Relationship Between Thrillers and Society

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Films do not exist in a void, and this is especially the case for thriller films made in Hollywood. There is an essential relationship that exists between Hollywood thrillers and American society which can be seen in the development of thrillers' stories, ideas and characters. It is also because of this relationship that thrillers have continued to be one of the most popular film genres today.

It is hard to deny that thrillers have a major influence on American society. To a large extent Americans owe much of their culture of fear to film thrillers. Thrillers have both reinforced and established the people and situations that society should be afraid of at the time. Alfred Hitchcock pioneered the way for film thrillers, his films such as Psycho [1960] creating a fear of those with mental illness that is still reinforced in later films such as Swimfan [2002], directed by John Polson. He recognized that audiences loved to be "scared out of their wits" while safely sitting in a movie theatre. Thrillers simply preyed on these fears, and continue to do so today.

With their everyday characters, thrillers created believable yet frightening situations that society can be afraid of. As thrillers developed, they became more relatable in that they were made in context with what was most scary at the time of release. The villain in Philip Noyce's Dead Calm [1988], for example, was reminiscent of serial killers such as Ted Bundy, and reflected the fear of the power individual criminals could have. Thrillers heightened Americans' fears at the time, creating a sense of paranoia and hysteria. Thrillers such as Robert Schwentke's Flightplan [2005], translate audiences' fears of bombs on planes and terrorism to the big screen, contributing to the hype on terrorism in the news. This link with real events has had long-term repercussions on American society. Their constantly agitated fear has lead to acts of irrationality and impulsivity. America has the highest rate of death by guns in the world, yet gun control is seen as an attack on the American right to bear arms. Thrillers have had a particularly negative influence on American society's fear of everyone, and everything, around them.

Thrillers potential to make money by appealing to Americans' fears has also extended to other forms of media. To captivate their audiences, news programmes are packed of stories of murder, rape and gun crimes. Television programmes such as CSI and 24 pump their audiences with more murder and terrorism, threatening the very foundations of American life. Advertisers sell cosmetics by appealing to individuals' fear of rejection. It is evident that American society has not just been entertained by fear, but gripped by it. Thrillers have simply heightened the influence of fear on American society and increased the extent to which they are controlled by it.

Stereotypes in American society, particularly about minorities, have also been a major target in thrillers. Mental illness and anyone who isn't heterosexual have all been vindicated or presented as villains in thrillers since they began. The killers and villains in Psycho, Dead Calm and Swimfan all have some form of suggested mental illness, and it is always established that their mental illness is the cause of their villainy. These characters are often presented as loners and are almost always isolated because of their behaviour. There is little to no explanation for their behaviour or isolation. Instead, thrillers focus on making anyone who has a mental illness or who does not act in a way acceptable to the majority of society, someone to be feared. They also reinforce the idea that anyone with mental illness must commit crimes. The same treatment is afforded to those who act in an un-heterosexual way. In Jonothan Demme's Silence of the Lambs [1990], the villain "Buffalo Bill" is a cross-dresser, who is particularly gratuitous when he is dressed up as a woman. In Single White Female [1992],...
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