women and men shown manning the walls against a ravening horde, or courageously singing songs together in the basement to keep their spirits up — that's uplifting, exciting, inspiring! Unfortunately, it's obvious Jackson felt that wasn't enough. He apparently thought he needed to make the scenes more emotionally 'grabby' — so he tried to call on people's protective feelings as well.

This isn't a bad thing… but why couldn't he accomplish that effect by either following the book, or by showing the littler children being bravely cared for by the older children, while the women and men of Helm's Deep courageously defended the walls?

I don't see how that lessens the movie's impact — if anything, it would surely increase it. However (unsurprisingly), I wasn't consulted on the movie's social or emotional implications.

Instead, Jackson tried to blatantly manipulate our emotions. He portrayed cowering, helpless women and children as nothing more than the 'prize' at the end of the battle — terrorized, passively ineffectual, and incapable of determining their own fates.

I don't like it when people try to manipulate me like that, regardless of whether it's emotionally or otherwise. Give me the facts and let me make a reasoned decision; don't treat me like a thoughtless child.

That's what Jackson did to his audience — he treated them like little children who're incapable of reasonably understanding the danger the characters were in.

Conclusions

The Jackson movie The Two Towers is based on a story written by Tolkien, who was probably an unwitting, unrepentantly ethnocentric Englishman. As a consequence, Tolkien's writing carries all the cultural baggage of his time, which I can't blame him for.

I don't have any issue with Tolkien's writing — it is from another time and place, and he wrote what made sense to him. This included his removing the women and children entirely from battle — not leaving them pointlessly cowering and crying in a basement.

Unsurprisingly, the movie doesn't completely follow the books. That's to be expected, considering the incredibly huge scope of the books. Ultimately, however, I found myself wishing if Jackson was going to depart so from the story, why didn't he depart even more, and dispense with the pointless and inaccurate sexism?

I like encouraging media which doesn't lean on tired old clichés for emotional impact. Furthermore, when societal expectations are stifling, blatantly false, or belittling of a particular group, I can't imagine why any intelligent, thoughtful creator wouldn't want to do their best to help shatter them.

In the end, Jackson's art distorted — it did not imitate either the art which initiated it, nor the life which initiated the creation of that original written art. I sincerely hope life will never imitate his demeaning view of female and male role models.

This is pretty much why I found The Two Towers an acceptable action movie — but due to the transparent emotional manipulation Jackson stooped to using, it was ultimately not terribly enjoyable.

Later edit:
I've spoken with several folks about this. Aside from my immediate closest friends, I've noted the following:

Women listen, look thoughtful… then get a growing look of indignant realization, saying things like, "Hey… yeah!" as if they feel cheated.

Men, on the other hand, listen… then tend to get a slightly uncomfortable or superciliously amused look, as if this is actually beneath notice and what's my problem anyway? They often shrug and say things like, "Well… yeah…" as if they feel it's silly or beneath their notice.

Creepily interesting to see Jackson's emotional manipulation is working so well, isn't it?

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