Moulding of Mass Behavior Through The Motion Picture

Herbert Blumer

It has been customary to link mass behavior with the idea of the "masses" and to regard the latter as constituting a certain layer in the social structure. There is not always agreement as to the particular stratum to which the "masses" are assigned. Many think of the masses as consisting of that large bulk of the population which is without property and without opportunity. Others, such as Sumner in his treatment in the Folkways, think of the masses as made of the middle classes as opposed to the "social elite," and, consequently, as that central body of the population which carries, preserves, and defends the mores of a given society. Although there is obvious and important difference in usage between these two views they agree in regarding the masses as a bounded horizontal portion of the population.

There is, perhaps, merit to this use of the term, but I regard "mass behavior" in an entirely different sense. Mass behavior, as I see it, is not confined to any stratum of society. People may participate in mass behavior regardless of class position, vocation, cultural attainment, or wealth. In war hysteria, the spread of fashion, migratory movements, "gold rushes" and land booms, social unrest, popular excitement over the kidnapping of a baby, the rise of interest in golf—the participants may come from all distinguishable strata of the population. The "mass," then (and I shall use this term in preference to the term "masses") represents a population aggregate which cuts across the lines of class, vocational position, and cultural attainment. It is not to be identified with any special layer or layers of the societal structure.

There is a second point about the use of the term "mass behavior" that I should like to make clear, namely, that by it I refer to a special kind of behavior. Mass behavior takes place in a unique kind of situation; it does not include what the members of the mass do in their other walks of life. This is a simple and obvious point but one which I wish to have clear. Mass

( 116) behavior. is to be placed alongside of other forms of behavior, such as familial behavior, cultural behavior, folk behavior, and community behavior. It is an additional and different species which people may engage in under certain conditions which are to be discussed.

Having indicated in this preliminary way the sense in which I use the terms "mass behavior" and "mass" I wish now to proceed to analysis by considering three questions: (a) what does mass behavior represent; (b) what is the nature of the mass that behaves; and (c) how does a mass behave. The discussion of these three questions should make clear somewhat the peculiar nature of mass behavior, and the particular role or function which it has in social life.

In considering the first question—what does mass behavior represent—I find it convenient and telling to begin with the fact that the individuals who comprise the mass come from a variety of local groups and cultures. Their family life, the communities in which they dwell, the occupations in which they engage, the social positions which they fill, the customs and traditions which they share locally—all of these are likely to vary greatly. Convenient examples would be the mass of people following a murder trial in the newspaper; or the motion picture audience, or those who adopt a new form of fashion. It seems clear that there is a great heterogeneity of background among those who participate in mass behavior. This point, I think, is very important. It indicates that the area of mass behavior is exterior to the realm of local culture. The diversity of cultural and group backgrounds of the individuals means that their behavior en masse is concerned with objects and experiences that transcend, or better lie outside of, their local cultures. Also that their behavior in the mass is not integral to the routine of their local group life. If the objects were traditionally covered by local culture individual behavior would be confined to this local setting; there would be no behavior en masse of individuals coming from divergent local cultures. The area of mass behavior, consequently, can be said to be outside of the field of local culture.

This point, which is here made purely logically, is borne out, I feel, by the rarity of mass behavior in settled folk communities. In folk communities where the forms and scope of life are ordered, mass behavior scarcely occurs, and when it does occur it represents an excursion from the days of such folk life. The forum of mass behavior, as we are acquainted with it historically, is to be found in complex, heterogeneous societies, or in folk societies in a state of disruption. Indeed, to me it seems a truism

( 117) to say that mass behavior and folk life stand in opposition. This point will be developed more in the course of the discussion. I content myself here with the statement that in mass behavior the attention of individuals is turned outward from local life and, consequently, that the setting of mass behavior is in those situations where individuals are detached in varying degree from local culture. A large number of detached individuals in a society is a fertile ground for mass behavior.

