Movies and Conduct: A Payne Fund Study

Chapter 4: Day-Dreaming and Fantasy

Herbert Blumer

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In the past chapter we sought to present some idea of the influence of motion pictures on conduct by considering overt or external forms of behavior. The play of children and the copying of forms of appearance, mannerisms, and techniques of action, while not lacking in subjective significance, chiefly represent activity outwardly expressed. As we begin to move into inner areas of experience where we may detect the action of motion pictures, our attention is arrested by day-dreaming and fantasy. Here the touch of motion pictures is shown in the most incontestable fashion.

Obviously not all people, even though they be romantically inclined adolescents, are led to day-dreaming by the witnessing of motion pictures. Yet it is distinctly clear, from our materials, that, while exceptions are many, individuals—chiefly adolescents are incited to fantasy by motion pictures. In 66 per cent of the 458 motion-picture autobiographies written by high-school students there is distinct evidence and mention of day-dreaming as a result of motion pictures. Denial, sometimes emphatic, of such influence is made in 10 per cent of the cases. In the remaining 24 per cent of the documents no information is given on this type of experience. While many of the documents which are blank in this respect may be judged on the basis of their contents to imply experiences of day-dreaming occasioned by motion pictures, the evidence is not convincing enough to permit us to classify such documents with those which show conclusively motion-picture day-dreaming.

(60) If we take the figures, then, cautiously in their most conservative form, a picture is presented to us of two-thirds, of the writers expressly pointing to motion pictures as an influence in some way or other on their fantasy life.

Indications of such influence are quite perceptible also in the case of children. Indeed, it becomes exceedingly difficult to draw the line between the impersonation of rôles in children's overt play and such impersonation in their imagination. In one sense, day-dreaming appears to be generic with play; it is seemingly but the internal playing of rôles. Childhood play which takes the form of impersonation has a noticeably fanciful character and readily merges into distinct fantasy. The boy may be not merely playing cowboy, policeman, gangster, aviator, but he may imagine himself performing the deeds of these respective characters. The girl may just as easily picture herself, in her imagination, as the much sought-after heroine as to act out this theme in play.

This proximate character of play and day-dreaming is suggested in the following descriptions of childhood experiences:

Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—I saw "Pollyanna," "Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch," and others. For days after I had seen them, I acted just as they had (lone. I wanted mother to dye my hair and curl it as Pollyanna's was. I even wanted to be struck by an automobile so that I could enjoy the experiences of being a heroine like Pollyanna. But no matter how much I looked I never did see a child who needed saving, nor did any automobile come near enough to hit me; it seemed that I never had any luck whatsoever. And then of course I was a "glad girl" around the house for a little while. Everything made me glad and I told the rest of the family that they too should be glad about everything until finally they grew so tired of this that they politely but very firmly suggested that if these actions were repeated something that might not make me glad would result.

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Female, 21, white, college senior.—The first type of picture that captured my fancy was the "wild west" type in which William Hart played such an important part. How I envied and admired those heroines who could at one moment do some exceedingly daring feat and at the next faint very lady-like and delicately. To me they were all that a young lady could or should be. How often I wasted time day-dreaming, picturing myself as the heroine of these wonderful pictures. I could just imagine myself doing things just as marvelous as they did, and I tried to imitate their mannerisms in everyday life, much to the great amusement of my brother, who was just old enough to have graduated from this class of motion pictures.

Male, 20, white, Jewish, college junior.—For a long time I had diligently read the Tarzan books, and now I was to see one enacted before my very eyes. With bated breath I watched Korak jump from tree to tree. His rescue of Meriam from the villainous Arabs took my breath away. I at once fell in love with Meriam. She was plump and dark-skinned. She had dark hair and sparkling black eyes. How I loved her! For hours at night I lay awake thinking of her. I would have liked to live in the jungles, strong, carefree, laughing at death, with Meriam at my side.

Male, 21, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—While I sat in school I used to dream about the hero of the picture, visualizing that some day I would play the part in real life by rescuing one of the pretty little girls in my class on whom I had a "crush." I used to continually love to scrap, picturing myself as one of the fighters in a picture I had seen.

