People like the idea of revenge. Have you ever heard of the expression “The best revenge is living well”? I’ve said this. In other words, it means, supposedly, the best way to get back at someone is just by being happy and successful in your own life. Sounds nice. It doesn’t really work on the Charles Bronson kind of life. You know what I mean? Those movies where his whole family gets wiped out by some street scum. You know, maybe you could go up to him, “Charlie, forget the .357. What you need is a custom-made suit, and a convertible. New carpeting, French doors and a divan. that’ll show those Punks!”
~Jerry Seinfeld monologue.

Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that a movie director is asked to pick between two story lines. Both stories start from the premise where the hero’s family gets wiped out by the villains.

In the first story line, the hero:
– decides to turn vigilante
– makes it his life mission to avenge his family
– hunts down each villain mercilessly, savoring each hunt
– after the last villain is hunted down, the hero dies or goes to jail (you can pick the ending of your choice)

In the second story line, the hero:
– he grieves for his family
– takes a pragmatic view to get on with his life
– gets married, raises children, makes an honest living
– lives an honest, industrious, uneventful and quiet life

Picking the first story line is a no brainer. Indeed, I have seen several movies that are based on the first story line. They are invariably hit movies (if not super hits). If any director picks the second story line, that would surely be the last movie he directs (if he’s not already replaced already for making this choice).

Here’s the deal, though: If someone happened to find themselves in this situation in real life, the second story line is the more graceful way to live. 

Why is any of this relevant? We are talking about a movie, after all, what connection does it have with real life? Allow me to segue into another line of thought. It is well known that advertising works on everyone. Here are Peter Thiel’s words from his book Zero to One, making this very point:

Advertising matters because it works. You may think you are an exception; that your preferences are authentic and advertising only works on other people. … But advertising doesn’t exist to make you buy a product right away; it exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later. Anyone who can’t acknowledge its likely effect on himself is doubly deceived.

Not convinced? I hear you. I believed for a long time that I was immune to advertising. Here is a conversation that Jay Conrad Levinson and his friends had with a taxi driver in Guerrilla Marketing: 

The taxi driver caught wind of our conversation, turned his head and asked, “You guys in the ad game?”
“Uh, yes, we’re in the ad game,” we responded. “Do you really believe that stuff works?” asked the taxi driver.
“We believe it works”, was our answer.
The cabbie’s reply: “It sure doesn’t work on me. I’ve never bought anything as a result of marketing or advertising. I never have and I never will.”
One of our guys asked him, “What kind of toothpaste do you use?”
The cabbie answered, “Oh, I brush with Gleam, but it’s got nothing to do with the advertising. It’s because I drive a cab and I can’t brush after every meal.”

At that time, Gleam’s theme line was, “For people who can’t brush after every meal.”

The point I was looking to make with the advertising segue is this: if the same message is given over and over again to a person, they get conditioned to believe the message over time. Coming back to our initial discussion, if a person watches several movies that reinforce the message of revenge, and has not read much literature or watched anything that reinforces forgiveness, or the merits of moving on in one’s own life, I submit that this person will be conditioned to choose revenge when he/she feels affronted by someone. And the extent of the perceived affront that triggers the tit-for-tat response doesn’t even need to be along the scale of the example above – it could be of a trivial nature..

Revenge was just one example that I chose to make the point. There are several other themes that movies condition us with. These themes are chosen for their high entertainment factor, but are not very good life advice. I invite you to another thought experiment:

Would a director rather make a movie:
– where the hero meets the heroine in college, falls head over heels in love, fights all forces that oppose them, and in the end, they live happily ever after
or
– where the hero is a studious sort, studies diligently, defers any romantic interests, makes the library his hangout joint, and excels in life

And if a teenager watches several movies whose theme is the pursuit of romance, would he be more inclined to pursue romance or productivity?

Here is one final thought experiment for good luck:

Would a director rather choose:
– A fight scene where the hero singlehandedly tackles villains who cause trouble in a thrilling action sequence
or
– A scene where the hero pragmatically settles a conflict without resorting to blows

And if each movie that a person sees has such a fight scene, would he be conditioned to choose to a contentious response or an amicable response?

This post is mildly ironic given that my previous post listed life lessons from movies. I grew up in a generation of movies and television, so I believe I have been conditioned by movies. In this generation, with the proliferation of technology, there are many more outlets that could condition a person’s thoughts and belief systems. If every choice is made with awareness, there is no problem. This is easier said than done. At least for me.

Reality often paints a grim picture, and this post is no different. Let me end this post with a hopeful thought – wouldn’t it be a nice world where we binge-read high quality books instead of binge-watching TV, where we strive to be producers than consumers (particularly online), and we condition ourselves over long periods of time to do something beautiful with this beautiful life that is given to us?

Image Credit: Lucas Pezeta from Pexels.com

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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