cover image You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything

You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything

Walter Hickey. Workman, $30 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5235-1589-9

In this penetrating debut, Hickey, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for illustrated reporting, deconstructs “how media and culture shapes us as individuals and collectively.” Movies, he argues, have physiological effects on viewers that scientists are only beginning to understand, as revealed by a study that measured the chemical composition of the air in screenings of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and found that levels of isoprene (a chemical humans release when muscles tense) spiked during key scenes. Examining the appeal of common genres and tropes, Hickey suggests that heist films tap into anxieties about “who deserves what, and whether the small and weak deserve what the strong have.” He also studies the social effects of movies, noting that the popularity of collies skyrocketed after the release of the 1943 film Lassie Come Home, as did New Zealand tourism after Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies. The trivia surprises and the bounty of colorful charts and graphs visualizing, for instance, the traits Spider-Man shares with each of his villains and the explosion of “Hallelujah” covers after the 2001 release of Shrek (which featured a version of the Leonard Cohen song on its soundtrack), offer fun insight into popular culture. This is a blast. Photos. (Oct.)