Such instances of childhood fantasy appear frequently and point to this form of behavior as an additional way in which motion pictures play upon the lives of children. Those who have been accustomed to regard childhood as characterized chiefly by a life of action would be impressed by the extent to which fantasy appears as part of childhood experience as revealed by motion-picture autobiographies. In the questionnaire submitted to 1200 of Chicago's school children in the sixth and seventh grades, over 50 per cent

( 62) acknowledge being influenced in their day-dreaming by motion pictures. This form of imaginative activity is bound up so closely with the play activities of children, however, that it will not be given further attention.

The influence of motion pictures upon day-dreaming becomes most conspicuous in the case of adolescents—high-school and college boys and girls. It is to the experiences of this group that we now turn. In these higher age groups day-dreaming tends to appear unaccompanied by overt play activities and to become an important and relatively independent phase of life, indulged in, frequently, with deliberation for the satisfaction it offers.

As an aid to understanding the relation of motion pictures to fantasy a few accounts of experiences chosen from the written autobiographies may be cited. These instances will exhibit, incidentally, the variety of the content of day-dreaming incited by motion pictures. 

Female, 20, white, college junior.—I think it was during early adolescence that the movies had its greatest effect on me. I spent the time just before I slipped off to sleep in planning and dreaming about the pictures I should play in, my clothes, my admirers and suitors, my cars, my jewels, and even the home I should have, which was to be the most magnificent structure in all Beverly Hills. I had a name picked for this house and for myself—very ornate, fanciful and ridiculous names, which I thought quite beautiful and lovely. I was a bit hazy as to how I should accomplish all this and just when I was to start for Hollywood. I felt quite comfortable about it all coming true, however, and put off my departure somewhere in the future—when I was sixteen or seventeen, say. I never told anyone about my brilliant future, but I felt quite superior, all to myself, over other girls who were not to have such a glorious career as I was to have. Then one day I confided in my best friend and was distinctly surprised to hear that her future was to parallel mine, and that she too was going to be a star of the first magnitude.


Female, 20, white, college sophomore.—Day-dreaming was my chief pastime and I can trace it back to being aroused and stimulated by motion pictures. I'd picture myself the wife of a star, living in Hollywood and all my friends envying me my handsome husband. But no one ever took him away from me; he was always faithful to me.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Just as these pictures have influenced my thoughts, they have influenced my dreams, if I may be permitted to draw a distinction between the two. The collegiate movies played an important part in my dreams. From them I gained an enthusiasm to come to college, to enter into all the "pranks," and social life. I dreamed of being one of the most collegiate, the girl to be the football captain's friend. Just as I have feasted on the thoughts of school I have dwelt hardily in the days of the settling of the west. Many times I have crossed the desolate desert wastes, encountered the Indians, loved some hero of the trail. After having seen a movie of pioneer days I am very unreconciled to the fact that I live to-day instead of the romantic days of fifty years ago. But to offset this poignant and useless longing I have dreamed of going to war. I stated previously that through the movies I have become aware of the awfulness, the futility of it, etc. But as this side has been impressed upon me, there has been awakened in me at the same time the desire to go to the "front" during the next war. The excitement—shall I say glamour?—of the war has always appealed to me from the screen. Often I have pictured myself as a truck driver, nurse, HEROINE!

Female, 24, white, college senior.—The pictures I saw became the chief source of subject matter for day-dreams. I would lie awake for hours after going to bed, day-dreaming. After seeing an especially good show I have gone off to bed especially early to get those dreams started. Sometimes they lasted a long time, especially for one who has had to go to bed by ten. The striking of the clock downstairs often warned me of the late hour, and I would reluctantly turn to thoughts of sleep. Other times I fell to sleep in the midst of my dreaming. If a picture had been set in Alaska, I'd hop off to Alaska and ride over the snows and have thrilling experiences based on those of the picture, and, of

(64)  course, colored by my active imagination. The more unusual the picture, the better I liked it.

