Stage Theory and the Movies

Somewhere, in my daily routine of prowling through news and blogs, I stumbled across the upcoming film A Powerful Noise. While I added it to my mental list (along with Milk and Slumdog Millionaire) I found myself annoyed by what feels like a glut of "activist movies" in recent years.

On one level, I feel guilty about that annoyance. My sister considers me an "Eco human rights nazi," and she's not without cause for that assumption (the organic tea in my cabinet, my canvas grocery bags, and personal boycott of Hershey, Nestle and M&M/Mars, for example) I have been thrilled and grateful that movies like Hotel Rwanda, Amazing Grace, and the three above are being made and watched. However, I'm perturbed that what I see happening is people watching these movies, having an extreme emotional reaction and then joining half a dozen facebook groups.

Then it clicked- stage theory. The bane of my existence this semester has been a class called "The Theoretical Foundations of Health Promotion". It has been centered around learning about various theories of human behavior (specifically related to decision-making and behavior change) and their limits and usefulness in health intervention programs. Depending on which model of stage theory you embrace, there are 7 (Precaution Adoption Process: Unaware of Issue, Unengaged by Issue, Undecided about Acting, Decided to Act, Decided Not to Act, Acting, Maintenance) or 6 (Transtheoretical Model/Stages of Change: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Relapse, Maintenance) stages.

The beauty of stage theory, and why it's revolutionized public health, is that it allows programs and interventions to reach out to individuals who are not currently aware of a need for change. Which helps me see that, yes, there is a place for emotional humanitarian films -they shock people who are unaware of issues and pre-contemplators into acknowledging injustice. However... I'm not sure that connects to making them aware of the injustice that is currently taking place around the world. I'm fairly certain it doesn't motivate them to ask how their daily comforts and indulgences encourage injustice, and there certainly seems to be little organization around making the connections between the ugliness on screen and change in behavior.

So, where do those of us who are (or are becoming) community organizers, human rights advocates, public health professionals meet and further engage the movie viewers? Once the world is on the silver screen, how does it move into people's hearts?

One line from Hotel Rwanda has driven me for years:
"I think that when people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they'll say, "Oh my God, that's horrible," and then they'll go back to eating their dinners."

I've not yet found where it's driving me.


Anneli M. said…
Thoughtful musings, as always. Your class sounds a bit similar to my Epistemology seminar which, in dealing with how we acquire knowledge and belief, is a more theoretical version of what you more practical health course is doing. (And yet, I almost want to trade...this heady stuff often makes me dizzy.) I don't really have a response to your question, but I think you would fit in well here in Vancouver. I always carry canvas bags too, am now passionate about recycling, public transit etc. I don't think your sister should call you a nazi - you aren't a genocidal fascist. (It really bothers me when people use terms like that casually- same with gestapo. What does that say about us?) Oh, and I read that book review you pointed me to, and oh man that reviewed hated her book! Or course the reviewer also wrote a book about the murder of a, that made me take it all with a grain of salt. I found another review, on Books and Culture, which I really like their reviews (just ignore all the embarrassing ads everywhere) and thought I would pass it on:

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