Social Psychology in Entertainment

Amy Thornton

Summer 2015

Social Psychology in Entertainment

When thinking about the relevance of social psychology in everyday life, it is easy to say or believe that many of it’s concepts are obvious after they have been pointed out.  Yet actually realizing when it is happening is a little bit more difficult, as one would need to be aware of what was happening in the situation.  Many different forms of entertainment use these techniques in order to persuade people to buy things, to focus on important topics, and to get people to think.  A great example of social psychological theories being put into practice is the TV show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO.  While all of his episodes use various techniques, the episode “Government Surveillance” is the best and most impressive way John Oliver has been able to articulate to his audience the severity of a topic they may not have been totally aware of or concerned about. 

In this episode John Oliver takes on the issue of domestic government surveillance conducted in the United States by agencies like the NSA, which we now know about thanks to classified documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden.  Because of the complexities of the documents that were released, many Americans did not understand the full scope of what they actually said or meant, or who exactly Edward Snowden was.  It was John Oliver’s mission to persuade the American people to think about what was happening and to be upset by it (because they should be). In order to persuade and inform them, Oliver flew to Moscow and conducted an interview with Snowden in an attempt to simplify the information into an easy to digest and relatable manner. 

While Oliver is an authority in his own right, he knew that by having a conversation with Snowden (who is the ultimate authority on the subject) would be the most impactful.  Working together, Oliver and Snowden simplified the meaning of the documents in a way that was translatable to the individual by making it extremely personal.  By using the metaphor of texting personal, intimate pictures, Oliver and Snowden were able to convey the scope of government surveillance on its people, and by putting it in such simple terms made it very easy to digest and in turn created feelings of anger. By making the topic relevant (intimate photos), he was able to strengthen his argument that this was indeed an awful thing that the government had (has?) been doing. And especially considering the information was delivered by not only one but two authorities, he was able to make an argument that was much stronger. The most genius part of John Oliver is that he knows that Americans (and most people) aren’t going to take the time to understand something they see as too complex, and by breaking down the concept into one that people could relate to and by making it personal, he achieved his goal of informing the public.  And like many topics John Oliver presents, he was able to change a lot of minds with his genius powers of persuasion (by taking the central route) and also make the public aware of just who Edward Snowden was/is.  He is not the WikiLeaks guy.   

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