Female, 24, white, college senior.—During my high-school period I particularly liked pictures in which the setting was a millionaire's estate or some such elaborate place. After seeing a picture of this type, I would imagine myself living such a life of ease as the society girl I had seen. My day-dreams would be concerned with lavish wardrobes, beautiful homes, servants, imported automobiles, yachts, and countless handsome suitors.

Female, 16, white, high-school junior. —The day-dreams were many. A tall, dark, greasy-haired handsome man and me, tall, light, thin, pretty attractive girl. A large estate in the woods with everything that one could wish for. Then again it might be just a small, cozy, white cottage on the side of the sea where two could be very happy. Sometimes I dreamed of beautiful clothes that the "poor working girls" in the movies wore. I think that my day-dreams were aroused by movies. Not only the few that I saw, but also those that my friends told me about.

Male, 20, white, college junior.—As for day-dreaming about movies, I have done this quite a hit. At present I cannot recall the exact movies, but I remember that it was the adventure pictures which usually started me on this line. I believe it was shows of things that I had never seen in real life, as of the South Seas, or the lumber camps of the northwest which affected me so. I would often imagine myself in either of these two situations and it was quite true.

Male, 19, white, college sophomore.— I became exceedingly fond of plays dealing with the adventures of "lounge-lizzards" and "gold-diggers." Gay ballroom scenes and fashionable mansion sets held a mighty "kick" for me. I pictured myself dressed in a Tuxedo, seated in some ultra-exclusive club, sipping a cocktail. Or I would be stepping out of a luxuriously appointed machine with h some society queen richly— aired at my side. I would enter fashionable right eh'!) whereupon the m manager would rush over and direct the seating arrangements with mangy obsequious bows and smirks. An entire staff of gerçons would be at my beck and call, bringing to my table the choicest foods and

(65)  the rarest wines. After an epicurean feast I would depart for my private box at the Opera.

The weaving of fantasy around motion-picture themes and the patterning of the former after the latter seem to be clearly indicated in the instances which have been given. The accounts should serve to present some understanding of how motion pictures may act upon the daydreaming of young men and women. The influence of scenes of adventure, travel, gay life, fine clothes, wealth, luxury, success, heroism, and so forth, is quite pronounced. Yet, apparently, the chief theme emerging in the day-dreaming of adolescents is that of love. The romantic and entrancing love depicted in motion pictures represents to many an inaccessible type of experience. Hence the motion picture provides them with vicarious enjoyment. This frequently takes the form of the boy or girl imagining himself or herself either playing opposite, or being in the company of, some movie favorite under specially conceived circumstances.

The sample of 458 documents from high-school students was subjected to tabulation on this point. With respect to the item, "Has the individual imagined himself playing opposite the actor or actress in love pictures? ", it was found that this was true in the case of 30 per cent of the motion-picture autobiographies, denied in 17 per cent; whereas in 53 per cent no references appeared on the matter. Without attempting to interpret its significance it is pertinent to remark that evidence of this form of day-dreaming appeared twice as frequently in the cases of girls as in the cases of boys. Following are a few typical accounts:

Male, 17, white, high-school junior.———— ———— is my suppressed desire in the movies. I used to day-dream of ————— by the hours. She has had several love letters from me. Though

(66)   I have never had any answers from them as yet. I wrote these letters as a dare.

Female, 21, while, college senior.—The greatest effect the movies had on me can be found in my day-dreams that period between wakefulness and sleep. As for day-dreaming, Tom Meighan has caused the most. 1 really believed in my daydreams of him, that he was the man for me. This was when I was around 19 years old. Day-dreams for me are as far from real life as is possible. The love scenes in motion pictures have always played a great part in my day-dreams. The characters in the pictures never came before my eyes, but the picture suggested some original scene; the rest I worked out myself.

