- Talk: role of scriptwriters in culture of consumption
- #ClimateCharacters campaign
- Share/participate in survey on impact of fictional characters on aspirations
- Preliminary survey results
- Relevant research
- Short fun videos highlighting carbon footprint of fictional characters
We want to encourage the industry to move away from fictional characters who are implicitly promoting high carbon consumption. In ten years, when mounting waste and climate change is impossible to ignore, we might squirm at the glorification of excessive consumption in the same way we now squirm at the casual racism and sexism in seventies sitcoms. But we don’t have ten years to waste, so let’s start the conversation now #HotOrNot; #ClimateCharacters.
Talk: role of scriptwriters in culture of consumption
Check out the video from Denise Baden, Professor of Sustainability and author of Habitat Man speaking at the Responsible Media Forum on the role of scriptwriters in tackling the culture of consumption.
Our current project works with albert and BAFTA to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of aspirational lifestyles by portraying the carbon footprint of popular fictional characters. Rubber Republic created the images for the social media posts #ClimateCharacters. For example:
Share/participate in survey on impact of fictional characters on aspirations
We invite the public to take part in a brief survey that asks which fictional characters they identify with and their reflections on how that affects their aspirations and behaviour.
We are working with partners Bafta and Albert and others to help share posts to get wide reach and participation and also to help us feedback our results to the industry.
We also plan to work with schools/colleges to engage their pupils in the conversation about the power of fictional characters to shape our behaviour and values.
If you’d like a short story to share with students that highlights this issue – see The Award Ceremony which is a 3000 word short story about a scriptwriter who comes up against this issue. A free download is available from the site.
Preliminary survey results
Scroll down for our initial summary of results from our survey on what viewers think about how fictional characters affect their own behaviour, and if they think it matters if fictional characters have high-carbon lifestyles.
Summary of results from climate characters survey.
Our survey comprised 173 respondents of mixed gender and age sourced from film/media students (43%); and others sourced via social media, predominantly from Bafta/albert network (35%) and some (22%) from the Green Stories network.
Q1 DO FICTIONAL CHARACTERS AFFECT VIEWERS’ VALUES?
Our first question asked what fictional characters respondents were aware of and if any had a higher carbon footprint than typical? (e.g. do any of them they fly in private jets, drive fast cars, wear different outfits each day, eat a lot of beef or consume/shop excessively?) If the answer was yes, we asked they believed this affects their own values, beliefs, behaviour or aspirations?
37% said yes it did, 12% said somewhat or that it didn’t affect them personally but they believed it would affect others, and 51% said no. Film/media students were more likely to say no and respondents sourced from the Green Stories network were more likely to say yes, with the Bafta/albert network not showing any difference.
Sample text responses:
Note: those who said ‘no’ rarely gave further responses other than ‘no’ or ‘not really’.
Not a lot, at least consciously.
Given my background don’t think so but I can see how other people are charmed by the status symbol of mimicking James Bond.
I think it did when I was growing up, but not anymore.
Guess it makes international travel aspirational.
Yes, I’m motivated to live that lifestyle.
Yes, I get inspired with different outfits I see in TV shows and then tend to buy clothes I don’t need.
Makes me want to drive a fast car.
DO VIEWERS THINK THIS MATTERS?
The second question asked if they thought that mattered.
43% said yes it did, 4% said maybe/sometimes and 53% said no. Film/media students were more likely to say no and Green Stories network more likely to say yes, with the Bafta/albert network not showing any difference.
Sample text responses:
Note: Again, those who said ‘no’ rarely gave further responses other than ‘no’ or ‘not really’.
TV and film should not normalise and glamourise high carbon lifestyles.
No it’s fiction.
Of course it matters: the climate crisis is terrifying.
I only think it matters if it affects you negatively.
People can be easily influenced and excessiveness may become normalised. I do wonder if the over the top consumption I see on Instagram has influenced my daughter detrimentally!
I do believe this matters as on a subconscious level it could be affecting how we behave and live in real life, which has a real impact on the environment.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t feel affected by the characters over reliance on fast cars etc, because those are negative traits. I can still be influenced by others with positive traits.
SHOULD THIS AFFECT WHAT SCRIPTWRITERS WRITE?
Finally we asked ‘should scriptwriters continue to write characters with a particularly high carbon-footprint?’
45% said yes, 17% said maybe/unsure and 38% said no or not unless it was made clear it was a bad thing. Respondents sourced from the Green Stories network were more likely to say no, with the other samples showing no significant difference.
Sample text responses:
Note: Most were not simple yes or no answers, but highlighted the issue of context.
Yes otherwise you are not seeing the real world.
Yes, but within an appropriate context and with appropriate impacts demonstrated.
I think if it’s a character with questionable morals than yes, but a character that is aspirational no.
Why not? They are just fiction. I am not inspired by them anyway.
Ideally not or be clever the way it’s done so that its clear by one of the characters that it’s not cool? We could make the world and entertainment exceptionally boring. How can we have fun with sustainability. Write more characters like Aquaman? A new Tarzan, Awesome Bush trackers, Native Americans etc.
Perhaps yes, if they cut them out completely then it may seem like green washing or propaganda. However, perhaps the same as smoking in the past where many (even good) characters would smoke, we should show bad characters that viewers don’t aspire to be like as having high carbon footprints.
Definitely not: I think audiences are going to start to be detracted from liking such characters.
