Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Book Review: You Are What You Watch

Virtually anyone who has ever watched a profound movie, a powerful TV show, or read a moving novel understands that entertainment can and does affect us in surprising and significant ways. But did you know that our most popular forms of entertainment can have a direct physical effect on us, a measurable impact on society, geopolitics, the economy, and even the future itself? In You Are What You Watch, Walter Hickey, Pulitzer Prize winner and former chief culture writer at acclaimed data site FiveThirtyEight.com, proves how exactly how what we watch (and read and listen to) has a far greater effect on us and the world at large than we imagine.

Employing a mix of research, deep reporting, and 100 data visualizations, Hickey presents the true power of entertainment and culture. From the decrease in shark populations after Jaws to the increase in women and girls taking up archery following The Hunger Games, this book proves its points not just with research and argument, but hard data. Did you know, for example, that crime statistics prove that violent movies actually lead to less real-world violence? And that the international rise of anime and Manga helped lift the Japanese economy out of the doldrums in the 1980s? Or that British and American intelligence agencies actually got ideas from the James Bond movies? Readers will be given a nerdy, and sobering, celebration of popular entertainment and its surprising power to change the world.

You Are What You Watch will be published on October 24, 2023. Workman Publishing provided an early galley for review.

From a very young age, I have always been a consumer of television and movies. It has always been a constant in my life. Back before the days of cable TV when we only had three major networks, I could tell you what was on each channel on every given night. Yes, I even subscribed to TV Guide. So, this title spoke to me the moment I saw it earlier this year.

As a data journalist, Hickey has a fascination for the numbers. In examples of mapping data to runtimes, he presents charts that show at what moments viewers react and in what ways. The reader is then treated to the science behind focus (of both concentration and actual eye movement). The breakdown is fascinating and easy to follow. This kind of analysis could come off dry and boring, but Hickey is able to keep everything lighter and flowing.

Beyond the math and science, Hickey also talks about the psychology in how what we consume effects us and how, in turn, that effects the world around us. The media can inspire careers, spark interest in topics, and even influence travel plans. The chapter on theme parks and specialty stores was also very interesting.

This one is strongly recommended for those who are into pop culture and how people interface with it.

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