Female, 21, white, college senior. —As a young high-school student, I attended the movies largely for the love scenes. Although I never admitted it to my best friend, the most enjoyable part of the entire picture was inevitably the final embrace and fade-out. I always put myself in the place of the heroine. If the hero was some man by whom I should enjoy being kissed (as he invariably was), my evening was a success, and I went home in an elated, dreamy frame of mind, my heart beating rather fast and my usually pale cheeks brilliantly flushed. I used to look in the mirror somewhat admiringly and try to imagine Wallace Reid or John Barrymore or Richard Barthelmess kissing that face. It seems ridiculous if not disgusting now, but until my Senior year this was the closest I came to Romance.

Female, 20, white, college junior.—Movies have definitely formed part of my day-dreams. Every girl, I think, must have the mental image of a man to idealize and build dreams about. Before she finds an actual person, she draws an imaginary figure. In any event that was what occurred in my case. And my imaginary man was made up mostly of movie stars. At one time it was even the height of my ambition to marry Dick Barthelmess. I spent much Latin-grammar time thinking up ways of becoming acquainted with my various heroes. Sometimes, though not often, I identified myself with the heroine of a picture I had seen. The rôle of the fragile, persecuted woman never appealed to me; it was always as the queen, the Joan of Arc, the woman who had power that I saw myself. These day-dreams took up pretty

(67)     much time, especially during my second year at high school, when I was in a strange environment; but I was always inwardly ashamed of them and I do not believe that they ever carried over into action of any sort. I have never even sent for autographed pictures.

Female, 15, Negro, high-school freshman.—I fell in love with Gilbert Rolland. I would imagine I was the leading lady in the pictures he played in. I used to sit and day-dream. One day I would marry Gilbert Rolland and we would have a lovely time until I went out with, maybe, Ramon Navarro and Gilbert would catch me kissing Ramon. Then there would be a law-suit and my picture would be in the paper. I would win the law-suit and marry Ramon Navarro. I would keep on until I had married and divorced all of my movie actors.

Male, 15, white, high-school sophomore.—My interest in girls sure was awakened by the motion pictures. I remember one hearty fall I took for Clara Bow. Boy, did I fall hard, but, oh well, what is the use. Many times I pictured myself playing the part of her most ardent lover. To come to her rescue, and carry her from the roof of a burning building, or out of the path of a stampede of a wild herd. Many times I came to my senses in the midst of a hero act, much to my sorrow, as mother called me to go to the store or to perform some chore around the house.

While witnessing a picture one not infrequently projects oneself into the rôle of the hero or heroine. Such imaginative identification, as we shall see particularly in the discussion on "Emotional Possession," may assume a character different from mere day-dreaming, although some element of fantasy is always present. A few accounts of this imaginative identification will illustrate further how love pictures may act on day-dreaming.

Female, 18, white, Jewish, high-school senior.—I think I first became interested in love pictures when I saw Conrad Nagel in "Three Weeks." He made love in a way that sent thrills down my back, and when he put his arms about the heroine, I closed my eyes almost shut and saw me in his arms.


Female, 16, white, high-school junior.—As for day-dreaming, I suppose every girl does that! I know I did, and still do. I like to day-dream about my favorite male actors and I always picture myself the heroine when I attend a theater. I just make-believe I'm the heroine and the hero is making love to me. As for being thrilled by love scenes, oh goodness! I can picture John Gilbert and Greta Garbo rehearsing a love scene right now, but in my mind it isn't Greta Garbo, it's me!

Female, 18, Negro, high-school junior.—In "The Pagan" I imagined I was Dorothy Jordan. I think she is beautiful. But Ramon Navarro is so different from the rest of the movie actors. He is so boyish. I imagined I was on the island with him and could almost see myself running hand-in-hand with him along the island, eating coconuts. During the whole picture I sat there as if I was in a dream. At the end I drew a long breath and came back to earth again.

In the following instance we seem to have a postponement of the day-dreaming until the girl is by herself:

Female, 17, white, high-school junior. —When I witness love pictures I do not show my feelings until I leave the theater. I either practice on my family or even the boy friends. It is usually a scene that makes my temperature rise. They are the ideal love-makers. I usually converse about these pictures with someone, but not seriously. When I am alone I go over them. Sometimes they seem a bit exaggerated, yet so real! I picture myself the recipient of Gilbert's kisses. Folded in his arms I could forget all my school worries.