Script writers should attempt to address the nuance of the arguments. Not create binary stereotypes that shame or praise people one way or another. It’s a crucial role of educating the public on the issues.
Only if there’s a genuine narrative reason for doing so, or if there can be some sort of disclaimer/explainer perhaps.
Would be difficult not too as they are a part of life, but less emphasis on consumerism and perhaps having characters repeat outfits and use a reusable coffee cup etc. would be a good step forward.
I don’t necessarily think that social or political issues should censor writing.
I think scriptwriters shouldn’t change characters to reduce their carbon footprint, but instead write it into the plot to bring attention to it. For example, James Bond is known for driving extravagant cars and he needs to in order to escape the bad guys, so cycling home from work or taking the bus wouldn’t suit him. Instead, he could be assigned an electric car that fits the purpose of his escape and is more effective than driving a typical petrol car. Therefore, his use of the electric car itself aided in his escape and is shown to be “cool” to the audience, perhaps inspiring them to get their own.
No, as fictional characters can be just as influential as real people.
I think script writers should write a variety of characters. I guess it might help if they don’t glamorise high consumption but also if their writing is a reflection of the world we live in, high consuming individuals are very real.
Research by D.A. Baden impact of role models on behaviour
Baden, D., and J. Brown: forthcoming, ‘Climate Fiction to Inspire Green Actions: Tales from Two Authors ‘, In Wang, H. and E. Coren (Eds.), Story telling to Accelerate Climate Solutions (Springer, Cham, Switzerland).
D Baden, 2022. The Missing Ingredient to Fight the Climate Crisis: Positive Role Models. The Conversation,
Baden, D.: 2020 ‘Which Work Best: Cautionary Tales or Positive Role Models?’, In Molthan-hill, P., H. Luna, T. Wall, H. Puntha and D. Baden (Eds.), Storytelling for Sustainability in Higher Education: An Educator’s Handbook (Routledge, Abingdon).
Baden, D.: 2019 ‘Solution focused stories are more effective than catastrophic stories in motivating pro-environmental intentions ‘, Ecopsychology 11 (4), 254-263.
Baden, D.: 2018, ‘Environmental storytelling can help spread big ideas for saving the planet‘, The Conversation,
Baden, D., C. Burns, A. Jahan and L. Bartlett: 2018, ‘Engaging people in sustainability via stories’. British Academy of Management Bristol, UK.
Baden, D.: 2017, ‘The differential effects of exposure to positive and negative role models and news stories on behaviour’. Making people feel bad: What is the role of negative appeals in marketing? Queen Mary University of London.
Baden, D.: 2014, ‘Integrating ethics into business school teaching – the importance of positive role models’, In Murray, A., D. Baden, P. Cashian, H. Kathryn and K. Wersun (Eds.), Integrating ethics into business school teaching – the importance of positive role models (Greenleaf, Sheffield, UK).
Baden, D.: 2014, ‘Look on the bright side: a comparison of positive and negative role models in business ethics education’, Academy of Management Learning & Education 13 (2), 154-170.
Baden, D. and M. Cory: 2012, ‘The effect of positive vs. negative role models of business on student attitudes and intentions’. BAM Cardiff.
Other research on how fictional characters affect behaviour
Appel, M., & Richter, T. (2007). Persuasive effects of fictional narratives increase over time. Media Psychology, 10(1), 113-134.
Bilandzic, H., & Busselle, R. (2013). Narrative persuasion. The Sage handbook of persuasion: Developments in theory and practice, 200-219.
Cha, Y., & Kwon, Y. (2018). Why Korean young women consumers buy luxury goods? The influence of cultural orientation and media use. Asian Journal of Business Environment, 8(2), 23-32.
Eisend, M., & Möller, J. (2007). The influence of TV viewing on consumers’ body images and related consumption behavior. Marketing Letters, 18(1), 101-116.
Gerbner, G. (1969). Toward” cultural indicators”: The analysis of mass mediated public message systems. AV communication review, 137-148.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America: Violence profile number 11. Journal of Communication, 30(3), 10-29.
Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 701.
Hoeken, H., Kolthoff, M., & Sanders, J. (2016). Story perspective and character similarity as drivers of identification and narrative persuasion. Human Communication Research, 42(2), 292-311.
Khancheh Sepehr, S., & Naseri, E. (2010). The Role of Media Representation of Consumption Models in Formation of Audience Consumption Behaviors and Attitudes. Communication Research, 17(61), 119-147.
Kumar, A., & Kumra, R. (2021). Television viewing and conspicuous consumption of households: evidence from India. Journal of Consumer Marketing.
Shrum, L. (2012). The psychology of entertainment media: Blurring the lines between entertainment and persuasion. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Slater, M. D., & Rouner, D. (2002). Entertainment—education and elaboration likelihood: Understanding the processing of narrative persuasion. Communication Theory, 12(2), 173-191.
Voorveld, H. A., Fakkert, M.-S., & van Reijmersdal, E. A. (2017). Materialistic girls watching a materialistic world: Fashion TV series and women’s copy-cat intentions. In: De Gruyter Mouton.
Short fun videos highlighting carbon footprint of fictional characters
The Green Stories project supported by BAFTA Albert ran a short video competition to create a short video (up to 5 minutes) that raises awareness of the role of fictional role models in promoting sustainable lifestyles, and shines a light on how fictional characters may be implicitly promoting high carbon consumption as an aspiration.
See some example videos here, and please share using #ClimateCharacters