The concern of mass behavior with objects and interests which transcend the demands and preoccupations made by folk or local culture has both its destructive and constructive phases. Destructive in the sense that mass behavior not only stands on the outside of folk culture but represents an attack upon it. Things that catch the attention of the mass represent invasions as well as innovations, experiences which do not arise in the texture of local group life and which are not prescribed by local conventions. Mass influences always detach the individual to some degree from his local group. The area of individual experience in which such influences seem to operate is that which is not satisfied by local life. The individual is responsive to mass appeals chiefly where his dispositions are not organized or served; the operation of mass influences can be thought of further as tending to disaffect dispositions which are accommodated inside of local culture.

By the constructive phase of mass behavior I merely refer to the point that such behavior represents the beginning of efforts to introduce some sort of organization into that area of life touched by the mass behavior. The alienation of the individual from his group implies his participation—even though it be poor —in a wider universe. The very fact that the individual's attention is directed away from local group life, means that orientation is being made to a larger world, to a wider scope of existence, and, in a measure, to a new order. This point can be understood somewhat better if one recognizes that mass behavior implies that individual dispositions, appetites, and wishes are not being satisfied fully by the forms of life in local groups. Mass behavior can be thought of as efforts at searching or grouping which arise out of this area of unsatisfied disposition. Mass behavior seems to represent preparatory șattempts, however crude they may be, at the formation of a new order of living. It can be thought of as constituting the earliest portion of the cycle of activity involved in the transition from settled folk life to a new social order.

We may attempt an answer, then, to the first question—what does mass behavior represent—by declaring that it stands for a

( 118) type of behavior arising outside of the domain of local group life. It represents a disintegration of folk culture, the preparation for a new order, and the quest of the individual for a satisfying life not provided in his local living.

I wish to consider next what is the nature of the mass that behaves.

The mass is made up of detached individuals. These individuals, to be true, have their own local attachments, share in convivial association, belong to primary groups, live and act to a great extent in accordance with conventional patterns, but insofar as they belong to a mass, it is as alienated individuals in a new area of life not covered by local group tradition.

The mass might be defined as a homogeneous aggregate of individuals who in their extra-mass activities are highly heterogeneous. In the mass they are essentially alike, are individually indistinguishable, and can be treated as similar units. Individual conspicuousness or difference does not count—if it is pronounced the individual is in a true sense divorced from the mass. This homogeneity of the mass may be expressed also by saying that the individuals in the mass are anonymous and have no designated places. They are anonymous in part because they come from different local groups and social milieux, and, hence, do not know one another. Further, because there is practically no communication or discourse between them. But chiefly because in the mass they do not have any status or accepted position. The mass is not organized like a social group, a society, or a community. It has no settled framework of life, no established forms of social relations, and no allocation of individuals to designated roles. Instead, as all writers seem to agree, it is inchoate and formless. This is what is to be expected. Since it arises in situations alien to local culture and is built up from detached individuals with heterogeneous backgrounds and is confronted with circumstances for which there are no established rules for concerted behavior, it could scarcely have an organization. And since it has no regular organization the individuals of which it is composed have no status, are not allocated to any recognized niches, and have no designated roles to carry out. The anonymity of the individual and the freedom of his behavior from an em-bracing structure means that the control of his behavior must be made by direct appeal and not by social authority or subtle pressure as in a social system.

All of this may be stated in a different way by declaring that the mass has no culture, meaning by this that it has no traditions, no established rules or forms of conduct, no body of etiquette

( 119) adjusting the relations of individuals, and no system of expectations or demands.

If a mass represents an alienation from and attack upon folk life, if it consists of a homogeneous mass of detached and anonymous individuals, and if it posseses no culture to define conduct and establish cooperative organization, one may approach diffidently the question as to how it behaves.

The answer, I think, is in terms of each individual seeking to satisfy his own needs. The form of mass behavior, paradoxically, is laid down by individual lines of activity and not by concerted action. The absence of effective means of communication between the members of a mass which might enable them to reach under-standing; the absence of a defining culture which might articulate their activities; and the absence of an organization which might establish obligations—all help to explain why the mass has no concerted activity but merely individual lines of action. These individual lines of action, as will be explained later, may converge in a startlingly unanimous direction and thus make the behavior of the mass exceedingly effective. But this is not a result of consensus or of mutual understanding. Mass behavior, then, is a congeries of individual lines of action.

