Movies and Conduct: A Payne Fund Study

Chapter 7: Emotional Possession: Love and Passion

Herbert Blumer

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THE same psychological effects which we have been considering appear in reaction to romantic and passionate love pictures, particularly when experienced by adolescents. From our accounts it would seem that this is the most vivid form of emotional possession. Under the stimulus of some effectively presented love scene a girl or boy may feel a definite urge for a similar type of experience. The observer may be so absorbed in the glamor of the scene as to be swept by the passion portrayed therein. In such instances one detects again the surging upward of impulse, the relaxing of ordinary inhibitions, the readiness to yield to importunities for love experience—and so a readiness to participate in conduct before which one might otherwise hesitate.


THIS experience may be, and frequently is, of a mild character. The boy or girl may experience merely a certain thrill and sentimental feeling which carries no further than to imagine oneself in the situation shown in the picture or else to arouse a wish for a similar kind of experience; or it may lead to timid love advances, as in the squeezing of Bands by youthful lovers. This milder form of being "carried away" by love pictures is illustrated in the following accounts

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Male, 21, white, college junior.—At this time (age 15) also, I occasionally saw pictures in company with girls, but for the most part I was more conscious of the fact that I was sitting next to a girl than I was as to what was taking place on the screen. One incident, though, I never will forget. I happened to meet a girl I was particularly partial to on her way to the show one afternoon and I went along with her. What the movie was I can't remember, but it was a slow moving affair with plenty of idyllic love scenes in it. We were sitting off to the side in a more or less deserted portion of the theater, and under the influence of the hero's amour I slipped my arm about her waist and left it there with her permission the rest of the picture. Such a long interval separated the next time that I went to a movie with her, however, that when we did go again I was afraid to repeat the experiment.

Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—In my sophomore year at high school I fell deeply in love with a wonderful girl. Nothing else mattered, this was the girl of my dreams! I can see her now—laughing and chatting as we walk home from school, her books under my left arm, and my right entwined around her arm, and sometimes around her waist. Perfect lovers; we lived in each other's eyes. Our favorite pastime was that of going to the movies. We picked love-scenes to see. Sitting in the theater we would hold hands—you know as all lovers do, and cast shy looks at each other. When our eyes met—what rapture—what complete understanding. How I wish I could see those eyes again. As the picture progressed, I delighted in placing myself in the position of the hero, and my sweetheart in the rôle of the heroine. When incidents happened on the screen which corresponded with incidents which we had experienced, we would squeeze each other's hand, and my sweetheart would snuggle up closer to my shoulder.

Female, 16, white, high-school senior.—Now I am interested in exciting pictures that will stir my pulse. I love handsome men and beautiful women in pictures. It makes the picture more interesting. Whenever I look at these good-looking men on the screen, I just sigh! and wish they would take me in their arms and kiss me like they do those pretty women. My ambition is to some day go to Hollywood.

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Male, 20, white, college sophomore.—A few years ago I had a slight case of that youthful malady called "puppy love" and I recall the interest I manifested in the love scenes of pictures in the movies. I was eager to see such pictures as would teach me better and more effective methods of love-making and I often wished that the object of my devotion and admiration at the particular time could acquire the same feeling as the movies stirred within me.

Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—I have been thrilled by love scenes at times. On seeing these scenes I would depart from them very joyful and ready to love some handsome fellow.

Female, 15, white, high-school sophomore.—I have been greatly thrilled with love scenes. I always wonder how I would feel if somebody would kiss and hug me as they do in the movies. When I went to the show the other night with my boy friend whom I like very much, a funny feeling came over me as the bride and groom were being married and I wished that he would have kissed me. Yes, many ideas of my love have been formed by movies.

Female, 17, white, high-school junior.—Yes, the movies do change my moods. Sometimes, when I feel sort of blue, and I go to see Clara Bow or some other actress I feel like flirting with everybody when I get out of the theater. I usually feel that way until the next morning, if the picture made an impression on me.

The following account comes from the autobiography of a college girl of nineteen:

In the gloom of the Fox Theater, I sat with my gang, and I gasped in pleasurable anticipation as the tense moment approached. The hero placed his hands about the heroine's divinely small waist and pulled her half-fiercely toward him. Her beautiful lips parted slightly; he looked into her heavenly eyes with infinite adoration—and their kiss was perfect. My response was inevitable. My hand clutched Vera's; we thrilled in ecstasy.