The reader who grasps the spirit of these accounts can probably realize the immense popularity of certain outstanding motion picture stars known for their appeal and skill in love scenes. One immediately recalls Rudolph Valentino who impressed himself on the minds of girls as no other movie character seems to have done. It happens that he was a very vivid image in the minds of many high school and college girls from whom motion-picture expe-

(69) -riences have been secured. A few instances of the way in which his image was woven into the texture of day-dreaming of such girls are given, chiefly—let it be borne in mind—to further reveal the rôle played by love themes in the life of fantasy.

Female, 20, white, college junior.—Whenever I saw desert pictures, I thought it would be thrilling to live in a tent like the Arab and travel from place to place. I thought it would be wonderful to be captured by some strong, brave Arab and be held prisoner amidst that barren, dry land. These pictures impressed me so much that I used to dream about them at night. I loved the beautiful scenery both in the day and at night. I hoped that some day I would be able to visit the desert land and ride a camel. Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky were my favorite desert stars. I always thought of Rudolph Valentino as a typical desert hero and Vilma Banky as a beautiful angel of the desert.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Rudolph Valentino was quite my ideal when I was at this age. My mother did not approve of my going to see these pictures, but what did a little thing like that matter to me? His pictures, more than any of the others, I believe, carried me over into a fancy-life. His leading ladies I always resented. I repeatedly tossed them aside and put myself in their places. After seeing "The Sheik" I was in a daze for a week.

Female, 18, white, high-school senior.—When I saw "The Sheik," for a long time afterwards I couldn't think of anything grander than that of being on a desert and being kidnapped by an Arab that was as handsome as the late Rudy.

Female, 16, Negro, high-school junior.— I fell in love with Rudolph Valentino and Warner Baxter. Rudy was such a perfect lover and he kissed divinely. I could imagine myself being in his leading woman's place when he prostrated her with a kiss, and I even thrilled at the thought.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Vivid in my memory is the image of Rudy Valentino as the Sheik. His passionate love-

(70)  making stirred me as I was never stirred before. For many days I pictured myself as his desert companion in the most entrancing scenes that my imagination could build.

Female, 19, white, college junior. —The first picture which stands out in my memory is "The Sheik," featuring Rudolph Valentino. I was at the impressionable and romantic age of 12 or 13, when I saw it. I recall coming home that night and dreaming the entire picture over again; myself as the heroine, being carried over the burning sands by an equally burning lover. I could feel myself being kissed in the way the Sheik had kissed the girl. I wanted to see it again but it was forbidden.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—After seeing such a picture as the "Sheik" I go home to day-dream about being carried off by a tall, dark, handsome sheik to a beautiful place out in the desert, a thousand miles from no-man's-land, where all one has to do is to clap one's hands and a servant will appear to bring anything one's heart desires. Such a dream goes "blooey" when someone says that sheiks are usually horrid, ugly, bearded old men, dirty and ill-smelling. But how can one imagine them as anything but a "Rudolph Valentino"?

Some publicists and editorial writers have expressed their amazement at the overwhelming popular interest displayed in Valentino at the time of his death, particularly in contrast to the slight attention given to the death of former President Eliot of Harvard University, which occurred at the same time. if American girls and women were affected to the extent to which many of the highschool and college girls who have contributed to this study seem to have been, there is little occasion for bewilderment over the incident.

From such accounts as those which have been given and from casual reflections on the content of day-dreaming one would be led to expect that fantasy is largely monopolized by kinds of experiences which are tabooed by the moral standards of community life. While it appears in-

(71) -expedient to mention in this document the full extent of this type of fantasy incited by motion pictures, a few milder, but representative, incidents can be given to emphasize the point.

Female, 18, white, high-school senior.—I have had many daydreams resulting from moving pictures. Sometimes they were inspired by the actors themselves, and at other times it was by the acting. I have dreamed of having wonderful adventures, some of which were impossible, and of falling into the hands of villains, then being rescued by some dashing young Romeo. I have also dreamed of being a beautiful but haughty and pampered daughter of some rich man, and of going out and making "whoopee" with crowds of worshiping young men at my feet; and of doing things I'd never really do in actual life. I have had dreams of practically every phase of life, worked out in every imaginable way. I've had all sorts of young men as lovers. From an American to an Egyptian, and hack.

Female, 17, white, high-school senior.—I have fallen in love with the movie heroes, but the time was short, because I thought it would be no use to think of such an event that could not happen; I mean of seeing the beloved in person. I imagined myself caressing the heroes with great passion and kissing them so they would stay osculated forever. I never wrote love letters but I practiced love scenes either with myself or the girl friends. We sometimes think we could beat Greta Garbo, but I doubt it.

Male, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore. —When I went to the movies and witnessed a, flirtation scene where petting dominated, I was emotionally stirred. Often before I would fall asleep, while lying in bed, I would live through the part of the man under such conditions and I derived pleasure from it.

Male, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore. —Later, about the age of seventeen and eighteen I became interested in sex pictures, pictures expressing variations on the love theme. The pictures of youth, the escapades of young people of the opposite sex appealed to me. The wild, gay life of theatrical women was a delightful theme upon which to dream.


Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—Of course, if I was to tell mother or anybody the things I think of right after a picture of passion and excitement, they would think I was a sort of maniac.

In the light of the above it can scarcely be doubted that motion pictures affect the day-dreams and fantasies of boys and girls of different ages in providing content for day-dreams on the one hand, and, on the other, in stimulating them through the dramatic depiction of scenes which stir one's impulses. Motion pictures unquestionably have proven to be a great incitant to fantasy.

It is difficult, however, to interpret the meaning of this day-dreaming in the life of the individual. As in the case of childhood play, we are presented with a vivid picture of the touch of movies yet are unable, in a large measure, to indicate its effect on the general conduct of the individual. This admission is inevitable in the light of our meager knowledge of the rôle of day-dreaming in life. In general, the interpretations of day-dreaming, which in the judgment of the author are quite unverified, take two expressions. It has been contended by some that day-dreaming has an expressive or cathartic effect. In this sense, it has been regarded as a palliative to hardship, a sort of softener of life, a means of infusing joy and romantic experience into the routine of life in a dull world. Through fantasy, some declare, one can satisfy vicariously certain impulses which, if overtly expressed in everyday life, would cause trouble and which, if repressed, would cause personal strain and disturbances. In this sense day-dreaming has been regarded as a means of maintaining wholesome life in a world of antagonism and frustration.

Other theorists on fantasy have called attention, however, to its introversive character. They regard day-dream-

(73) -ing as a turning inward of action and correspondingly of a deadening of the incentive and capacity for outward action. In this sense day-dreaming becomes a method of escape, a sign of failure to meet one's problems externally, and of an unwillingness to work out one's frustrated impulses into some form of social adjustment.

These are conventional theories, which are far from proved. The reader may apply them to the day-dreaming incited by motion pictures and derive whatever benefit they seem to yield in the way of interpretation.

In forming a judgment one should not forget that indulgence in day-dreaming may stimulate impulses and whet appetites. To this extent, the content of day-dreaming may pass over into patterns of thought, intention, and desire, and accordingly encourage overt forms of conduct, or at least become closely linked up with such forms.

The evidence on motion picture fantasy presented in this chapter has not been evaluated, in view of the absence of an acceptable interpretation of the effect of day-dreams on conduct. That motion pictures stimulate day-dreaming among large numbers of young men and women may be stated as an inescapable conclusion. If it be true that the content of day-dreaming represents what people would like to do, and would do if conditions made it possible, then the study of day-dreams offers us an indication of what the movies would do in the way of overt behavior if external conditions were such as to allow for the actual expression of impulses.


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