To characterize mass behavior further we should recall again that the mass is operating in an undefined area without culture or rules, without a collective organization prescribing lines of conduct. Its dispositions and feelings, accordingly, are likely to be vague and unchannelled, its ideas and images amorphous and confused. Particularly the mass is likely to be inarticulate. This inarticulateness, this vague disposition, and the absence of guiding rules explain why mass behavior is likely to be rambling and groping, seeking avenues of expression instead of following pre-scribed paths.

In the light of such factors one can understand why mass behavior is frequently capricious and foolish. Many writers regard mass behavior as being inevitably irrational, disorderly and perhaps vicious. The mass is likened to the mob or to the collection of individuals participating in a mass demonstration. Its characteristics are regarded usually as those which are displayed on such occasions: unrestrained excitement, yelling, milling, physical tension, crowd hypnosis, submergence of the individual, manipulation by gesture and symbols, emotional responsiveness to slogans and catchwords. It is true in a sense that the mass has certain features of the mob, although I think it very easy to overstate this resemblance. The similarity comes, in my judgment, in the fact that the mass does represent a group of people

( 120) in a state of tension with no prescribed rules of conduct. The individual, consequently, is lacking a stable framework of reference from which to judge himself. Yet, it seems to me, it is only under special conditions that the mass acquires the character of the mob. Instead, the mass may be unassembled, quiet, deliberate, selective, brooding, and living in imagination and inner experience rather than ebullient in physical activity. Correspondingly, while leadership in mass behavior may frequently center in the use of catchwords and slogans and in the whipping up of emotions and impulses, this is not a full explanation. True leadership seems to be more definitely tied to the discernment of the underlying and inarticulate aspirations, tastes, and appetites. The artist who touches and organizes these dispositions in the mass is, in this sense, a leader without playing on credulity, primitive passion, or conventional hatred.

With these preliminary remarks aiming to show (1) that mass behavior is a mere congeries of individual lines of action; (2) that it may be irregular, capricious and foolish; and (3) that it may be quiet, deliberate and deep-seated instead of mob-like and transitory, I wish to turn to the forms or ways of mass behavior.

Perhaps the lowest form of mass behavior is merely attending to the object which concerns the mass. What is significant here is not the action but the experience. The object, just because it is foreign to the texture of local culture, is likely to be strange and interesting; the experience with it, in however slight a degree, sensational, exciting, and disquieting. Because of this character of the experience and because of the absence of prescribed paths of behavior, there may be little in the way of overt action. The immediate result of attending to the mass :stimulus is likely to have its effect, instead, in the realm of inner experience, in awakened disposition, challenged taste, stirred up imagination, or reinforced sentiment. The first form of mass behavior, so-called, is of significance chiefly in how it prepares the background for other ways of mass behavior.

The next advanced form of mass behavior is one which is difficult to detect and also marginal to the chief way in which the mass acts. I should call it the dissipation of tension inside of conventional forms. It really belongs to what Dr. Park has termed expressive behavior. I refer to the fact that the vague dispositions, excitement, and altered tastes awakened by the mass influences may have no avenues of expression in the mass situation. Consequently, the energy to which they give rise may flow into conventional patterns of local group conduct, chiefly into the dionysian forms, adding to them, seemingly, an exotic and vehement tone.

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The chief way in which the mass behaves, however, is by making choices, selections, and adoptions. It is in this way that it can be said that the mass really acts. Consider some of the outstanding characteristics of the mass which have already been indicated: that it arises in an area of experience which is undefined, that it consists of individuals who are detached and anonymous, that its dispositions are vague, that it is inarticulate, that it does not have media of communication for the inter-exchange of experience, and that its behavior consists of a congeries of individual lines of action. Seemingly incapable of concerted action, it nevertheless may assert itself by making selections from what is provided to it. These selections always offer some possibility of satisfying the vague feelings and dispositions which are felt. Whether it be the selection of a dentifrice, a book, a play, a party platform, a new fashion, a philosophy, or a gospel, the mass gives expression to some disposition and makes its action telling in social life.