Short-lived—this bliss which passed all understanding. From behind, where a group of boys sat there came a rude burst of

(106) laughter, of smacks and kisses. A furious wave of anger engulfed me. How revolting and vulgar they were! I wanted to knock their heads together, to destroy them, to tramp upon them—for they had hurt my sensitive soul without a thought. They had ruined the sacred beauty of that moment with their vulgarity. I had experienced that moment because I had put myself in the heroine's place; I had felt the sweeping silk of her garment against me; I had been as beautiful as she, in surroundings as glamorous; and the hero had been replaced by a certain boy a few rows away who, I felt, was watching me at that moment. It was a personal insult to me that they had laughed. I turned, haughty scorn in my glance, to look at those insufferable creatures,—and I caught his eye. He smiled—a warmth suffused me, in that moment I knew

The minutes hurried by. There came the close-up, the flare of lights, the noise of stamping crowds, anxious to gain the exit. I walked in a dream, feeling a spell and a magic touch upon me. I had scarcely left my friends at the corner when the well-known lines of his roadster loomed before me, and the headlights cut gaudy streaks across the pavement. Came the creaking of brakes, a subdued question, my mute assent, the opening of the car-door, and the purr of the engine as we slid into the mystery of a vaguely fragrant night.

I had known it all along, from the moment I had seen that perfect embrace in the movies; I had felt that this would happen. He had parked in lover's lane, his arms were about me, persuading. To my bewildered mind there came two thoughts; one, "Mama said, `Don't kiss the boys' "; the other, "What harm can it be? It is beautiful." So I struggled no longer; and I learned the charm which before I had only dreamed of.

Female, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—After a fashion, such scenes have made me receptive to love-making. My desire is to be swept off my feet—to use a trite expression by the man I shall love, if I ever do fall in love. I do think that this desire is in a great measure due, to the movies.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—John Barrymore is a favorite actor of mine in whatever type of picture he plays; and in love pictures, how he can love, and make one want some!

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In addition to impressing us with the way in which love pictures may induce strong yearnings for amorous experience, these accounts also point to the extent to which youths may gain love satisfaction through witnessing such pictures. There is ample indication that many high-school girls seek in such pictures a romantic love thrill, even though its setting be imaginative or vicarious. The repetition and accumulation of such experiences, it is fit to add, seem quite important in stimulating, nurturing, and organizing love impulses and amorous feelings, thereby imparting an effect to the mind which exceeds the influence which one detects in the experiences which have been given. Since our materials do little more than point to this more permanent fashioning of impulses and thought we merely direct the reader's attention to the point.

Some indication of the probable extent of the milder susceptibility to the appeal of romantic love scenes and pictures is given in the following figures. The 458 high-school documents serving as a sample were checked to see the number of writers speaking of having been thrilled or stirred by love pictures. It was found that experiences of this sort were given in 55 per cent of the documents, denials of such experiences in 24 per cent, and no information in 21 per cent. Sixty-seven per cent of the girls who wrote documents mentioned being thrilled or stirred by love pictures; whereas this experience was stated by only 41 per cent of the boys.


THE extent of the more vivid and more extreme forms of emotional possession resulting from the witnessing of passionate love scenes is suggested by the following figures. Out of 458 high-school documents, 134 or 30 per cent showed

( 108) either admission or evidence that the writer had been made more receptive to love by love pictures. In 24 per cent of the documents there was a denial of having been made more receptive to love by the witnessing of love pictures; and in 46 per cent of the documents nothing is contained to permit one to make a judgment on the point. There is no difference between the proportion of boys and girls who write of being made more receptive to love.

Typical illustrations of the deeper stirring of impulses occasioned by the witnessing of love pictures are given here at some length:

Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—When I see a love picture or love scene, my heart beats faster, my stomach seems to roll, and I have a sensation of being deeply moved and thrilled. When I am with a boy and there is a passionate love scene, each of us can tell that the other one is thrilled by it and unconsciously his arm goes up or his hand clasps mine. Seeing such scenes has made me more receptive to love-making; before I didn't like it and thought it silly, but the movies have changed my ideas.

Male, 17, white, high-school senior. —My type of movie, as I grew in age, grew to be the romantic type. Each time I would hear of one of those movies with a romantic title, I would go to see it. These types of movies developed something in me that I sometimes like and sometimes dislike; that is, a craving for companionship of girls. I have been in that stage constantly since. By viewing one of those intense love pictures, I get a certain burning sensation within to perform those things which I see done on the screen, and I must admit that in so doing I get a great deal of pleasure. Many times I have seen actors kiss in a certain pose, and at my earliest convenience I would do as I had seen them do. This has, as I said, given me pleasure, and in some cases it has also given me the opposite, heartaches. At present I am overwhelmed with part of both. I suppose this stage comes in every one's life, but because of mine coming so young, I attribute it to my viewing that type of movie that portrays those scenes that are so intense in their dealings with love.


Female, 19, white, college sophomore.— ————and ———— are another famous pair of screen lovers. They go in for sensational love scenes, and much sex stuff. I must admit that one of these scenes does thrill me and leave me with a rather goosefleshy feeling.

Female, 20, white, college junior.—The next year after finals, I went with a group of girls to see ——— and ———— in I have never seen an entire audience so wrought up as that one. We vicariously enjoyed with ——— the thrill of every flash of ———'s eyes.

Female, 18, Negro, high-school senior. —I remember the picture "Resurrection," taken from the story by Tolstoy, of a wronged Russian peasant girl. Its sensuousness played havoc upon my emotions.

Female, 16, white, high-school sophomore.—I've been thrilled and deeply stirred by love pictures and love scenes. Usually when I see them, it seems that I'm a looker-on and one of the lovers at the same time. I don't know how to describe it. I know love pictures have made me more receptive to love-making because I always thought it rather silly until these pictures, where there is always so much love and everything turns out all right in the end, and I kiss and pet much more than I would otherwise.

Female, 17, white, high-school junior.—When I watch love scenes I become very pensive and thoughtful. I am quiet and imagine myself going through the same scenes with someone. I hope to be in love with my dream-man some day. I am very lovable and cuddly after such pictures. I certainly am thrilled and hope some day to meet the man who will treat me as such. Felt stirred? And how! Sometimes I am receptive and want to be left alone with my thoughts. Coming home from the show I have said, "Please don't put your arm around me. Be a good boy." And all the while I was wishing he were like the overpowering, intoxicating lover of the screen who would take me in his arms and crush me to him.

Female, 17, white, high-school junior.—When I see certain love scenes I burn up and so does my boy friend. We both get the

(110)     same feeling (he has never told me, but I can read it on his face and in his actions). I have been thrilled loads of times, but when you ask to describe them, it's almost impossible. Words can't express the feeling.

Female, 16, white, high.-school junior.—Love scenes always stir my emotions, and I sit enthralled through the picture. If I am with a girl friend, f make remarks: "Isn't that cute?" "Gee, I wish he was kissing me," and things of that vein. If I am with a boy friend, we sometimes hold hands or cast rather significant glances at each other. ——— ——— passion and ——— ——— impetuous love-making have urged me to act similarly on occasions when I have been out with a boy.

Female, 18, Scottish parentage, high-school junior.—I have always been very emotional over love scenes or anything like a love scene. I usually clench my fists, or if sitting next to anyone whom I know very well I will squeeze their hand. Sometimes if a scene is very "mushy" the cold chills run up and down my back. When I see such pictures I often feel that I would like to have someone make violent love to me.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—I didn't care for love and sex pictures until I was about sixteen. I never imagined myself in love with a movie actor, but there was one I surely loved to see. He disgusts me now and his love scenes are nauseating to me. John Gilbert in "His Hour," "Three Weeks," "The Wife of the Centaur," and "Flesh and the Devil." This last picture seemed to appeal to me, for I saw it twice and I would have gone the third time but I didn't have the money. The love scenes were so amorous and during them I throbbed all over. I will have to admit that I wanted someone so bad to make love to me that way. I didn't go with any boy then, steady; but I went away from the picture craving love. I thought him a perfect lover. Their long-drawn-out kisses thrilled me beyond words, but now he is disgusting to me.

Female, 18, Negro, high-school senior.—Valentino had no more ardent admirer than I. At the time of his advent upon the screen the feeling of sex consciousness was just awakening in me and Valentino stimulated it to the fever point. I can recall no instance, before or since, where I have given my money more

(111)     cheerfully than I did when a picture of Valentino's was showing at the local movie house. I often imagined myself the object of his amorous love-making. I yearned with all my heart for someone to come and sweep me off my feet by his passion. But no one came.

Female, 22, white, college senior.—I have been thrilled many, many times by passionate love scenes and I have greatly admired passionate lovers. I can feel the thrill all over again when I remember some scenes; such as the love scenes from "Seventh Heaven," John Gilbert's "Flesh and the Devil," and Ronald Colman's "Two Lovers," etc. I have, instead of imagining myself playing opposite the male star of the picture, often imagined myself in the part with my own particular man opposite me as the hero. Love scenes have stirred me and they have stimulated my desire for loving and perhaps, in fact I'm sure, if my sweetheart had been there at the time I saw the picture or if it had been possible to be alone with him immediately afterward I should have been more receptive to love-making than at other times. But I have seldom gone to the movies with my boy friend and on the occasions when I have, we have been surrounded by the busy city afterwards, which is not conducive to love-making. I have time after time determined, while at a love picture, that I might as well experience some of the love scenes in real life and would be sure that the next time the opportunity offered I would take advantage of it. But by the next time the remembrance of the picture would have faded and invariably at the last second I would repulse all attempts at petting.

Female, 19, white, college sophomore.—Seeing passionate love pictures made me want to go out and try it but I was always disappointed. I used to feel very romantic but never very much aroused sexually. I never felt like going out to a party after seeing a romantic picture; I used to be quite willing to be made love to. We used to go out in cars and park and I always started out thinking that it might develop into a grand passion, but after being kissed once or twice, I wouldn't let them any more, for it was very disappointing and not at all romantic. "The Sheik" just about wrecked my life; "Three Weeks" and "The Merry Widow" were also rather important at that time. I used to

(112) dream of lying on a couch with roses all around me and violins playing behind screens.

Female, 22, white, college senior.—Some of the passionate love pictures which are terribly slushy disgust me, but the ones that appeal to my romantic sense make me passionate. Some of the outstanding love pictures I have seen are "Camille" and "Smilin' Through." The picture that affected me mostly was "Male and Female." It is the story of a very wealthy family who have a perfect butler. They are marooned on a desert island and the butler shows his superiority over the other people by meeting the situation and protecting the lives of his employers. He becomes chief of the small community. The daughter of these people falls in love with him and they become merely male and female. The tremendous male force of the man was what got me. Norma Talmadge was my favorite as a screen lover, she possessed such a wistful love appeal. The love-making in the pictures sets up a fantasy-love scene in which I am the heroine. It decidedly makes me want to be kissed and fondled. Going out with boys after a romantic love picture I would let them kiss me.

Female, 18, white, high-school senior.—As far as I can remember, I've never had a real hot date immediately after seeing a passionate picture. Perhaps it's just as well that I didn't, for my sake anyway.

Female, 15, white, high-school sophomore. —After seeing a love picture I think sometimes I would like to be the heroine, but I soon resume my natural life without any special desire for parties, etc. Although if I have a crush on a fellow at the time it makes me want to get him more.

That the impulses aroused by the witnessing of such love pictures and scenes tend to carry over into conduct is shown by the remarks of boys and girls that they observe such effects in the case of their companions.

Male, 20, white, college junior.—If there is ever any harm done by picture shows, I am willing to confess that it is the passionate love show that does it. I can notice it very plainly on many girls whom I have dated to shows of this type. I have noticed, how

(113)     ever, that the ones it affects are those who have a strong tendency to be that kind anyway. I have also noticed its effect on myself and especially if the girl is inclined to "help make the party."

Male, 16, Negro, high-school freshman.—Many times I have gone to see a love picture. Sometimes I would find myself dreaming that I was the player and not one of the fans. I used to imagine I was an actor playing an important part in a love picture. I'd dream of making love to some beautiful girl like Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, and others. I used to fall in love with them. Sometimes I would think of them so much until I'd go home and dream about them. I remember taking my girl to the movies to see a love play. The pastime was very, very good. While sitting in the show I had my arm around my girl. She enjoyed the show better than I did. I could feel her tremble sometimes when certain things occurred in the play. I'd do the same thing. When we left the show we were in a daze. We talked of that picture for two or three weeks. We would make love to each other like the actors in the show did. I really think that show helped me to win her love. We often talk of that same picture.

Female, 19, Negro, high-school senior.—About love-making from the movies I learned a good deal, although I wasn't brave enough to attempt to imitate the love-making of Greta Garbo and others on my boy friends. Sometimes after we had seen a Greta Garbo movie, my boy friend would become so romantic that I had to send him home.

Male, 19, white, Jewish, college sophomore.—Movies affect my emotions rather than my actions. At the present time I have often noticed that when I come out of a love picture I have a tendency to want to kiss and fondle any young lady that happens to be with me. I have often been successful in attentions that at other times would have been taboo. The other night I escorted a girl to a movie who is usually very strict about such matters as kissing. In fact, I do not think that she ever allows herself to be kissed. Upon coming out of the movie and getting in the car (automobile) I noticed that she moved over very close to me and cuddled up to me laying her head on my shoulder. Remembering this paper that I had to write I tried to kiss her.

(114) She was a little hesitant but finally permitted me to kiss her once. Immediately she realized what she had done and from then on stayed over on her side of the seat. I told her of this paper and she admitted that the only time that she has a hard time in restraining herself from kissing is when she attends either the movies or the legitimate shows.


IT is of interest to note that some young men deliberately employ passionate motion pictures as a means of inducing a greater attitude of receptiveness on the part of their girl companions. Such behavior points further to the fact that the influence of motion pictures in arousing impulses and feelings and lessening ordinary self-control is being recognized and sometimes utilized. 

Male, 18, white, college sophomore. —During my last two years of high school, I did a lot of dating. That is, I had a date about once a week. My program or plan of campaign was, first, a movie, then a dance, then a slow drive home. When I first started taking girls out to the movies, I was impressed with the enormous number of fellows that put their arms around their (late in the show and I became aware that heads already close got closer when love scenes were introduced. I tried the things I saw and was pleased with the results. A good love story was more inspiring on a date than a picture in which love was not the important element, and the girls seemed to enjoy themselves more under these circumstances. I didn't get a kick out of what appeared on the screen, but I did like the effect a love scene had on my dates. In "reel life" a boy usually does not go with a girl a long time before he kisses her. The average high-school dating girl, it seems, follows this suggestion. The love scenes produce an emotional harmony that leads in some cases to kissing and necking. Mystery pictures help to produce desirable effects.


Male, 21, white, college junior. —A good movie plays upon the emotions of all of us, but many people are moved by any sort of movie. It has been my experience that nine people out of ten are so played upon in their emotions by a movie as to find themselves in a particularly sensitive and weakened mood in relation to that emotion which the movie most stressed. Let me make myself clear. For instance, after seeing a movie stressing the pathetic case of a white-haired and sweet-faced mother sent to the poorhouse by the cruel neglect of her children, most people react tenderly to their own mother in their thoughts. A movie featuring the torture of a noble white man by fiendish Chinamen works people up against the Chinese. And so a highly charged sex movie puts many girls in an emotional state that weakens, let us say, resistance. I took a girl friend of mine to a racy sex movie. It had the usual lingerie scenes, complications, etc. That night when I took her home she was, in the vernacular, quite warm. The next time I dated her, she wanted to see some gruesome thing with Lon Chancy in it. That night she certainly was not responsive to the same degree as the first, yet I knew her better. It merely means that her emotions weren't aroused in the same way by the second picture as by the first. It is perfectly logical that they can be controlled more or less, and therefore with most girls I generally pick the movies we attend with that point in mind. Remember, it is more or less a physical and natural phenomenon, and nine times out of ten with intelligent interpretation the girl's emotional state can be regulated and used to what may be either advantage or disadvantage.

These accounts reveal, again, a picture of emotional dominance the effect to which we have referred as emotional possession. The details of this state (emotional possession) seem to stand out clearly. The individual "immerses" himself in the theme of the love picture, "loses himself" in the sweep of the drama. The scenes seem to play upon, "feed," and encourage the expression of impulses which are ordinarily latent or else restrained. Images become vivid and appetite whetted.


The impulses further may express themselves in desires for such passionate or romantic love experiences and in a greater readiness to such conduct. The emotional possession and the accompanying relaxation of ordinary restraint is, of course, usually transient. However, the repetition of this experience through the witnessing of a series of passionate love pictures may have a cumulative effect on the individual.

It should be recognized, also, that in this state, as in the instances of fright and sorrow, there may be occasions when one's experience tends to become relatively prolonged or chronic. In a state of emotional possession impulses, motives, and thoughts are likely to lose their fixed form and become malleable instead. There may emerge from this "molten state" a new stable organization directed towards a different line of conduct. ,The individual, as a result of witnessing a particularly emotional picture, may come to a decision to have certain kinds of experiences and to live a kind of life different from his prior career. It is perhaps of some social significance to observe that the impulses which are brought into play in witnessing passionate love pictures or scenes are those which our conventions and standards seek in some measure to check. In this sense, without attempting to evaluate the matter, it seems that emotional possession induced by passionate love pictures represents an attack on the mores of our contemporary life..-)It is probable that motion pictures exercise this indirect influence upon other phases of our conventional, social, and moral order.


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