You Are What You Watch

What we see on screen has this way of influencing our perception of the world, which makes sense because the average American spends 2 hours and 51 minutes watching movies and TV each day. That’s a whopping 19 percent of our waking hours. Walt Hickey is a data journalist and author of a new book called You Are What You Watch. In it, Walt makes a case for how much film and television shapes us as individuals and as a society, far beyond what we give it credit for.

Walt joins this episode to talk about surprising, dark, and sometimes counterintuitive ways movies and TV shape the world around us … and how the world we live in influences the movie world right back. For many years now, for example, crime has been dropping in cities like New York … but from watching Law & Order and other such series, the public has the impression that violent crime continues to rise. But it’s not all bad: Walt Disney’s extensive programming around potential human space flights helped motivate the public, and in turn the government, to pursue new lofty ideals.

And it’s not just accidents, or corporations keen on marketing; government agencies know how powerful pop culture can be in shaping public opinion at large, so they’ve learned to leverage the film industry to serve their purpose. The US military in particular has a long and storied relationship with the movie industry.

So take a listen, but be warned: it might reshape your views of the world! And be sure to get Walt’s book if you want to learn more: You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything.


99% Invisible was produced this week by Sarah Baik, with assistance and mixing by Martín Gonzalez.

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