It is in this selective action that the mass plays an important role in modern society. The selective action may lead to great change, to great damage, to far-reaching transformations. It is perhaps a chief way of making great alterations in the established order. All institutions are responsive to the shifts in selective interest of the mass. The political structure, commercial organizations, institutions of entertainment, and others, are sensitive to its movements. We know how a shift in interest, in attitude, and in taste may disorganize a political party, wreck a commercial institution, and disconcert institutions of entertainment. In modern life these changes in mass selection may acquire such a rapidity and penetrate so far into the areas of the usually stable and sacred as to threaten to be quite disruptive. It is of some interest to note that every dictatorship is devoted to the suppression of the free operation of mass behavior; it seeks to render the mass innocuous and to keep it under control. This is done largely by limiting the range and freedom of its selections.

This selective action of the mass is the last form of mass behavior about which I wish to speak. There are no other distinctive kinds that I recognize. One may ask, perhaps, whether there isn't another form, namely, organized mass behavior. It is true that most of the discussion of so-called mass behavior is concerned with such things as social movements, reform enterprises, crusades, agrarian uprisings, and nationality and religious movements. In my judgment, however, when mass behavior becomes organized into a movement it ceases to be mass behavior as I have discussed it and becomes generically different, in short, societal in nature. Its whole nature changes in acquiring a struc-

( 122) -ture, a program, a defining culture, traditions, prescribed rules, an ingroup attitude, a group consciousness, and a status allocation of ;individuals. These are the attributes of a society, over against which, it seems to me, mass behavior stands as the absence of society.

This picture of mass behavior as aggregate activity occurring on the outside of society and culture, but containing in itself the forces and possibilities of a new societal order is one worthy of more attention than it has received. It presents attractive and important possibilities for research. It invites serious study by sociologists who, I think, have had their attention fixed too much on the orderly forms of folkways and culture.

This whole discussion of mass behavior is a very lengthy introduction to a consideration of the role of motion pictures. It provides, however, a helpful framework. My treatment of the moulding influence of motion pictures will be chiefly a filling in and illustration of this framework.

First, a word about the mass of "movie-goers"--the general motion picture audience. Its general attributes are those of the mass. It consists of individuals with the most heterogeneous backgrounds—differences in families, in communities, in local cultures, in occupations, and in class affiliations. This mass has no form or organization. It has no program, no rules, no traditions, and no culture. It has no group consciousness, no we-feeling, no bonds of loyalty. In it the individuals are anonymous, have no social positions, no designated functions.

Before considering how such a formless mass with such a heterogeneous background is influenced and affected by motion pictures it is advisable to treat briefly the communicative nature of the cinema.

The unique feature of motion pictures, of course, is its vivid visual presentation. The images which are given are already fully established, clean-cut, easily identified, and easily followed. The complete psychological significance of this vivid visual presentation has never been stated. It seems clear, however, that it is conducive to ready comprehension or, what amounts to the same thing, it makes it easy for the spectator to assume the role of the characters, to identify himself with them quickly and effectively.

Much of the peculiar effectiveness of motion pictures comes from the use of the "close-up."This interesting communicative feature deserves a few remarks. In motion pictures, as contrasted with the theater, the physical distance between the spectators and the actors is not fixed. This distance may be varied at will.

( 123) Through the close-up the audience may be ushered into the very midst of the scene of action. This undoubtedly increases their sense of participation, but the phase of the experience I wish to stress is that it establishes feelings of rapport and intimacy. Here I think we find a genuine case wherein a decrease of physical distance is marked by a decrease in social distance. The close-up brings the spectator into touch contact with the characters. It grants him the privileged position of closeness, and permits him to observe at intimate range the play of facial and bodily gesture. My belief is that the close-up inevitably induces a sense of intimacy and of privileged familiarity. (Thornton Wilder in-forms me that the fan mail of movie stars appears to be much more intimate in tone than the fan mail received by theatrical or opera stars. In the latter the adoration is distant, seemingly conforming to the physical separation set by the theatre.)

A third feature of motion pictures helpful to an understanding of their nature as a communicative agency is their dramatic character. What is presented has a plot, a development, and a climax. There is movement, progressive suspense, and sensed anticipation—all of which also facilitate ready identification on the part of the spectator.

This analysis should explain why motion pictures are such an effective form of communication. Where the objects of concern are presented vividly and distinctly, where they are brought into intimate and close touch with the spectator, and where they share the impelling movement of drama, they arrest attention, check intrusion, and acquire control. The individual loses himself in the picture.

To induce this absorption or identification on the part of the spectator is the avowed purpose of the producer; to have the experience is the desire of the average movie-goer.

It is significant to note that to achieve the experience, motion pictures depend on appeals to primary emotions and sentiments. This is inevitable, of course, in all drama. But in motion pictures it is inevitably true. Little use is made of abstract forms or of complicated and remote symbolism (a movement in this direction would occur, should motion pictures become a cultural institution) but, instead, these is an exploitation of what is primary and universal in human beings: emotions, passions, and sentiments. Since motion pictures are dealing with a mass of individuals with enormous differences in educative and cultural backgrounds, it is on this level that they find common responsiveness.

Let me summarize then by saying that as a form of communi-

( 124) -cation motion pictures operate as a visual, dramatic presentation, appealing primarily to emotions and sentiments.

What is the general influence of motion pictures? My belief is that it is a reaffirmation of basic human values but an undermining of the mores. This statement is not as contradictory as it sounds. Since the appeal of motion pictures depends so much on touching primary sentiments, it is not strange that they should stress those human qualities which are man's universal possession. In the cinema, one finds the constant portrayal and approval of such qualities as bravery, loyalty, love, affection, frankness, personal justness, cleverness, heroism and friendship. Practically all motion pictures are tuned to the old and simple theme of conflict 'between what has our sympathy and what has our antipathy, between the good and the bad, between the desirable and the reprehensible. In motion pictures the sympathetic, the good, and the desirable are compounded out of such human qualities as those mentioned above—out of those already having widespread allegiance, those whose value is spontaneously appreciated. The elevation of these qualities to points of virtue and the accompanying reinforcement of the sentiments for which they stand is what I have in mind in declaring that motion pictures reaffirm basic human values.

However, the social patterns or schemes of conduct inside of which these primary human qualities are placed are likely to be somewhat new, strange, and unfamiliar. The characters, the setting, the events, and the forms of life presented are novel—in varying degree, but always to some degree. In a sense they have to be novel in order to attract attention. Further, it is to be expected that they would be strange and different because of the heterogeneity of the cultural backgrounds from which the movie-goers come. Herein, motion pictures operate like all agencies of mass communication to turn the attention of individuals outward from their areas of locally defined life. This concern with the new, the strange, and the different, is not merely a direction of attention to the outside of local culture; it is an attack upon the local culture. For these new forms of life which are presented in the movies become attractive and understand-able, and develop a claim on one's allegiance. This is done by these forms of life being colored, so to speak, by the basic human qualities which are placed in them and operate through them. The beneficent value of the sentiment is imparted to the form of life which carries it; what was originally alien becomes suddenly emotionally familiar. This penetration of basic human values into new social forms constitutes one of the most interest-

( 125) -ing features of motion pictures. It explains why and how they undermine the prevailing patterns of local culture.

The residue of this invasion of local culture by motion pictures is in the form of awakened appetites, impulses, desires, yearnings, and hopes which even though experienced only momentarily and given expression only in day-dreaming, orient the individual in directions different from those prescribed by his tradition and culture. In my investigations I have found this to be noticeable particularly in the case of adolescents.

In further elaboration of this view that motion pictures operate against traditional forms and the mores, I should like to add that movie-goers, by reason of being a mass in an undefined area have no culture which might interpret and order their cinema experiences, and integrate them with those of local life. Instead the experiences remain alienated with no scheme to bridge them. It is this absence of an intermediate defining culture which makes motion pictures a matter of moral concern. It is also at the heart of the problem of their control. Without an intervening scheme of interpretation, the problem is inevitably met on the basis of controlled selection—censorship or choice of which pictures are to be seen.

If motion pictures, however, tend to alienate people from local culture they also prepare people for the wider area of life. This is done by enlarging their acquaintance, making new forms of life familiar to them, providing them with definite and defining images of this life, and suggesting to them "techniques" for adjustment to it. Motion pictures not only bring new objects to the attention of people but, what is probably more important, they make what has been remote and vague, immediate and clear. By reason of this ability they are especially effective in establishing stereotypes. This effectiveness is greatest where the initial familiarity with the object is least, for in such situations the object now shown in a definitive and familiar way becomes a norm. By portraying life in clearly seen and easily understood form motion pictures lend themselves to imitation of "techniques," and sometimes by reason of the appealing presentation invite such imitation.

