Those of you who often read my posts here know that I am always concerned with the portrayal of females and diverse characters in positive and strong roles. Yet this awareness of how fiction impacts real-world views of people also extends to risky behavior portrayal in fictional media.
My biggest failure in the public arena took place many years ago when I tried to get Hollywood organizations to promote safer sex portrayal in films and TV shows. This effort was to encourage teens to practice safer sex initiatives that they saw their favorite movie stars enacting in fictional stories.
While at that time I had some success in getting media exposure (in the days before social media), I ultimately failed at achieving a significant change in risky behaviors portrayed on screen.
Now in 2016 I still watch films and TV series to check whether appropriate safety behavior is portrayed.
I recently had a moment’s unrest during the British TV series DOC MARTIN on which I had been binging on Netflix. I thought the doc’s just-born baby was going to be driven home from the hospital without a child’s car safety seat. At the last moment the local police chief rushes up to the car holding a child’s safety seat and tells the mother that, if she doesn’t use the seat, she would be breaking the law and the doctor would also be breaking the law. The newborn rode home in the child’s car safety seat.
In the March 7, 2016, Wall Street Journal online version of the “Health & Wellness” section’s research report, the item — Reality Check — in the article by Ann Lukits states:
Characters in some children’s movies may be setting a bad example for young viewers, says a study published online in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. The study analyzed risky transportation-related behaviors depicted in top-grossing children’s movies over a five-year period.
Just over 20% showed characters without seat belts, almost a third depicted motorcycle riders without helmets, 67% showed boat operators without life jackets and almost all scenes with horses had riders without helmets.
The majority of movie characters were male, but both sexes participated in unsafe activities on screen, the analysis showed.
The Journal article also states:
Studies have shown that children may not have the cognitive skills to distinguish between fantasy and reality, researchers said. As they mature, children may imitate the behaviors they’ve grown up watching in movies, they said. [Thus my campaign about safer sex portrayal in films and TV shows.]
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in U.S. children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The research was done on 30 children’s G or PG movies, five each for years 2008 through 2013: “Researchers identified 192 scenes in 24 movies that involved one or more modes of transportation. Speeding vehicles were incorporated into 21% of the plots.”
Here are some of the reported unsafe portrayals:
Pedestrian characters were frequently shown in unsafe situations: 90% didn’t wait for signal lights to change, 70% ignored crosswalks and 60% crossed roads running instead of walking. Two cyclists, both girls, appeared in scenes without helmets. One was shown crossing lanes of traffic and crashing.
The sole skateboarder, a male animal, didn’t wear a helmet, wrist guards, knee and elbow pads or closed-toe shoes. This character also crashed. Cellphone use and other forms of distracted driving were rare, the researchers said.
If you are a fiction writer, I hope you will keep these unsafe portrayals in mind when you write. Then take the responsible actions of changing these portrayals to safe behaviors without hurting the plots of your stories. And if you viewers see such unsafe portrayals in film and TV series, I hope you would mention this on social media. In that way we may initiative a grassroots movement to portray safer behaviors for teens and young adults.
On a personal note — I am very upset when, in my Beverly Hills neighborhood, I see parents without helmets riding bicycles with their children who do have on helmets:
- What kind of behavior modeling is going on for when the children are older?
- What happens to a parent’s skull if he or she falls on his or her head when not wearing a helmet?
As bike helmets have saved members of my family, I strongly believe in these helmets for all ages! (Remember, also, that the helmet strap must be connected and the helmet worn far enough forward to protect the forehead.)
© 2016 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller