Daily Archives: May 4, 2010

A New “Nightmare” Makes Us Feel Good.

A common trend in Hollywood is to remake old films and television shows. As an example, the remake of the 80’s horror film “Nightmare on Elm Street” was recently released. While getting horrible reviews, it still topped the box office. It is likely that nostalgia is to be thanked for this. According to Sedikides, Wildschut, Arndt, and Routledge (2008), nostalgia increases positive affect and reduces existential threat. So, it is no wonder why we flock to remakes that are ultimately going to disappoint us. In fact, we will probably go in groups to bask in the glow of a remade classic movie, as nostalgia brings about social connectedness (Sedikides, et al., 2008).  According to Sedikides and colleagues (2008), while in the past nostalgia was seen as a kind of homesickness or negative mood state, it is now more associated warm feelings of the past or one’s childhood. Accordingly, they changed the definition to “sentimental longing for one’s past” (Sedikides, et al., 2008, p. 305). Therefore, by going to remakes of older films, we can attempt to return to a time that we fondly long for (i.e. childhood). Although, the new films have the arduous task making us feel as good as fondly remembering the originals.

Perhaps the reason to remake these films is to update the classics with modern technology, or to retell the tails from a different perspective, or perhaps just to pay homage. No matter the reason, film makers have made quite a killing by invoking the happy feelings that are associated with nostalgia. While they may not live up to our rosy view of the originals, it can still feel good to get a “blast from the past”.

“‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Slashes Box-Office Competition” – MTV News

“‘Nightmare’ fails to deliver the chills — and fun — of the original” – The Washington Post

Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2008). Nostalgia: Past, present, and future. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 304-307.


Heath Ledger lives! And not just in my personal bedroom shrine.

This past weekend, the movie “The Patriot” was on TNT and although I’ve definitely seen it a good eighteen times, I can never seem to get enough of it. Heath Ledger as the dashing, young, patriotic soldier who enlists in the American Revolution despite his father’s sincerest efforts to discourage him – my heart literally skips a beat every time he comes onto the scene. I realize that I’m in my solid mid-twenties and celebrity crushes have usually been a fleeting thing of my teenage past. But there’s always been something about Heath Ledger that I just can’t shake. Well, him and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Come to think of it though, I only became really wrapped up in John-John once his plane crashed back in 1999 – I remember sitting in front of the television uninterrupted for a week, waiting for his body to be recovered. I was devastated when my mother told me to let it go. And then when Heath Ledger died – as a first-year teaching assistant in graduate school, I definitely used my newfound discretion to allocate an entire class period to have my students reflect on their favorite Heath Ledger moments in film.

What is it about celebrities?  And perhaps more interestingly, what is it about dead celebrities? According to Pelin Kesebir and Chi-yue Chiu, both cultural psychologists affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, our fascination with celebrities is really just an attempt to relieve ourselves of the death anxiety we experience as the only living creatures to be conscious of our own mortality. As suggested by the large body of research supporting Terror Management Theory, to take our minds off of the chronic and debilitating terror of knowing we are eventually going to die, we cling to cultural icons (i.e., celebrities) and worldviews that assure us that we stand for something larger than just our physical selves and that once we do die, we will have achieved symbolic immortality from having been affiliated with these great contemporaries and ideas. In short, if you’re concerned with leaving your mark on the world, and someone famous embodies your value system, you peg your legacy on his or her legacy. As Kesebir puts it, “After being reminded of their mortality… people think that famous people will be remembered for a longer time in the future, attesting to people’s desire to see these celebrities as symbolically immortal. And the more celebrities represent cultural values, the more is the desire to see them as everlasting… In another study, I showed that people think that if they board the same plane as a famous person, the plane is less likely to crash, to the extent that the famous person on board represents cultural values.”

And what happens when these celebrities actually die before we do? Do we lose our buffer against the existential terror they have for so long kept in check for us? According to Kesebir, “[Mourners] will experience the shock of seeing the annihilation of something they inwardly deemed to be imperishable (just like a god). In a way, they have lost one of their bulwarks against existential anxiety, and they are in a vulnerable state now. With time, though, they will come to accept [the] literal death and derive a similar sense of stamina from [the celebrity’s] symbolic immortality.”

The Science of Dead Celebrities

Culture and Terror Management: What is “Culture” in Cultural Psychology and Terror Management Theory?

“Nativist apoplexy” and the case of immigration legislation

In Arizona a law was recently passed allowing police officers to arrest anyone unable to provide documentation of their immigrant status. Supporters of the law argue that illegal immigrants from Mexico are taking American jobs and bringing in dangerous drug cartel violence. Protesters of the bill argue that such a sweeping law will result in law enforcement abuse and a shift of resources and attention away from the real terrorists/drug traffickers. With this legislation, passed on the eve of world-wide May Day rallies in support of immigrant workers, the emotionally and politically charged issue of immigration has escalated to new heights.

As Daniel Bar-Tal explains in a 1990 Journal of Social Issues article, a perceived threat of one group to another can ignite a cycle of delegitimization and moral exclusion stoked by fear and often escalating to further violence. As a rhetorical strategy, delegitimizing a group separates or “others” them and thus serves as grounds for justifying inhumane treatment. We can see many examples of delegitimization and moral exclusion in the case of the Arizona legislation.

Sparked by fears of drug-related violence and the recent murder of an Arizona rancher — who was known to often help immigrants trying to cross the border by giving them water or alerting border patrol so that they could receive medical assistance — the debate surrounding U.S.-Mexico border control has been fueled by many useful myths. As a recent Washington Post article points out, illegal immigration is a complex issue and the main talking points (immigrants take jobs from Americans, illegal immigrants cause crime) are simply not true. But from the standpoint of politics and debate, these myths are very useful because they allow for justifying differential treatment and harsh legislation such as the law that was just passed. Deutsch (1990) further explains the psychological underpinnings of moral exclusion and dehumanization and the social conditions that contribute. Economic depression, for example, can lead to a sense of relative deprivation and an increase in alienation/isolation attitudes. Political instability, authoritarian government, violence, and lack of social bonding can also lead to moral exclusion.

While it is clear that a number of psychological and social forces are merging and a political debate ensuing, there are very real reasons why the current administration may not be able to hold off immigration legislation until the next year. As Bar-Tal explains, “There is little doubt that the distance between delegitimizationof this intensity and behavioral harm is very small.” In other words, legislation such as the one passed in Arizona, may lead to even more violence and less productive border relations. Or, the delegitimization of one group could quickly spread to other groups and become aimed at all immigrants, legal or not.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Five Myths About Immigration. The Washington Post.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 If Only Arizona Were The Real Problem. The New York Times.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Bar-Tal, D. (1990). Causes and Consequences of Delegitimization: Models of Conflict and Ethnocentrism. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Deutsch, M. (1990). Psychological Roots of Moral Exclusion. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Arizona’s Punishment Doesn’t Fit The Crime: Studies Show Decrease in Arizona Crime Rate Over Time.

Share