Much might be made of this point that motion pictures sensitize people to new areas of life and prepare them for action in these areas. They serve the adolescent, particularly, as an educative agency. The point is not new, is adequately documented by studies which have been made, and is, I think, of minor importance. I wish to turn from it to the discussion of a phase of

( 126) motion picture influence which although little understood, I regard as of central importance.

In the detachment of the mass from local culture and the turning of their attention towards an outside world, the influence of motion pictures seems to be felt most in the realm of reverie. The motion picture experience is, itself, a form of reverie—in turn it is a great stimulus and feeder to further reverie. We do not know how to interpret the meaning of this reverie nor are we able to trace its effects. Many have claimed that it represents a harmless satisfaction of disturbing and dangerous impulses and serves, accordingly, to keep the individual house in order. But there is plenty of evidence for the counter belief that, instead, it whets appetites and stimulates impulses, leading to tension and not relaxation, to excitement and not quiescence, to disequilibrium and not organic harmony. Each interpretation is probably correct, but we do not know under what given conditions.

What I think is quite true is that there is an intimate relation between reverie, awakened disposition, and basic taste. The play of reverie, whether ordered as in the motion picture or free as in individual day dreaming awakens various impulses, furnishes objects upon which they may fasten, sketches schemes of possible conduct, and launches the individual upon vicarious journeying in new social worlds. That this rich play of inner experience has important effects on dispositions and tastes is seemingly true even though the nature of these effects is obscure. My interest at this point is merely in stating that mass reverie not only reflects the spirit and feelings of people but also invigorates and moulds this spirit and these feelings.

In this respect motion pictures are akin to folk tales and serve a role in modern life similar to that played by the latter in folk life. There is, however, a difference between them which is important for this discussion. To state it vigorously: folk tales reinforce the folk culture by reason of being closely integrated with it whereas motion pictures are integrated with no culture. The first part of the statement, I take it, needs no defense; the second part needs to be made clear. In declaring that motion pictures are integrated with no culture I am saying again, in part, that they stand on the outside of local life and serve to detach individuals from it. In this sense they do not fit into and reinforce local life as is done by folk tales and folk legends. But, further in explanation of the point, motion pictures, I think, can be said to have no culture. They are the product of secular business groups with commercial interests. The motion picture industry has no cultural  aim, no cultural policies, no cultural

( 127) program. The schemes of life shown in motion pictures, the institutional values which are stressed, the latent philosophies of conduct which are implied—all these show great diversity and inconsistency. They are a strange and incongruous mixture, with no guiding ideal, with no unity, and with no consistent scheme of life.

For this reason the play of motion pictures on reverie assumes a different character from that of folk tales. Its stimulation of reverie is likely to be distractive and confusing, probably making inner experience more lively but more unsettled and chaotic.

These remarks are intended neither to point out defects of the work of the motion picture industry nor to suggest a point for reform. Were the motion picture industry to seek to become a cultural institution inside of a society of free masses it would probably quickly collapse. Like any secular institution operating in an area of shifting interest the motion picture industry is highly sensitive to the varying desires of its clientele. One need but point to the anxious attention paid by the industry to the box-office receipts to guide their program of production. The mass of movie-goers is the final arbiter—to seek to impose on them a cultural program would be very hazardous, financially, to the movie industry.

This backward control over motion pictures which is exercised by the selective acts of the individual movie-goers suggests the idea that the cinema, despite its lack of culture, may be operating unwittingly to help prepare an order of life in a free and secular society. This idea is purely speculative. But one might interpret the shifting play of motion pictures in response to the selective acts of the mass, as unconscious experiments in feeling out the developing tastes and aspirations of the people and helping to mold them into a consistent pattern of life. I mention this at the very end of the paper, because it may mean that the free play of the masses does not represent inevitably an endless period of disintegration and absence of discipline. It may be merely transitional and preparatory to a new order of life measuring to a newly developed taste.


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