Scientific studies have proven that part of our memory -- not just institutional, but personal -- comes from Hollywood.
A classic example is a story Ronald Reagan once told to a group of reporters. He used it to illustrate the true meaning of courage, and it involved a plane that was badly damaged by enemy fire over the English Channel during World War II. As the aircraft shuddered in its death throes, everyone bailed out except for the pilot and a crewman who was too badly injured to evacuate.
According to Reagan, the pilot went to the rear of the plane, put his arm around his comrade, and said: "Don't worry, son -- we'll ride this thing down together."
It was an inspiring and touching tale, and the press corps spent a moment in silent contemplation. Then came a flash of insight.
"If there were only two people on the plane and it crashed," asked one reporter, "who came back to tell this story?"
Turns out the President was really recounting a scene from a 1950s movie. And the aforementioned studies showed that many of us, like Mr. Reagan, occasionally color our memory of past events with Hollywood fiction.
Which is harmless enough, I suppose. But I'd like to touch on six myths (Why six? Because that's all I could think of before my second cup of coffee) perpetuated by nearly a century of films. Some of these can actually be hazardous to our health.
1. If you're persistent enough, you can make another person love you. That's true in movies, where the person being pursued almost always winds up regarding the other's obsessive, semi-crazed behavior as somehow endearing. In real life, though, over-the-top persistence is likely to get you slapped with a stalking summons. And the philosophy that "he/she is the only person for me, and no one else can have him/her" has found its way onto many a police blotter.
Generally speaking, if someone continually rejects you, it's a dead end. Move on.
2. Bullies are always cowards at heart. Thus, they turn to jelly when the 120-pound seventh-grade hero finally stands up to them. That's a nice thought, and might occasionally be true, but the hard fact is, most bullies are that way precisely because they're bigger, stronger and meaner than their peers. A lot of 120-pound would-be heroes have wound up in the emergency room because they believed the movies.
3. Bad guys can't use firearms. A sort of corollary to the myth above. Why is it in movies that hired killers and thugs, who shoot people for a living and thus are presumably good at it, can never hit the hero despite unleashing a lethal spray of bullets at him? I remember a scene from "Beverly Hills Cop" where Eddie Murhpy is running in front of a fence with bullets hitting above and below him, but emerges unscathed.
In reality, despite what the National Rifle Association would have you believe, good guys don't always win in a gunfight.
4. Automobiles always catch on fire when they crash. Why does this always happen in movies? Because it makes for better video. Audiences love to watch things blow up and burn. The problem is, this is often used as an anti-seat belt argument -- "If I have a seatbelt on, I'll be burnt to a crisp when my car catches on fire."
Actually, cars aren't quite as flammable as Hollywood depicts.
5. People dying of a terminal disease always look great. In movies, they still have color in their cheeks and a sparkle in their eyes, even as their life ebbs away and cancerous cells devour their bodies. I think showing the unpleasant reality would go a lot further toward convincing people to get an annual checkup
6. Being smashed over the head by a large, blunt object is really no big deal. I have a friend who is affiliated with a head injury support group and always talks about this. Two people are sneaking up on a lone sentry, and one says: "Should I shoot him?" The other replies: "No, we don't want to hurt him. Just hit him over the head and knock him out."
And, yes, in movies, characters routinely leap to their feet 30 seconds after being rendered unconscious by a rifle butt, pistol or crowbar and dash off in pursuit of whoever did the rifle-butting, pistol-whipping or crowbarring. On screen, they never suffer from double vision, loss of memory or partial paralysis.
Can you think of any more of these? Pass them along.